500 people from two local companies inspect fan blades after fatal accident

In the wake of last week’s fatal Southwest Airlines accident, about 500 people tied to two regional companies are involved in inspecting engine fan blades, making sure those components are airworthy.

Those companies are also supporting investigations into why the Southwest aircraft engine blew apart last week, killing a passenger on a New York-to-Dallas flight.

CFM International — a joint venture between French firm Safran and GE Aviation headquartered in West Chester Twp. in Butler County — late last week issued a service bulletin to operators of CFM56-7B engines, which power certain Boeing 737 airplanes. The bulletin calls for inspections of fan blades on engines that have been in service for a long time.

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“The big effort right now is the 500 GE and Safran team members involved in assisting airlines with the fan-blade inspection program,” said a spokesman for GE Aviation, Rick Kennedy.

The European Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration have each issued emergency airworthiness directives calling for inspections of fan blades on CFM56-7B engines.

This has wide ramifications.

Southwest Airlines is cancelling about one percent of its flights due to the need for inspections. About 40 flights have been impacted, a media report said.

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Last week, an affected Southwest Boeing 737 took off Tuesday from New York, headed for Dallas. About 20 minutes into the flight, at an altitude of about 32,500 feet, a fan blade broke off the engine and shrapnel shattered a window.

A passenger on that flight, Jennifer Riordan, 43, was sucked part of the way out of the broken window and pulled back inside by fellow passengers.

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The engine in question is assembled in the GE-Evendale plant and by Safran (previously Snecma )in Villaroche, France.

CFM, which has offices in West Chester Twp., is a joint venture of French firm Safran and GE.

Jamie Jewell, a GE Aviation spokeswoman, said the CFM engine has been in service since 1997 and production has been gradually phasing out as GE and CFM ramp-up introduction of the new LEAP engine.

"None of that is as a result of SWA (Southwest Airlines) incident," Jewell said in an email.

The engine's fan blade is produced by Safran, but the National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation. Jewell said the companies do not expect to rely on the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) for any post-accident engine component testing at this time.

UDRI is involved in testing of engine casings or housings to help determine how durable those components are.

CFM sent a team of technical representatives to the site to assist NTSB and government investigators in their probe of what happened on the Southwest flight.

Citing international conventions governing these investigations, Jewell said she can't comment on whether any causes have been identified in the Southwest accident.

"The NTSB is leading the accident investigation according to the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) Annex 13 rules, and CFM cannot provide information about the accident or details related to it," Jewell said.

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