Southwest Airlines moves quickly to check for metal fatigue in its fleet's engines

CEO Gary Kelly praises pilot, passengers, competitors during crisis

Steve Tawa
April 26, 2018 - 12:11 pm
Southwest Plane

@NTSB_Newsroom/Twitter via CNN

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly answered questions during a quarterly earnings report on CNBC, and followed with an update on the fatal emergency landing last week at Philadelphia International Airport. 

Kelly remains contrite, saying their "hearts are heavy, and thoughts and prayers" remain for the passenger who died when an engine blade broke off mid-flight, sending shrapnel into the fuselage, breaking a cabin window.

While the NTSB investigates, Southwest moved up its ultrasonic inspection schedule, checking for signs of metal fatigue in the fan blades, according to Kelly.

"We're on a very accelerated cycle, compared to what had previously been done in the industry, which is to look at engines and these fan blades roughly every 18 months, or every 3,000 cycles," Kelly said. 

A cycle typically includes an engine start, takeoff, and landing. He says so far, the airline has checked 80 percent of its fleet of 700 planes.

The CFM56 engine is one of the most widely used jet engines for commercial use in the world.

"It is highly unusual to have fatigue in these blades," Kelly said. "The accelerated schedule will be more than adequate to identify any early warnings."

He says any suspect blades will be discarded and replaced. Kelly also singled out Southwest's competitors.

"We try to beat each other up every day, but when it comes to a time like this, we all come to each other's aid. In particular, American Airlines in Philadelphia was extremely helpful," Kelly said. 

Kelly also spoke about the courage and compassion of the Southwest Flight 1380 crew, especially the pilot of the aircraft, Tammie Jo Shults, and the passengers during the crisis.  

Southwest Airlines’ ticket sales slowed after the first passenger death in its 47-year history. The company's earnings statement showed a "recent softness in bookings," resulting in lower fare revenues.