Boeing 737- Unsafe At Any Altitude?

By | July 20, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 05:  A Southwest Airli...

Clive Irving is an expert on Boeing. He wrote a 1993 book on the history of the 747. The 737 is the bestselling commercial airliner. Nearly 10,000 have been produced over 40 years. Irving says there are serious issues with the fuselage design of the 737. Specifically, he says that the skin is too thin. Boeing has for years maintained there are no problems despite multiple incidents and airworthiness directives. Until now.

Boeing has begun quietly telling potential customers for its updated 737MAX that the new plane will have a strengthened fuselage.

Despite the company’s confident talking point on the 737, it is now confirming that the fuselage skin of the MAX will be “upgauged.”

Boeing spokeswoman Lauren Penning would not comment on whether the strengthening included the part of the cabin roof called a lap joint, which failed on [Southwest] Flight 812. But she did acknowledge extensive changes to the rear of the fuselage, where some of the most serious FAA alerts were directed—including one in 2001 in which a failure could have led to the whole tail fin tearing away.

Boeing says that the change is being made to improve aerodynamic efficiency, and that a thicker fuselage skin is needed because the MAX’s heavier engines will increase stresses on the fuselage.

Boeing is competing with Airbus for a market that could be worth $2 trillion in the next 20 years. Airbus’s rival to the MAX, the A320NEO, has already won 1,425 orders. In this contest the troubled 737 fuselage just did not cut it. Last week, after Boeing told airlines of the changes, orders for the MAX jumped from 451 to 646.

The MAX, however, will not begin arriving at the gate until 2018. In the meantime, 500 airlines worldwide operate around 4,500 737s of varying ages, all finally dependent for their safety on a system of checks that, for example, failed to detect the cracking that gave passengers on Flight 812 a harrowing ride back to earth.

The system of checks has largely worked up until now, but there are still many thousands of older 737s out there, at risk of rapid depressurization. Have Boeing and the FAA done everything they can to protect the public from this danger?