Popular CFM56-7B Engine Under FAA Scrutiny After Recent Onboard Fatality

The National Transportation Safety Board is onsite inspecting a Southwest airline plane after engine failure caused the plane to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport

Although no cause has been ruled out, the first fatal USA airline accident since 2009 is expected to focus attention on metal fatigue in engine accidents, which are rare.

The plane, a Boeing 737 bound from NY to Dallas with 149 people aboard, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia just before noon as passengers breathing through oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling prayed and braced for impact.

The engine failure was reminiscent of a similar event on a Southwest Boeing 737-700 jet in August 2016 as it flew from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida.

Engine-maker CFM says there are more than 8,000 of its CFM56-7B engines in operation on Boeing 737 passenger jets.

"This fan blade was broken right at the hub, and our preliminary examination of this was there is evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated", said NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt.

In a brief statement late Wednesday, an FAA official said the agency will issue an order in the next two weeks to require ultrasonic inspection of fan blades on some CFM56-7B engines after they reach a certain number of takeoffs and landings.

A woman sitting near the window was sucked partially out of the plane before other passengers managed to pull her back in.

The FAA's proposed rule was never put into effect, said Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general with the Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, and it's unclear whether Southwest ever began the inspections based on the FAA proposal.

"I would be very cautious, if I was a customer, in accepting a quick settlement", he says.

Mackey said she and others are experiencing survivor guilt, especially because the airline allows passengers to pick their own seats.

Federal investigators were still trying to determine how a window came out of the plane. Sumwalt said the plane touched down at about 190 miles per hour, while a jet of that size would typically land at around 155 miles per hour.

Metal fatigue is a weakening of metal from repeated use and involves microscopic cracks. Shrapnel from the engine left a 5-by-16-inch hole just above the wing.

American Airlines has about 300 planes with that type of engine, and Delta Air Lines has about 185. Southwest in October 2017 sent a letter to the FAA saying it needed 18 months to complete the inspections.

"There is something going on with these engines", he said, "and the statistical likelihood of additional failures exists". CEO Gary Kelly said there were no problems with the plane or its engine when it was inspected on Sunday.

Most are grateful to be alive and say they thank Southwest's crew, namely pilot Tammie Jo, for ensuring they got to the ground safely.

Commercial airplane cabins are generally pressurized to an equivalent of 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level, according to the World Heath Organization, in an effort to maintain a healthy oxygen level for both the passengers and the flight crew. The NTSB said the probable cause of the wreck was "inadequate consideration" of "human factors" and "limitations in the inspection and quality control procedures used by United Airlines".

Sumwalt said he was not yet ready to draw any broader conclusions about the engines.

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