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Southwest Pulls 3 Planes

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-961456.mp3

Dallas, TX – Southwest Airlines has taken three jets out of service for repairs, after inspecting dozens of Boeing 737-300s for subsurface cracks. Hundreds of flights were canceled. That followed an emergency landing Friday in Arizona. KERA's Bill Zeeble reports the airline expects today's schedule could return to normal.

That gaping 5-foot hole tore open mid-flight and was visible to passengers on board and then to many more via the internet. The incident, with two minor injuries, forced immediate action by Southwest, Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board. Southwest canceled about 670 flights spread over several days, as it inspected its Boeing jets possibly affected by stress and age.

Michael Boyd, a Colorado based airline consultant says he's not worried about flying on the Dallas based carrier.

Michael Boyd, Boyd International: All airplanes have stress cracks from time to time. So should you be worried? It doesn't mean the airplane's going to come apart in the sky. I'd be more worried about driving home on the LBJ than I would about getting on a Southwest flight.

Southwest says 90 percent of its jets in question have been inspected and returned to service. Those inspections included an additional test Boeing and Southwest used to find subsurface damage not visible to the eye. Today, the FAA is expected to order that test for older Boeing 737's - the test Southwest and Boeing say they've been using.

Critics have also worried Southwest flies more frequently than other carriers, leading to more planes with fatigue. Boyd disagrees.

Boyd: Maintenance is delineated in landings and take-offs, or hours. So if Southwest flies more, that means they're in maintenance more frequently. They're not riding their airplanes hard and putting them in the hangar wet.

Boyd calls it an unfortunate coincidence that Southwest planes have suffered two mid-flight fuselage holes in two years. Still, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued a statement calling last Friday's Southwest incident very serious and could result in additional action, depending on the outcome of the investigation. He said "safety is our number one priority."

Email Bill Zeeble