The Australian air carrier Qantas Airways has grounded three of its Boeing 737 NG planes over hairline cracks found in the “pickle fork” structure between the wing and the fuselage.
“Minimal risk, we are being very prudent, we’ve done the checks in seven days. Those three aircraft are on the ground. We will get them back flying by the end of the year,” Qantas Domestic and Freight Chief Executive Andrew David told reporters on Friday.
He spoke after the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, an aviation union, urged Qantas to ground its entire 737 NG fleet - a call rejected by the airline as “alarmist” and “completely irresponsible”.
“Even when a crack is present, it does not immediately compromise the safety of the aircraft . We would never operate an aircraft unless it was completely safe to do so”, Chris Snook, head of engineering at Quantas, pointed out.
The remarks followed Boeing confirming that airline companies have grounded more than 50 of their 737 NG planes across the world over detected cracks, with a total of 1,000 planes worldwide having now "reached the inspection threshold”.
Last month, US regulators reportedly ordered checks of all 737 NG aircraft which had undertaken more than 30,000 flights.
Deadly Crashes of Boeing 737 MAX Planes
Qantas’ move to ground such planes comes as Boeing remains under pressure after a pair of fatal airliner crashes involving newer Boeing versions sparked criticism of the company's business practices related to adding new software to its jets without telling pilots about the changes.
The global 737 Max fleet was grounded in March following two deadly crashes involving the aircraft that resulted in the death of a total of 346 passengers and crew.
On 10 March, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 plane crashed after takeoff, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. The tragedy came just five months after the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air 737 Max 8 in Indonesia, which left 189 dead.
In both crashes, the Max 8’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was cited as a potential cause. The MCAS is a safety measure which aims to push the plane’s nose down in the event it reaches too high an altitude and is at risk of stalling.