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FAA speeds up Boeing 737 inspections after more problems found in slats

    WASHINGTON — Federal regulators ordered airlines to speed up inspections of the wing slats on newer Boeing 737 jetliners after more problems that could lead to a fire were found in initial inspections this week.
    In the second emergency airworthiness directive in four days, the Federal Aviation Administration reduced the time allowed for inspecting the slat downstop assembly from 24 days to 10.
    Both the last Saturday’s directive and the superseding one issued late Tuesday were based on findings about the fire that destroyed a China Airlines 737 in Japan last week.
    FAA spokesman Les Dorr said the initial inspections this week had found two planes in which parts had come off the slat downstop assembly and were lying loose in the housing, including one in which the housing wall was damaged.
    Last Thursday, investigators in Japan found that a bolt from a right wing slat had pierced the fuel tank of the Taiwanese jetliner that caught fire after landing on the Japanese resort island of Okinawa. All 165 people aboard evacuated safely seconds before the plane exploded.
    A fuel leak through that hole likely caused the fire on the China Airlines Boeing 737-800, said Kazushige Daiki, chief investigator at Japan’s Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission.
    Slats slide out the front edge of the main wings during takeoff and landing to stabilize the aircraft, along with flaps that come out of the wings’ rear edge. The downstop limits how far the slats can slide out.
    The new directive said owners and operators could do either the detailed inspection ordered initially or use a borescope, an imaging device that can get into closed areas. Dorr said the goal was to ensure all parts were in place, particularly a washer crucial to holding a nut on the bolt. If no repairs were needed, airlines could take the full 24 days to retighten the nut and bolt to specifications, the order said.
    The orders apply to 783 U.S. airplanes but will likely be imposed by other countries on the entire worldwide fleet of 2,287 newer 737s, Dorr said.
    The order covers all 737-600, -700, -800, -900 and -900ER series planes, the first of which entered service in January 1998 with Southwest Airlines, which flies only 737s. In the United States, the planes also are used by Alaska, American, Continental, Delta and other carriers.

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