The death of a beautiful wife and mother did not have to happen. When she boarded Southwest Flight 1380 in New York she could not have known that both the airline she trusted, the FAA, part of the Government that is thought of as the watchdog for flight safety, and the NTSB the independent government agency that’s supposed to investigate accidents and make Safety Recommendations had ignored explicit warnings that a disaster was in the making.
In 2016, a Southwest Boeing 737 suffered a similar fan blade separation while over the Gulf of Mexico. It landed safely in New Orleans. The fan blade was found to have suffered a fatigue failure and while exiting the engine nacelle it too destroyed much of the front of that device that is supposed to contain such disintegrations. It didn’t.
The French manufacturer of the CFM-56 engine that powers all Boeing 737NG aircraft issued a Service Bulletin requiring airlines to perform ultrasonic inspection of the fan blades based upon time in service and the European Authorities felt the chances for loss of life was serious enough to issue an Airworthiness Directive that required all EU based airlines to perform the Service Bulletin. Our Federal Aviation Administration, always asleep, and always too little too late, is still fooling with a similar Airworthiness Directive for U.S. based airlines but hasn’t yet ordered the inspections. The manufacturer of the aircraft, The Boeing Company, did nothing to determine why uncontained engine failures were not “contained” by the very device that’s supposed to contain them.
While airlines are required to perform Service Bulletins, it is clear that Southwest, the airline that suffered the in-flight emergency in 2016, didn’t feel it was urgent enough to accelerate inspections on its own aircraft even after suffering the near tragic event that just as easily could have cost the life of its passengers and crew.
More than a year and a half later, with nothing done in the face of the events that warned everyone, the airline, the FAA, the manufacturer of the airplane, that a time bomb, the fan blades could explode, be uncontained, and bring down an airplane, Southwest 1380 killed a passenger.
Every airplane telegraphs its intention to fail long before it happens. An accident is no surprise, it’s always a consequence of the people in charge who fail to act quickly enough.
The death of this lovely woman is beyond a disgrace, it is unwarranted, it is the result of a total absence of care, a gross abuse of a system that was supposed to protect the flying public.
Touting that there had not been a fatality since 2009 in U.S. airline operations, the FAA and NTSB were lauding their own skill and job performance while ignoring the hard facts. They failed in their duties and without some coercion from Government airlines do as little as possible.
The Service Bulletin gave the airlines too much time. The Airworthiness Directive gave the airlines too much time. The FAA is incompetent and the NTSB should have issued a Safety Recommendation after the 2016 incident and didn’t.
To learn more, see my TV interviews about the incident.
Arthur Alan Wolk
April 19th 2018