(Note: The New York Times originally reported that the number of planes being grounded was 81 but it now reports that number is 79)
After an incident yesterday where a 3 foot hole burst open on the top of a Southwest Airlines 737 in mid flight, the airlines has grounded several 737s until they can be further inspected The New York Times reports.
“We’re taking them out of service to inspect them over the next few days,” Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokeswoman, said Saturday. Ms. Eichinger said they would be “looking for the same type of aircraft skin fatigue.”
The Southwest plane, a 15-year old Boeing 737-300, was sailing along at 36,000 feet on Friday afternoon en route to Sacramento from Phoenix when passengers heard an explosion. The Associated Press reported that one woman described it as “gunshot-like.”
Southwest’s entire fleet is made of 737s but only its 737-300s were grounded as apart of the inspections.
While the cause is currently unknown, the Times article goes on to cite a former NTSB chairman, James E. Hall, who implies that Southwest’s aggressive flight scheduling, where planes make quick turnarounds in an effort to reduce costs, may be taking a toll on Southwest’s fleet before adding that the airline traditionally has had “a good safety program”.
The safety of Southwest’s fleet has come under scrutiny since the incident but it should be noted that the airline has only experienced one fatality in its nearly 40 years in service.