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21 August 2009

If you see loose screws on your jet, should you worry?

What would you do if you were flying on a plane, looked outside your window, and saw a bunch of missing or loose screws? If you were a passenger with a convenient window seat on Jat Airways Flight JU 5245 on 14 August 2009, you would have done the right thing by bringing it to the attention of the airline and the news media.

According to a report in the Serbian newspaper Blic, this particular aircraft, a 737, was on a flight from the Greek islands to Belgrade, and the flight took off in spite of having a panel on the left engine strut with at least five loose screws and one screw that was completely missing.

One of the editors from the Blic newspaper provided with a number of photos, one of which clearly shows the missing and loose screws in the foreground, and the Greek city of Heraklion, on the island of Crete, in the background. The aircraft, which arrived safety in Belgrade after its charter flight from Greece, was apparently a 737-300 aircraft with the tail number JU-AON. According to, the aircraft is almost 22 years old, and was previously operated by at least two other airlines, Transbrasil and Region Air.

According to Blic, Jat airways told both the passengers and the newspapers that it was a small problem that would not have affected the safety of that aircraft. No one at has specific experience or expertise when it comes to general 737 aircraft maintenance procedures, or the particular maintenance procedures and flight operations rules at Jat Airwarys. However, it would be safe to assume that for most passengers, allowing an airliner to fly with loose and missing screws are an obvious cause for concern. Most passengers would hope that if the maintenance crew or flight crew were aware of such a condition, that the condition should either be corrected, or the proper procedures be followed to address the issue before allowing the aircraft to fly.

Given the location of the loose and missing screws, it is possible that if the the panel or other structure associated with the screws came loose in flight, that it could fly off and strike other parts of the aircraft. Also, a failure in one part of the aircraft skin or structure, for example a panel peeling off in flight, could cause damage to adjacent areas of the aircraft.

After being contacted by the Blic newspaper, suggested that the newspaper should attempt to contact Jat Airways and to ask and answer the following questions:

- Were the flight crews or maintenance crews aware of the loose and missing screws before the flight?

- Did the maintenance and flight crew follow Jat Airways procedures with respect to the missing and loose screws?

- Are the airline's procedures consistent with Boeing's recommended procedures for the 737-300?

- Are the airline's procedures consistent with the regulations and laws of the Serbian civil aviation authorities?

- How many flights did this aircraft make before the condition was corrected?

- Are missing screws a common occurrence with aircraft in the Jat Airways fleet?

While Blic investigates this incident, the News would like to ask its readers for feedback, especially from pilots, maintenance technicians, and airline safety professionals, about this particular issue. Feel free to leave comments on this blog posting, or to contact directly.


  1. this looks harmless to me. Having flown countless times on planes owned by various Nigerian domestic airlines one becomes accustomed to missing screws, rivets, even parts of the fuselage!
    Nigeria is the worse when it comes to airsafety and ALL domestic airlines (including Virgin Nigeria!!!) should be banned from flying anywhere else.

  2. If this is what can be seen, I dread to think of what CAN'T be seen !!!

  3. The moment that a passenger could notice evidence of a poorly maintained airplane in flight to an incident-accident, would probably not allow him-her to take a picture and sell it for bucks and his-her fifteen minutes of fame.
    I 'd suggest that pilots stick to flying, engineers to maintaining and passengers to travelling and choosing the right arline.
    Oh, yes! and reporters to find real news to report.

  4. If this is what you can see, I dread to think of what I CAN'T see.

  5. I think that Air Safe/Blic, without any further ado, should have immediately contacted Boeing and apprised them of this particular situation. They would be the best/most qualified to act upon this is, if required. Which bI'm sure they would. Do not mess around with second rate authorities, who by and large are more concerned with their position/rank/pride than people's lives. The history of the world is full of these. When it comes to safety, people's feelings/sensibilities take second place.

  6. The fact that all the "loose" screwws are protuding infers that either they should have been visible during the Preflight or there is possibly an air leak in the pylon

  7. The airline and the crew should have been alerted and the screws should be tightened and replaced. If they weren't important, why was the plane designed with them like that in the first place? While it may not be a huge problem, sometimes small problems lead to big one. I think it's too bad that the news had to be alerted, but chances are the airline might not do anything about the problem without the publicity.

  8. As a pilot i know that this was not a "big" concern for safety.

    You should see Greek,Belgium,Chezck,Slovak,Bosnian,Macedonian,Former Russian countris charter airlines.Pilots could not see this "problem" during pre-flight inspection because it is on the upper part of the engine close to the leading edge slats and can bee seen only from above(passenger cabin)
    This is definetly maintenace mistake.
    Point in this case is not that screws are not tightened or missing,the point is that somebody is permanently preparing public through media with this kind of "SAFETY ISSUE" for a very long time so to show that JAT is unsafey and can bee sold very cheep or even to close the company and that opening another one will put money in the "wright" pockets.
    I do not want to be understand wrrongly I am not approwing any "smal or big" safety issue but the backup for this kind of "problems" are something that public opinion is not aware.

  9. Maybe the panel is no big deal unless it comes loose, of course; but what kind of other problems could there be if they can't even be bothered to at least tighten some screws!

  10. Having been an aircraft mechanic I can say with some expert knowlege that this is a very unsafe condition. Every panel (especially wing panels) on an aircraft contributes to the strength of the overall airframe, the screws are there for access to internal parts like cables, hydraulic actuators, etc. The wing on this plane was definitely weakened by the failure to secure these screws.

  11. I've been an aircraft mechanic for 20 years. While not familiar with the 737 in particular, the abover poster is correct in that every panel/fairing contributes to the overall strengh of the airframe. The biggest immeadiate concern would be leading edge wing damage should that panel come off in flight, and raises concerns of the overall condition of the aircraft. If they forgot that, what else was missed? Additionally, the aircrew should have noticed it on the walk around. Not a good way to run an airline.

  12. Since i am also an aircraft mechanic how some one who is not particularu familiar with the 737-300 can coment on missing screws.
    On that panel if you count there are over 20(twenty)screws and that particular panel can't been seen from ground and on the walk around.

  13. I've noticed something very similar on a Continental flight just two weeks's my blog with pictures

  14. The previous comment from conscious_consumer led to another News article at on 13 October 2009.

  15. Missing or loose screws are definitly not a normal configuration and doesn´t comply with Boeing AMM/SRM.This is a common problem on older 737classic and it requires replacement of the broken/worn anchor nuts.whenever an aircraft mechanic tells you this is normal he is not a qualified engineer nor is he not familiar with the allowable missing screws on structural panels.

  16. I was on a Southwest Airlines flight flying an old Boeing 737-300 from Oakland, CA to Seattle, WA on Febrary 5, 2010 and while sitting in the midsection exit row noticed a missing screw on a wing panel directly above the engine. I reported this to the captain. His first reaction was, that I was wrong and was looking at an unpainted screw. The co-pilot opened the emergency door walked out onto the wing and verified a screw on the wing was missing. The captain looked irritated and said nothing, perhaps he didn't like the idea of filling out the paperwork to report this safety issue given that it was the final flight for the night for this plane and it's crew and he probably wanted to get home or to his hotel for the night. I would have expected better maintenance at Southwest Airlines.