Initial Results Point to a Manufacturing Defect in some Older 737 Passenger Jets
By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
Initial results of an investigation into a hole in the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines jet over the Arizona desert on April 1 points to defects in the way aluminum plates were fastened, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The inspection "revealed gaps between the shank portions of several rivets and the corresponding rivet holes for many rivets" in part of the fuselage, the NTSB said in a statement posted on its website April 25.
Aviation insurance brokers will likely take notice of the investigation as they typically arrange the insurance programs for the nation's large airlines.
The NTSB said it is conducting further tests on the rivets, but some independent airline consultants have cast some doubt on the official explanation, according to news reports.
A manufacturing defect would pin the liability on airplane maker Boeing Co., which typically would protect itself with product liability coverage in its insurance program, brokers and risk managers said.
No aircraft was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration in the days following the incident. The FAA instead ordered extra inspections to early-model 737 aircraft, of which there are about 175 in operation worldwide.
"In this case, the FAA required an increase in the frequency of inspection of certain high-cycle aircraft models," said Charles Cederroth, a long-time Aon aviation broker, in an interview in early April. "So, there is no coverage response from a manufacturer perspective."
Skin fatigue sets in when the passenger cabin goes through thousands of pressurization and depressurization cycles that stem from the takeoffs and landings. The Southwest jet that suffered the damage had logged 39,781 cycles (or 39,781 takeoffs and landings.)
June 1, 2011
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