LARA editor Glenn Sands provides a summary of the latest happenings across the low-fare airline and regional aviation industry.

Less than a year ago the mighty Boeing 737 was still regarded as the backbone of regional and low-cost airline fleets in terms of the number in service, operators and routes flown. The type had been in service since the late 1960s. But this year has gone from bad to worse for Boeing, and its legendary 737. First there were the fatal crashes of two 737 MAX aircraft, which resulted in the worldwide grounding of the MAX fleet. The impact this had on regional carriers, which at the time struggled to meet summer schedules with reduced fleets, continues to this day. Then there’s the discovery of cracks in the pickle-forks of 737 NGs operated by Qantas, which has resulted in three of its aircraft being grounded until next year.

Now another crisis threatens the 737 series, as the US FAA proposes to fine Boeing US$3.9 million, alleging that the US aircraft manufacturer knew 133 of its 737 models contained defective parts yet they were still presented for certification.

Boeing certified approximately 48 aircraft equipped with potentially defective wing parts between August and October 2018. Later, from October 2018 to May 2019, the aircraft manufacturer presented a further batch of 85 potentially affected 737s as airworthy, although Boeing officials were ‘knowingly’ aware that some of the aircraft were defective, according to an FAA statement released on 6 December.

It appears that Boeing’s quality assurance system failed to maintain that its suppliers complied with the Federal Aviation Regulations, and the US authority has now issued the fine against the aircraft manufacturer. Boeing has 30 days to respond to the action.

The 133 aircraft, which were the focus of this action, were fitted with faulty slat tracks, which were not of sufficient strength approved by the FAA. Slat tracks are located on the leading edge of the wing, and guide the movement of slat panels that provide additional lift during take-off and landing.

The parts provided to Boeing by its third-tier supplier, Southwest United Industries, were incorrectly manufactured and a test by the FAA showed the presence of hydrogen embrittlement, which can cause cracks within the metal. During take-off or landing, a 737 fitted with these parts is in danger. A failure of these parts can potentially lead to a loss of the aircraft within this critical flight phase.

The problem became widely known in June, just three months after the MAX grounding. Boeing and the FAA informed 737 operators about the situation, calling for inspections. After Boeing’s service bulletin, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive the same month, mandating operators to have their aircraft inspected and faulty parts replaced with new ones.

For Boeing it was another blow to its commercial aircraft division. Fortunately, no lives were lost due to these faulty parts. In terms of the aircraft manufacturer’s reputation, it looks as though 2020 will be a very busy year as company executives at Boeing seeks to regain the trust and confidence of both the operators and passengers alike.

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