Just when it looked like Boeing was starting to recover from the scare it had over the summer, things are taking a turn for the worse. The recently embattled aerospace firm announced on Thursday that dozens of its third-generation 737 jets have been grounded due to concerns about cracking in the plane’s airframe.
According to a BBC report, multiple airlines are keeping dozens the 737 NG (next generation) planes grounded while they perform inspections. The original issue was discovered by Qantas, an Australian airline. Southwest also found a crack in one of its 737 planes.
No, that’s not just a random pair of words or something tasty for a sandwich. Rather, the “pickle fork” refers to a section of Boeing’s popular 737 NG that attaches the wing to the body. The company revealed that this area is prone to cracking—especially if the plane has flown more than 30,000 times.
In September, regulators in the U.S. ordered inspections of all 737 NG planes that have flown more than 30,000 times. However, it appears that that might not be the magic number. Qantas said that none of its planes of that model had seen more than 30,000 journeys. Instead, the cracked plane had been flown less than 27,000 times.
The airline goes on to say, “Even when a crack is present, it does not immediately compromise the safety of the aircraft.”
Nonetheless, the idea of flying in a plane that has a compromised airframe is terrifying. For Boeing, the reality of dealing with another PR nightmare is just as scary.
While the cracking problem is obviously a concern for passengers, it’s even more concerning for Boeing. The firm will now need to defuse the situation in tandem with issues regarding its flight software.
Back in March, Boeing had to ground its entire fleet of 737 Max planes in the U.S. and other countries following two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 passengers and crew. Notably, the 737 NG is an older plane than the ill-fated Max jet.
Currently, lawmakers, citizens, and aviation safety groups are casting a harsh gaze on the firm to step up its performance. As always with problems of this nature, Boeing’s stock price has also taken a hit. Since the beginning of March, it has plummeted nearly 24 percent. The only thing keeping the firm afloat is the fact that its one major competitor, Airbus, is booked out for nearly eight years.
In response to Congressional criticism of his company’s handling of the 737 Max, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said, “We would do it differently if we knew what we know today. We have studied both crashes and we know what to fix.”
As for now, it appears that the pickle fork cracks aren’t a major safety concern. Still, it’s something that Boeing will need to address if it hopes to retain any sliver of consumer trust.