In the first few days of the investigation, the NTSB and Southwest found that the rupture The BBC program The World Today interviewed Dr. Todd Curtis about some of the issues surrounding the April 1, 2011 incident where a Southwest Airlines 737-300 experienced a rupture in the upper fuselage that led to a loss of cabin pressure and an emergency landing. The early findings of the NTSB investigation hint at a wider problem in the worldwide 737 fleet. Among other things, the NTSB found evidence of extensive fatigue cracking in the area of the fuselage rupture, cracking that hadn't been discovered during routine maintenance before the flight. The NTSB also stated that the underlying problem would likely not have been caught by the kinds of visual inspection that are required for that part of the aircraft.
Southwest grounded 79 other 737-300 aircraft that may have been prone to fatigue cracking, and have so far found three other aircraft with similar cracks (by April 7th, two additional aircraft were found).
The NTSB investigation is in its early stages, and it may be weeks or even months before the NTSB determines a cause for the fuselage rupture. Before that happens, it is very likely that the FAA or Boeing may recommend or require additional inspections or procedures for uncovering conditions that may cause similar fuselage ruptures.
Previous Related Incidents
This isn't the first time Southwest has been in the news because of issues related to inspections or metal fatigue. In 2009, a Southwest 737 on a flight from Nashville, TN to Baltimore, MD experienced a loss of cabin pressure due to a smaller fuselage failure in a different area of the fuselage.
In 2008, Southwest faced millions in fines because of problems with FAA safety inspection process that allowed the airline to continue to fly airplanes that were not in compliance with a mandatory safety inspection. The following podcasts and videos discuss some of the issues around those proposed fines.
Show #47: Interview on the Radio America Show 'The Gregg Knapp Experience' - 14 April 2008
This interview from the Radio America show The Gregg Knapp Experience focused on issues that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussed in their hearings that started on April 3rd, 2008. Topics covered included the threats that were alleged to have been directed at whistleblowers in the FAA who wanted to report problems with the oversight process.
Audio: MP3 Length: 9:35
Show #46: Interview on the BBC Show 'The World Today' - 7 April 2008
This interview from the BBC show The World Today focused on issues that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussed in their hearings that started on April 3rd, 2008. Topics covered included the role of whistleblowers in the FAA and whether the FAA is doing their job of protecting those who fly.
Audio: MP3 Length: 5:12
Show #45: Interview on the Don Shelby Show on WCCO Radio in Minneapolis - 7 April 2008
This interview from the Don Shelby Show on WCCO radio in Minneapolis focused on issues that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussed in their hearings that started on April 3rd, 2008. Topics covered included the risks passengers may face as a result of recent maintenance problems, and issues around airline maintenance that us outsourced to companies outside of the U.S.
Audio: MP3 Length: 10:11
Show #44: Interview on the Ankarlo Morning Show on KTAR Radio in Phoenix - 3 April 2008
This discussion with KTAR host Darrell Ankarlo focused on issues that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would likely discuss in their hearings that started on April 3rd, 2008. The key issue of concern in the hearing was the relationship between the FAA and the airlines, specifically whether the recent problems with the FAA's oversight of Southwest Airlines were a symptom of a broader problem within the agency.
Audio: MP3 Length: 11:44
Show #43: A Discussion of Concerns After a String of Airline Safety Events - 1 April 2008
A roundtable discussion on National Public Radio station WAMU from 1 April 2008 featuring Dr. Curtis, the Editor-in-Chief of Aviation Daily Jim Matthews, and the vice president for operations and safety of the Air Transport Association Basil Barimo.
Audio: MP3 Length: 47:56
Show #42: The FAA Inspection Process and Southwest Airlines - 28 March 2008
In this Conversation, Dr. Todd Curtis discusses a proposed $10.2 million dollar fine against Southwest Airlines and how problems with FAA safety inspection process allowed the airline to continue to fly airplanes that were not in compliance with a mandatory safety inspection. Dr. Curtis also discusses the role the FAA played in allowing Southwest to fly out of compliance aircraft, and how subsequent actions by the FAA may ensure that all airline operators may be following the rules but may also inconvenience passengers and undermines their confidence in the FAA.
Audio: MP3 | Video: iPod/MP4 | WMV | Google Video | YouTube Length: 9:05
Video Report from 28 March 2008
For more videos, visit the AirSafe.com YouTube channel.
18 March 2008 letter sent by FAA to airline operators requesting safety audit
Text of AD 2004-18-06
Safety events involving Southwest Airlines
Types of Airworthiness Directives