Federal regulators on Monday ordered inspections for hundreds of Boeing jetliners over potential problems with wing de-icing systems, certain planes' main landing gear and the oxygen masks used by passengers.
None of the three airworthiness directives were deemed to pose an immediate safety hazard as the Federal Aviation Administration gave the airlines years to comply with each of them. A separate order affecting certain Airbus planes also does not mandate immediate action.
But the latest directives come during a period of unprecedented scrutiny on airline maintenance records that already has forced hundreds of planes to be grounded and thousands of travelers to be inconvenienced, most recently by extra inspections on many jets flown by AMR Corp.'s American Airlines.
The new order affecting the most planes includes repetitive inspections and the possible replacement of main landing gear components on older Boeing 737s used by Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., Southwest Airlines, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and other carriers. It resulted from reports of cracking of certain parts that could damage or jam flight control cables and result in loss of control of the airplane, according to the government.
The FAA rejected a request from the Air Transport Association, on behalf of United, that the compliance period be extended to 48 months from 36. Compliance will require jacking and de-fueling the aircraft and disassembling the landing gear, the trade group said.
The order, effective May 19, affects 3,130 planes worldwide, including 1,380 in the U.S., and could cost between $5,258 and $6,192 per plane depending on their configuration.
The FAA last month issued a directive on certain 737s after numerous reports of fuel leaks caused by a potentially faulty bolt that required U.S. carriers to get the planes inspected within 90 days of an April 8 effective date. Those safety checks are to detect and fix a bolt that can fall off and puncture the aircraft's fuel tanks.
Another new order effective May 19 affects Boeing 757s used by a number of domestic carriers and requires repetitive inspections of a wing de-icing system after cracks were found. If left unchecked, the problem could lead to "reduced controllability of the airplane," according to the FAA, which issues hundreds of airworthiness directives annually.
Northwest Airlines asked the FAA to change the intervals for the repetitive inspections to 24 months from 6,000 flight hours, and to increase to eight hours from two the estimated time needed for inspections. Regulators rejected both requests on that directive, which affects 530 aircraft in the U.S. at an estimated cost of $160 per plane per inspection cycle.
The same Boeing 757s also must be inspected within 60 months to determine the manufacturer and manufacture date of the oxygen masks for use by passengers and crew members after a report that "several passenger masks with broken inline flow indicators were found following a mask deployment."
If those indicators fractured or separated, it could "inhibit oxygen flow to the masks" used by passengers and cabin attendants, according to the order. Also effective May 19, it applies to 640 planes in the U.S. with an estimated cost of $1,600 per jet.
The FAA also ordered carriers flying certain Airbus aircraft to reinforce part of the fuselage due to the "potential loss of structural integrity ... during extreme rolling and vertical maneuver combinations." That directive applies to 160 planes in the U.S. and could cost up to $16,160 per aircraft.
Operators, including American, United Parcel Service and FedEx Corp., must make the changes within 2,500 flight cycles of the May 19 effective date.