The airliner whose roof ripped open 34,000 feet over Arizona has had a busy 15-year life: taking off and touching down more than seven times a day, on average, and possibly developing microscopic cracks in its aluminum skin each time.
Federal aviation officials were preparing to issue an order Tuesday that calls for emergency inspections on 80 U.S.-registered Boeing 737 jetliners with histories similar to that Southwest Airlines jet, which had been pressurized and depressurized 39,000 times before a 5-foot-long hole opened in its fuselage.
The order is aimed at finding weaknesses in the metal exterior, but virtually all of the affected aircraft will have already been inspected by the time the order takes effect.
The safety directive applies to about 175 aircraft worldwide, including 80 planes registered in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration said. Of those 80, nearly all are operated by Southwest. Two belong to Alaska Airlines.
Southwest grounded nearly 80 Boeing 737-300s for inspections after its jet leaving Phoenix lost pressure Friday, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing 125 miles away in Yuma. By Monday evening, 64 were cleared to return to the skies, but three were found with cracks similar to those found on the Arizona plane.