Southwest Airlines has completed checks on the rest of its 35,500 engine fan blades and found no signs of the cracking that's been blamed in the fatal engine failure onboard last month's Flight 1380.
The company's CEO Gary Kelly said there were "no findings" ahead the company's annual shareholders meeting held Wednesday in Annapolis, Maryland, according to Bloomberg News.
"So it's a very positive report," Kelly said.
The company has sent several dozen blades to manufacturer General Electric for further inspection, although Kelly said he did not expect it would turn up any problems. Some of those blades had coating anomalies and were sent to GE "out of an abundance of caution," Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven told Bloomberg.
The Southwest announcement came on the same day federal regulators asked airlines to speed up inspections of older fan blades on engines of the type involved in the April accident.
The Dallas-based carrier said Wednesday that it is wrapping up an audit to ensure all of the fan blades on its CFM56-7B engines in its fleet have been inspected using enhanced ultrasonic or electrical current techniques as required by regulators.
Southwest sped up inspections after a fan blade broke off from the engine on an April 17 flight, damaging the engine's casing and sending debris flying into the fuselage. A window on the plane blew out from the damage, and the woman sitting next to it, 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan, died from injuries suffered in the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the accident, but said the fan blade that broke off the CFM56-7B engine showed signs of internal cracking that expanded under stress of repeated use.
The engine type is one of the most commonly used in commercial aviation, powering more than 6,700 aircraft worldwide, according to its manufacturer CFM International, a company jointly owned by GE and France's Safran Aircraft Engines.
Southwest had already started enhanced inspections of the 35,500 fan blades in its fleet after an August 2016 flight suffered a similar engine failure. Company officials said 17,000 fan blades had been inspected prior to last month's accident, with only one showing signs of cracking. That blade was replaced.
Checks of the fan blades on Flight 1380 were scheduled for later this year and hadn't happened at the time of last month's accident. The fan blade that broke had passed seven previous inspections since 2012, the company said.
The FAA has since issued several airworthiness directives that call for immediate checks of older engine fan blades used on CFM56-7B engines, as well as regular, ongoing checks in the future using ultrasonic or electrical current inspection methods.
On Wednesday, the FAA issued another directive, calling for airlines to inspect fan blades with the highest number of take offs and landings by June 30. Fan blades with more than 20,000 flights must be inspected by the end of August, with recurring inspections every 3,000 flights.
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