Southwest Airlines and Boeing have opted not to publicly respond to US FAA administrator Randy Babbitt's revelation that the agency is taking a close look at the airframer's manufacturing techniques after the fuselage of a Southwest 737-300 ruptured over Arizona on 1 April.
Babbitt today told ATI and Flightglobal on the sidelines of the Aviation Week MRO Americas conference in Miami that people have "leaped to the conclusion" that the incident was related to fatigue. "The airplane didn't have that many cycles on it so we're looking at other things. The manufacturing techniques. Boeing is very interested too. This is not good for anybody's business," he said.
Asked by ATI and Flightglobal to comment on Babbitt's assertion, Southwest vice president maintenance operations Jim Sokol says: "I'd like to just start out with, when you have a situation like that, the immediate thing for us to do is to assemble all the folks that we have on our staff, understand exactly what took place, and from that perspective, the first few hours we clearly did not know the facts of that event. From that perspective, we took a very proactive measure to put those aircraft at rest. The aircraft that were in a particular category based on manufacturing was narrowed down through the help of Boeing so we knew exactly what the population was. And based on that we did some very aggressive inspections to ensure that we had no other problems throughout our fleet.
"And from that perspective, it took us roughly 72 hours to come back and gather the facts, understand exactly where the failure occurred, from that perspective how we could be proactive going forward, to make sure that the aircraft does as it is intended. And if you go back and look at this failure, obviously you would never want that for any aircraft. But the aircraft, as a result of that failure, behaved exactly as it should and that's comforting from our standpoint."
Outside of that, adds Sokol, "I really don't want to go into a lot more details because it's under investigation and the things that are being privileged from that investigation, to be very direct, I'm not acknowledging that."
A Boeing spokeswoman says: "We're not commenting on it right now. It's still an NTSB investigation."
Southwest grounded over 80 Boeing 737s after a fuselage hole was discovered in a -300 that depressurised over Arizona. The aircraft conducted an emergency landing at Yuma.