Boeing said it will design a new engine covering and retrofit it on thousands of 737 Next Generation (NG) passenger planes to prevent a re-occurrence of a deadly accident aboard a Southwest Airlines flight last year.
The accident occurred on Southwest flight 1380 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Dallas Love Field in April 2018 when a cracked fan blade detached and broke part of the engine casing. The fragment struck and broke a window, causing the flight to rapidly depressurize.
Passenger Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old mother of two and Wells Fargo executive from Albuquerque, was partially pulled through the broken window and died in the accident. The plane diverted and landed safely in Philadelphia.
On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that Boeing redesign the engine covering on its 737 NG jets to prevent it from striking the plane in the event that a fan blade detaches in the future.
The NTSB investigates all commercial and private civilian airplane crashes in the U.S. Although it makes recommendations for safety improvements to help prevent repeat accidents, it has no regulatory authority.
In response to the NTSB report and recommendations, Boeing struck an uncharacteristically conciliatory tone. The company commended the NTSB for its investigation and said it is “committed to working closely with the FAA, engine manufacturers, and industry stakeholders to implement enhancements that address the NTSB’s safety recommendations.”
Boeing said “enhancements are being introduced into the inlet and fan cowl designs to enhance their ability to withstand an engine fan blade out event as well as to increase the overall capability of these structures.”
The NTSB didn’t blame Boeing or Southwest for the 2018 incident. The board of investigators said the crack in the fan blade was not likely detectable in the plane’s last routine inspection. Boeing, however, said that the 737 NG planes in service are safe to fly because “the issue is completely mitigated by the fan blade inspections.”
After the 2018 accident, the FAA ordered airlines to specifically check for cracks in engine fan blades. The 737 NG planes have had other safety issues in the past, such as cracking on the pickle forks that connect the plane’s wings to its fuselage.
Boeing’s engine enhancements will affect about 6,700 jets that are currently in use around the world. Boeing is currently winding down its production of the 737 NG and has less than 100 of the planes to manufacture and deliver. The company has stopped taking new orders for them after introducing its line of 737 Max jets, which have been grounded since March following the crash of Lion Air flight 610 in Indonesia and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in Ethiopia.
The NTSB’s recommendations aren’t connected to the 737 Max disasters, which have put the airplane maker under intense scrutiny worldwide. Boeing is hoping to relaunch those planes in the coming weeks with flight-control system improvements.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Currently, Mike represents family members of victims in the Ethiopian Airlines crash involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.