Qantas has taken three Boeing 737-800 jets out of service after cracks were found in an aircraft component known as the “pickle fork”. This is a small part that assists in connecting the wing to the aircraft’s fuselage. However, Qantas assures passengers that there is no risk to the flying public and its aircraft are safe to fly.
Last month, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an airworthiness directive after Southwest Airlines identified cracks in the pickle forks of two of its older aircraft with a high number of cycles. The directive instructed airlines to immediately inspect Boeing 737 NG (Next Generation) aircraft with more than 30,000 takeoff and landing cycles. Furthermore, aircraft with more than 22,600 cycles would need to be inspected within the next 1,000 cycles (i.e. within several months).
Qantas does not have any Boeing 737-800s with more than 30,000 cycles, but 33 aircraft have more than 22,600 cycles.
Qantas completed checks on all 33 affected Boeing 737-800s this morning. The three aircraft with faults discovered, which all had around 27,000 cycles, have been removed from service for repairs. They are expected to return to service by the end of this year.
Calls to ground Qantas fleet “irresponsible”
Steve Purvinas, head of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers’ Association (ALAEA), yesterday called on Qantas to ground its entire Boeing 737 fleet of 75 aircraft over the pickle fork issue. This predictably resulted in some sensationalist news headlines yesterday.
Qantas says that this is not necessary, labelling such claims “alarmist” and “irresponsible”.
Qantas Domestic CEO Andrew David said that Qantas would never fly an aircraft that was unsafe.
“Even where these hairline cracks are present they’re not an immediate risk, which is clear from the fact the checks were not required for at least seven months,” Mr David said.
“Unfortunately, there were some irresponsible comments from one engineering union yesterday, which completely misrepresented the facts. Those comments were especially disappointing given the fantastic job our engineers have done to inspect these aircraft well ahead of schedule, and the priority they give to safety every day of the week.”
It’s worth noting that Steve Purvinas is a harsh critic of Qantas with a long history of publicly bashing and undermining the airline. In fact, just last week he wrote an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald trashing the airline’s CEO.
Other airlines are affected
Globally, around 50 Boeing 737 NG aircraft have been grounded after cracked pickle forks were discovered. All affected aircraft have been removed from service and will be repaired by Boeing. The affected airlines include Delta, Korean Air and Brazil’s GOL Airlines.
Virgin Australia has already inspected its 19 Boeing 737-800 aircraft with more than 22,600 cycles and did not find any faults.
The pickle fork issue is another setback for aircraft manufacturer Boeing, as the prolonged (and expensive) global Boeing 737 MAX grounding rolls on without an end in sight.
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