‘Pickle cracks’ found on newer 737s spark fresh calls for Qantas, Virgin inspections


Qantas rushed to complete inspections on all planes with more than 22,600 flights last week after it discovered a crack on a 737 during routine maintenance.

Lion Air found cracks on two 737s with less than 22,000 flights.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association’s federal secretary Steve Purvinas said the discovery meant all 737 NG aircraft needed to be inspected urgently.

Mr Purvinas said he had written to the FAA calling on it to urgently amend its airworthiness directive and “require all airlines worldwide to immediately check all their 737s for cracks regardless of how old they are”.

Polana B. Pramesti, director-general for civil aviation at Indonesia’s Ministry of Transport, confirmed to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald reports in the Indonesian press that Lion Air had found cracks in two Boeing 737s below 22,000 flight cycles.

Geoffrey Dell, an aviation safety expert at the Central Queensland University and a former senior safety manager at Qantas, said he expected the FAA’s directive would be updated to mandate inspections of younger aircraft and that airlines should be proactive with their own inspections.

“You might just have an aircraft that has done three hours that has the symptoms, because you don’t know what is causing it,” Dr Dell said.

“I’d certainly be recommending going backwards down the fleet to make sure there weren’t any outliers.”

Qantas declined to comment on the cracks appearing on newer aircraft. But last week the airline hit back at the ALAEA’s calls for it to ground all 737s to carry out inspections, saying it was irresponsible and misrepresented the facts.

“Qantas will never fly a plane if we do not believe it is safe to do so. Our entire reputation, our brand, is built on a safety record,” Qantas domestic chief executive Andrew David said.

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A Virgin Australia spokeswoman said the airline would “follow any further directives issued by CASA or the FAA as a matter of priority and we will work with Boeing to continue these inspections within the required time-frames”.

Virgin has checked 19 aircraft in its fleet that were above the 22,600 flight threshold, and six additional jets that had above 18,000 flights, leaving 50 aircraft that have not been inspected.

Qantas has inspected 33 aircraft above 22,600 flight cycles, leaving 42 which have not been inspected. Qantas said it does not have any planes that have operated between 18,000 and 22,600 flights.

Lion Air declined to comment. Boeing also declined to comment on the Lion Air findings. The aircraft manufacturer has previously said faults had been discovered on less than 5 per cent of aeroplanes that had been inspected.

Aircraft discovered with cracks must be grounded until they are repaired, which is expected to take several weeks.

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