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Southwest launches fan blade tracking after April engine failure

Southwest Airlines will launch an internal system to track all of its engine fan blades by serial number, following the inflight failure of a CFM56 engine in April.

The Dallas-based airline says there has never been a need to track fan blades that precisely, but is rolling out the initiative as it hopes to prevent a repeat of the blade fatigue that was related to the 17 April engine failure which killed one passenger.

Southwest aims to have the internal tracking system set up shortly, chief operating officer Mike Van de Ven tells FlightGlobal at the airline's shareholders meeting in Annapolis.

Last week, the airline completed inspections on more than 35,000 fan blades - an effort that began in 2016 after a similar accident in August of that year, also involving a cracked fan blade. The carrier accelerated inspections of the remaining fan blades following the 17 April accident.

Chief executive Gary Kelly says there were "zero findings" from the inspections that recently wrapped up, but says the airline removed a couple dozen blades that showed coating anomalies. These were sent back to CFM for further checks that will be more invasive beyond the airline's ultrasonic inspections, he adds.

"There is a more precise and more invasive step that can be taken if you have some indeterminate results from that [ultrasonic] inspection," says Kelly. "This is an extra cautionary step we are taking."

Van de Ven says that about 20 to 30 blades were returned to CFM, but stresses that the coating anomalies could be simply due to wear-and-tear. The airline is also completing an audit of its records to ensure that it has inspected every fan blade that requires the checks.

"What I want to be able to say is that every fan blade with more than 3,000 cycles has been inspected and is in a programme to be inspected every 3,000 cycles," says Van de Ven.

The airline estimates it cancelled about 500 flights as a result of the engine inspections.

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