Deadly US plane engine failure sparks emergency inspections

Southwest airplane sitting on the runway of the Philadelphia airport shows damage to the left engine

USA aviation regulators are planning to require emergency inspections of one of the most popular jet engines in the world as a result of the fatal accident earlier this week on a Southwest Airlines plane.

The CFM56 jet engine on Southwest flight 1380 blew apart over Pennsylvania on Tuesday, about 20 minutes after the Dallas-bound flight left New York's LaGuardia Airport with 149 people on board.

The FAA estimated the review will involve 352 engines in the United States, and 681 engines worldwide.

The directive, issued Friday, orders airlines to inspect all CFM engines with more than 30,000 cycles.

The inspections ordered are a sharp step-up from actions by both the European and U.S. regulators after a Southwest flight in August 2016 made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing.

"Our hearts are heavy", the statement continued. Tuesday's engine failure that led to a passenger's death prompted the oversight agency to issue the emergency order, the document stated.

CFM International had issued a similar recommendation in 2016 after the failure of a CFM56-7B engine on another Southwest aircraft. CFM56-7B engines are the most common engines on Boeing 737s, which are the most common commercial aircraft in the world. That directive was anticipated to impact 220 engines, although in a comment responding to the FAA proposal Southwest said the number of engines that would need to be tested was well beyond that number, because it didn't track the wear on the individual fan blades in engines.

As reported earlier this month, a woman died while travelling on a Boeing 737 when a engine fan blade broke loose and caused an explosion at 30,000 feet.

A NTSB inspection crew was also combing over the Boeing 737-700 for signs of what caused the engine to explode. The incident claimed the life of passenger Jennifer Riordan, the first fatality on board a USA commercial airliner since 2009.

Southwest, which had opposed efforts by the engine maker previous year to shorten the FAA's earlier proposed deadline, on Friday said its maintenance program meets or exceeds the new requirements. The inspection requirement applies to CFM56-7B engines. The directive stipulates that these inspections must be completed within the next 20 days.

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