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FAA To Inspect DC-9 Fleet After Cracks Uncovered in Three Aircraft

October 29, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Aviation Administration says the discovery of cracks in three DC-9 airplanes may warrant an in-depth inspection of the entire fleet of passenger jets.

The agency announced Friday it had ″uncovered a series of small cracks in three DC-9 aircraft,″ flown by Northwest Airlines and USAir Group Inc.

″As a result of this finding, FAA plans to order shortly an in-depth inspection of the DC-9 fleet,″ said agency spokesman Bob Buckhorn.

Buckhorn said the FAA would wait until inspections already under way were completed before the agency ordered the inspection of all DC-9s.

″The cracks, the longest of which was approximately one inch, are located in the uppermost area of the fuselage over the wing,″ he added.

The announcement came a day after the FAA said it would speed up inspection and replacement of 7,200 rivets on almost 300 of the oldest Boeing 737s. The roof of one of those planes, flown by Aloha Airlines, tore off during flight April 28, killing one person and injuring 61. The rivets are believed to cause cracks in the fuselage skin of older Boeing 737s.

The agency said the cracks in the DC-9s, manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Co., a division of McDonnell Douglas Corp., were ″in no manner comparable to the recent cracks discovered in Boeing 737 aircraft fuselage joints.″

The agency noted that corrosion was not a factor in the development of the DC-9 cracks and emphasized that the cracks do not mean the passenger jets are unsafe.

″I am confident that these cracks could not become a threat to the structural integrity of the aircraft,″ FAA Administrator T. Allan McArtor said in a statement.

″We’re talking about very small cracks. We’re not talking about the kind of thing we found in the Boeings,″ said Buckhorn.

″The early discovery of the DC-9 cracks validates the effectiveness of the FAA structural inspection program,″ instituted in the early 1980s to provide early detection of structural fatigue in older planes, McArtor added.

The fuselage cracks were found on older aircraft which had between 65,000 and 70,000 landings, and the agency’s more extensive inspection could involve up to 200 of the oldest planes.

Elayne Bendel, a spokeswoman for Douglas Aircraft, also praised the FAA inspection program, saying, ″It was intended to find small problems and get them fixed.″

In a telephone interview from her office in Long Beach, Calif., where the planes are built, Bendel said operators had been informed the cracks were found and the company ″would be issuing an alert service bulletin that would provide for some inspection procedure and a recommended time in which this service should be done.″

A USAir official said the company was inspecting its fleet of 74 DC-9s and had found several cracks in the aircraft.

″We have found several cracks in the stringers, a joining piece of metal,″ said spokesman David Shipley. ″These cracks seem to be located in the section over the forward emergency exit window and back about eight rows. But we have found nothing of a serious nature. These are not cracks of major structural systems.″

The company said only 37 of its aircraft which had made 60,000 or more landings would be included in the inspection.

Officials at Northwest were unavailable Friday night for comment on the FAA’s proposed action.

The agency said it also would recommend DC-9 aircraft outside the United States be inspected.