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American finds fuselage scratches on some 737s

/ Source: The Associated Press

American Airlines has inspected dozens of planes and found three with tiny scratches on the aluminum skin of the fuselage that may have been caused by airport jetbridges used by passengers to walk on and off aircraft.

The scratches must be repaired before the affected planes can re-enter service because, while they are very small, they are deeper than allowed by the manufacturer's guidelines, according to American.

The damage was found in an area of the aircraft where the canopy of a jetbridge meets the fuselage, American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said Saturday.

"There's absolutely no safety concern," Fagan said.

Fagan said less than a dozen flights were canceled as a result of the inspections.

The recent inspections of more than three-quarters of 79 Boeing 737-800 aircraft were done as a precaution after some scratches were found that the carrier believes may have been caused by a jetbridge at an airport, Fagan said. The discovery of other planes with similar scratches "led us to believe there could be a pattern," Fagan said.

It was not clear whether the damage occurred at one airport or multiple airports. American was inspecting jetbridges at several airports. It wouldn't say which ones.

American, a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp., plans to inspect more 737-800s by early next week. American and its regional affiliate, American Eagle, have roughly 890 total aircraft.

Fagan could not say exactly when American first discovered the problem or when it alerted the Federal Aviation Administration. On the last point, Fagan would say only that FAA notification was made at the "appropriate" time.

An FAA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment left Saturday at the agency's Washington offices.

In April 2008, American grounded its MD-80 fleet after an FAA safety audit showed inspections of electrical wiring were needed. More than 3,000 flights were canceled, costing the airline tens of millions of dollars in lost ticket sales. At the time, Alaska Air Group Inc.'s Alaska Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. each canceled a small number of flights on MD-80 series aircraft.