Adding to an ever-growing list of Boeing public relations issues, the aircraft manufacturer has informed the Federal Aviation Administration that some of its 737 jets may have “improperly manufactured” wing parts that don’t meet strength and durability standards.
The FAA said Sunday that the issue affects some of the slat tracks in Boeing’s Next Generation (NG) and Max aircraft, including 32 NG and 33 Max jets in the U.S. The FAA said that the issue may affect as many as 148 parts manufactured by a Boeing supplier, adding that the faulty parts “may be susceptible to premature failure or cracks.”
“Although a complete failure of a leading edge slat track would not result in the loss of the aircraft, a risk remains that a failed part could lead to aircraft damage in flight,” the FAA said.
The investigation was jointly conducted by Boeing and the FAA Certificate Management Office (CMO), and Boeing alerted the FAA to the issue. The FAA said it will notify carriers who operate the planes with a mandatory directive to remove any faulty parts in question within 10 days. It has also informed international aviation officials as to the finding.
The FAA reported that 133 NG and 179 Max aircraft worldwide were potentially affected by the issue. Boeing said in a news release it identified only 21 NGs and 20 Maxes likely to contain the parts, but said that it recommended another 112 NGs and 159 Maxes be examined to “ensure a thorough assessment.” Boeing added that it is working to minimize downtime while the replacement parts are installed.
“We are committed to supporting our customers in every way possible as they identify and replace these potentially non-conforming tracks,” Kevin McAllister, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement.
A spokesperson for American Airlines told Gizmodo by email that the issue did not impact any of the 737 NG aircraft that it operates. United Airlines also said that none of its NGs are affected. Alaska Airlines told Gizmodo that it had one NG that was impacted by the notice.
“Our engineering and maintenance team is waiting for additional information on what actions to take,” an Alaska Airlines spokesperson said.
Southwest Airlines told CNBC that it plans to “fully comply with any service and regulatory requirements” and will review the NG and Max jets in its own fleet.
“With only a handful of Southwest aircraft identified, out of a fleet of more than 700 available aircraft, we are experiencing a normal operating day and do not anticipate Customer disruptions,” a spokesperson for the airline added in a statement to Gizmodo. “Southwest remains committed to ensuring the Safety of our Customers and Employees.”
After two deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 Max planes killed a combined 346 people, the FAA in March ordered all Max-8 and Max-9 aircraft to be grounded. Both crashes are still being investigated, though it’s suspected that an anti-stall system known as MCAS may have played a significant part in the incidents.
During a press conference last month, acting head of the FAA Daniel Elwell indicated there is currently no set schedule for clearing the jets for commercial flight. Per BBC, Elwell said at the time that if the process “takes a year to find everything we need to give us the confidence to lift the [grounding] order so be it.”
Updated with comment from United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.