Southwest Airlines opposed a recommended safety check on its jet engines

Inspecting what went wrong.
Inspecting what went wrong.
Image: NTSB via AP
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Southwest Airlines on Tuesday (April 17) experienced the first accident-related fatality on a US passenger airline since 2009 after an engine failure. Now the Associated Press and Reuters report that Southwest had previously opposed a recommendation by its engine manufacturer to inspect fan blades within 12 months, arguing that it needed more time for the inspections.

The revelation, reported today (April 19), comes a day after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would order inspections on the fan blades of some CFM56 engines made by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and French company Safran SA.

According to federal investigators, a fan blade on the Southwest jet broke off mid-flight, causing the CFM56 engine to explode and debris to shatter a window. The passenger seated by that window later died. The blade that broke off showed signs of metal fatigue, the weakening of metal from repeated use that can result in microscopic cracks.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said metal fatigue was the cause of another case of engine failure on a Southwest plane two years prior. In August 2016, a Southwest jet was forced to make an emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade had separated from the CFM56 engine. It was after that incident that CFM had recommended ultrasonic inspections on some fan blades within 12 months to look for cracks.

Southwest, however, said airlines needed 18 months to perform the inspections and that only some of the 24 blades should be checked, according to Reuters. Southwest was not the only airline to oppose the recommendation.

“SWA does NOT support the CFM comment on reducing compliance time to 12 months,” the airline wrote in a comment to the FAA.