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Southwest Airlines Races to Inspect Plane Engines After Deadly Explosion

Southwest Airlines is racing to do an inspection of all of the engines in its aircraft similar to the one that exploded Tuesday, resulting in several injuries and the death of a New Mexico woman following an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday night, hours after Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 bound for Dallas from New York City managed to land, Southwest announced its intention to speed up an already in place engine inspection program for machinery produced by CFM International.

“The accelerated inspections are being performed out of an abundance of caution and are expected to be completed over the next 30 days,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement.

CFM produces the CFM56 family of engines, which the manufacturer says is the “world’s best-selling jet engine.” The engine that exploded on Southwest Flight 1380 was a CFM56-7B, which is equipped with newer versions of the Boeing 737, the most-sold airplane in the world. CFM says that more than 8,000 CFM56-7B engines are in use on Boeing 737s, “making it the most popular engine-aircraft combination in commercial aviation.”

This raises questions over how the widespread use of these engines might impact airline safety going forward. Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said the agency was “very concerned” after an initial review found metal fatigue to be the cause of the damaged engine.

“There needs to be proper inspection mechanisms in place to check for this before there’s a catastrophic event,” Sumwalt told reporters Tuesday.

Some carriers seem to agree. Korean Air Lines and Japan Airlines — major, international carriers — both said they were conducting inspections of the fan blades within the CFM56 engines, according to Reuters. Other airlines could follow suit.

And this is not the first time in recent memory a CFM56 engine on a Southwest Airlines plane was found to be faulty. In August 2016, a fan blade within an engine became loose and separated, forcing a Southwest flight to make an emergency landing in Pensacola, Fla., after debris tore a foot-long hole in the plane’s body above the left wing. Investigators also found evidence of metal fatigue in that case.

The incident compelled the Federal Aviation Administration to propose inspections of similar fan blades and replacements. Sumwalt said the NTSB would check to see if Southwest Airlines’ latest incident could have been required under the regulation, which has not been finalized by officials, Reuters reported.

Southwest Airlines said that it “expects minimal disruption to the operation” while it conducts its accelerated inspections.