Qantas Airways said on Friday it grounded three of its Boeing 737s over hairline cracks found in wing structures, but expected to have them flying again this year.
The hairline crack was found in one of eight bolts in the so-called pickle fork — a part which helps bind the wing to the fuselage.
"Minimal risk, we are being very prudent, we've done the checks in seven days," Qantas Domestic and Freight Chief Executive Andrew David told reporters. "Those three aircraft are on the ground. We will get them back flying by the end of the year."
Boeing and Qantas stressed travelers should not be concerned.
There were calls from union leaders for Qantas to ground its entire 737 fleet until all checks were complete, but the airline said those were "completely irresponsible."
"Even when a crack is present, it does not immediately compromise the safety of the aircraft," said Qantas head of engineering Chris Snook.
The airline has been inspecting its aircraft following calls this month from the US Federal Aviation Administration for all airlines to check Boeing 737 NG planes that had completed more than 30,000 takeoff and landing cycles for cracking in a part that helps keep wings attached.
These are different from the 737 MAX jets, which were grounded worldwide earlier this year.
Nine planes of the NG type were grounded in South Korea this month, including five operated by Korean Air, according to authorities in Seoul. US carrier Southwest Airlines has taken three planes out of service due to the problem.
Several other leading carriers said inspections had not turned up cracks on their aircraft.
Over the past several months, Boeing has faced tumbling profits, federal scrutiny and calls for its CEO to resign after deadly crashes involving the 737 MAX, the successor aircraft for the 737 NG.
Boeing's 737 MAX fleet has been grounded since its involvement in two crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, which together killed 346 people less than half a year apart.
The US aerospace company recorded its largest-ever quarterly loss, amounting to $2.9 billion (€2.6 billion), in the second quarter of 2019. Boeing said the halt of new deliveries of the aircraft since then was part of the reason why revenues collapsed more than 35% in the second quarter.
US congressional hearings this week have produced internal Boeing documents showing that company employees raised concerns about the design of a key flight-control system and the hectic pace of airplane production long before the two 737 MAX jets crashed.
sri/aw (AP, AFP)