FAA Orders More Inspections; Thousands of Planes Affected

Continuing a period of unprecedented scrutiny on airline maintenance, the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday ordered three airworthiness directives, calling for inspections on thousands of planes over potential problems with wing de-icing systems, landing gear, and the in-cabin oxygen masks that drop down for passengers in the event of an emergency. FAA considered none of the directives immediate safety hazards, giving the airlines years to comply with each of them, beginning May 19.

The new order affecting the most planes includes repetitive inspections and the possible replacement of main landing gear components on older Boeing 737s used by Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and other carriers. It resulted from reports of cracking of certain parts that could damage or jam flight control cables and result in loss of control of the airplane, according to the agency. The order affects 3,130 planes worldwide, including 1,380 in the United States, and could cost between $5,258 and $6,192 per plane depending on their configuration. Compliance will require jacking and de-fueling the aircraft and disassembling the landing gear. Airlines will have three years to take care of it, FAA said.

The order affecting the wing de-icing system affects 530 Boeing 757s in the United States. The directive requires repetitive inspections of the system after cracks were found. If left unchecked, the problem could lead to "reduced controllability of the airplane," said FAA, which ordered the inspections at intervals of 6,000 flight hours, with an estimated time needed for the inspections at two hours. The estimated cost per plane per inspection cycle is $160.

The same Boeing 757s also must be inspected within 60 months to determine the manufacturer and manufacture date of the oxygen masks for use by passengers and crew members after a report that "several passenger masks with broken inline flow indicators were found following a mask deployment." If those indicators fractured or separated, it could "inhibit oxygen flow to the masks" used by passengers and cabin attendants, according to the order. Also effective May 19, it applies to 640 planes in the U.S. with an estimated cost of $1,600 per jet.

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