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Wed, Jul 09, 2008

Not Again... FAA Orders New MD-80 Inspections

AD Calls For Checks Of Overwing Frames For Cracking

Chalk up another black mark for the stalwart MD-80. On Tuesday, the FAA ordered a new round of inspections for all MD-80-series airliners, to check for fuselage fatigue cracking.

Airworthiness Directive 2008-13-29, issued Tuesday, calls for all McDonnell Douglas Model DC-9-81, -82, -83, -87 and -88 airplanes to be checked for cracks of the overwing frames. The FAA says those cracks could spread, severing the frames and resulting in damage of failure to surrounding structural areas, a potentially catastrophic event.

USA Today reports such cracks have already been found on an undisclosed number of MD-80s.

The AD affects 670 aircraft registered in the United States, including 212 MD-82s and MD-83s flying for American Airlines, and 117 MD-88s in service with Delta. The directive takes effect August 12, and calls for compliance within 24 months. The FAA estimates the checks will cost US operators $214,400 per inspection cycle.

Speaking of American -- the largest operator in the world of the aging narrowbody jets -- issuance of the new AD comes a bit over three months after another call for mandatory inspections grounded American's MD-80 fleet for four days, while the airline reinspected its planes for improperly bundled wiring harnesses in the plane's maingear wells. Over 3,300 flights were grounded as a result, costing American millions of dollars in operational costs and passenger compensation.

Besides American and Delta, other US operators of the type include Midwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines -- which were also forced to ground their planes earlier this year. Since April, all four carriers have announced substantial cuts to their respective MD-80 fleets... partly due to efficiency concerns with the gas-swilling aircraft but also because of increased maintenance costs in keeping the planes in the air.

American spokesman Tim Wagner said the airline expects things to go much more smoothly this time around, with the new checks incorporated into normal maintenance checks for its MD-80s.

The FAA says a modification to the supports is in the works, which could address the unsafe condition once and for all.

FMI: www.aa.com, www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/airworthiness_directives/

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