In the wake of a deadly accident aboard one of its flights last week, Southwest Airlines said it would cancel a small percentage of its daily flights over the next three weeks so that it can pull planes from service to inspect engines for signs of metal fatigue.
The airline scrubbed around 50 flights over the weekend, with an additional 91 flights canceled on Monday, according to Flight Aware. An undetermined number of other flights were also delayed as a result.
In a statement, Southwest said the disruptions would be minimal, given that it operates around 4,000 flights every day. The carrier said it would “proactively” notify and rebook affected passengers, and would also try to minimize the impact by performing inspections overnight.
The action follows an order from the FAA requiring airlines that have flown the engine in question for at least 30,000 cycles, or takeoffs and landings, must accelerate the normal inspection cycle; the FAA estimated that the action will affect more than 300 planes in the U.S. that are using the older engines.
Other than Southwest, which operates a high number of frequencies on its route system, it’s unclear how many other airlines are directly impacted. The CFM56 engine, made by a joint venture of GE and France’s Safran SA, is used by 300 airlines worldwide on approximately 6,700 aircraft and it’s estimated that a plane equipped with one of these engines takes off somewhere in the world every two minutes. CFM International also has recommended 2,500 more engines in fleets across the world be inspected by August.
Southwest is also coping with the aftermath of its first accident-related passenger fatality in more than 40 years of operation. The accident occurred aboard a flight from New York’s LaGuardia to Dallas, when, about 20 minutes after takeoff, the left engine exploded, sending shards of metal into the fuselage.
The crippled jet made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, and one passenger, banking executive Jennifer Riordan, of Albuquerque – later died of her injuries. Most of the other 148 people aboard were unharmed, although a half-dozen reported minor injuries. According to news reports, Southwest has begun sending passengers aboard letters that include $1,000 vouchers for future travel and $5,000 checks intended to cover “immediate financial needs.”