Even if you weren’t afraid of stepping onto an airplane before, the global coronavirus pandemic has given us a slew of new reasons to be stressed out by air travel. Even if you’re not turned off by the idea of being cooped up in a germ-filled metal tube in the sky for hours on end, there’s the chance that you might be sitting next to someone who’s wiggled out of their mandated mask, or behind someone who reclines their seat and shatters the screen on your increasingly vital laptop or phone. And of course, there’s always the chance your plane could crash. Now, though, Boeing is helpfully providing us with a whole new reason to side-eye the entire airline industry: broke-ass engines.
That’s according to the Federal Aviation Administration—the federal branch responsible for keeping air travel in check—which ordered a round of emergency inspections of about 2,000 Boeing 737 “Next Generation” and “Classic” airliners (though thankfully, the already scandal-ridden Max was left off the list). As Bloomberg reports, it turns out the engines on these specific models are at risk of corroding over—and failing mid-flight—after being put into storage for months amid the current pandemic-induced flight slowdown.
According to the FAA, the scourge of spot-checks was brought on by four separate reports of a particular valve within the engine being corroded after months of misuse, and being stuck in the “open” position during flight. If that happens, the report explains, it could result “in an unrecoverable compressor stall and the inability to restart the engine.”
In other words, when these valves are stuck (or rusted) open, the 737's engine loses power more quickly than it should, and “without the ability to restart,” according to the report. If that happens, the plane could be forced into an “off-airport landing,” which means, uh, exactly what you think it means.
According to the notice, airlines (or anyone who owns a specific slew of 737 models) should give their engines an inspection if an aircraft hasn’t been up and running in “7 or more consecutive days.” Safe to say, planes aren’t flying like they used to (though there are more of them up there than you probably think) so there’s probably a lot of inspecting that’ll need to happen over the coming weeks. As Bloomberg pointed out, more than 3,000 airliners—roughly half the fleet currently active in the U.S.—have been fully shelved since May of this year.
Still, even if all of these planes pass their inspections with flying colors, I think it’s safe to say that we should all be a bit more cautious of air travel in our current corona-fueled hellworld.