KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — US air transport officials had warned over five months ago of a potential weakness in Boeing 777s worldwide that could pose safety risks to the aircraft if left unchecked.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington reported in September last year that cracks and corrosion were discovered in the fuselage skin of a number of Boeing 777s aged between six and 16 years old.
Such cracks, the regulator warned, could lead to rapid decompression and “loss of structural integrity of the airplane”.
Subsequent to the discovery, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD) on September 26, approximately five months before MH370s’s disappearance, asking that additional checks on the Boeing 777 fleet worldwide be conducted during scheduled maintenance .
“This proposed AD would require repetitive inspections of the visible fuselage skin and doubler if installed, for cracking, corrosion, and any indication of contact of a certain fastener to a bonding jumper, and repair if necessary,” the transport authority wrote in the AD found online.
“We are proposing this AD to detect and correct cracking and corrosion in the fuselage skin, which could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the airplane.”
The FAA explained that the first crack was discovered on a 14-year-old plane with some 14,000 total flight cycles by an operator during a maintenance planning data inspection.
The crack was reportedly 16 inches long and spotted on the fuselage skin under the three-bay satellite communication (SATCOM) antenna adapter plate.
“Subsequent to this crack finding, the same operator inspected 42 other airplanes that are between 6 and 16-years-old and found some local corrosion, but no other cracking,” the FAA said.
“We are proposing this AD because we evaluated all the relevant information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design,” it added.
According to a report on UK’s The Telegraph, such inspection work would cost the airlines US$3,060 (RM10,000).
The missing MH370 is a Boeing 777-2H6ER aircraft that was purchased in 2002, bearing the registration number 9M-MRO.
The Boeing was built in April 2002 and delivered to MAS on May 31, 2002, according to the database in Aviation Week, a global aviation industry service provider, making it nearly 12 years old.
It clocked 53,465.21 hours of flight and 7,525 cycles before it went missing.
According to MAS group chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the aircraft underwent routine maintenance 10 days before it was reported missing last Saturday and there were no issues reported on the health of the aircraft.
He said the check was conducted on February 23 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) hangar and the next scheduled maintenance was due on June 19.
Experts have said the Boeing 777 aircraft has a near flawless record and is one of the safest planes to fly.
Ahmad has also stood by the safety of the Boeing 777 fleet, calling it a “very reliable” aircraft for the airline.