The discount airline, the initial buyer of the plane, is awaiting inspection results for 10 engines on its future jets to see if the turbines have a potential manufacturing defect. But that shouldn’t delay Southwest’s first flights with the aircraft, which aren’t scheduled until October.
“They’ll take those engines off, examine the discs,” Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said in an interview Wednesday at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Phoenix. “If they have issues, then they’ll replace them. If not, they’ll go back on the airplane.”
The inspections involve two engines on each of five 737 Max aircraft built for Southwest but not yet delivered. That’s about a third of the powerplants being examined by supplier CFM International, a venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA, after flights were temporarily suspended last week. CFM alerted Boeing earlier this month to a possible manufacturing quality problem with low-pressure turbine discs in the Leap engines.
Federal regulators cleared flights to resume on all 737 Max aircraft Tuesday after a brief suspension. About 30 affected engines will be examined at facilities in the U.S. and France. A GE representative didn’t immediately comment on the status of the inspections. Boeing said it was “working closely with CFM to ensure that we continue to conduct pre-delivery and flight testing on Max airplanes.”
Southwest has ordered 170 Max 8 planes with deliveries starting in July, and 30 shorter Max 7 versions that won’t start being handed over until 2019. Southwest expects to have nine Max 8 jets by the time the airline begins flying them on Oct. 1.
“We have had a full explanation of what the issue was and how they have mitigated that,” Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said. “I wouldn’t say this is normal but, on the other hand, it’s not highly unusual.”
The Dallas-based carrier, the largest 737 operator, is considered the launch customer for the Max because it placed the initial order for 200 of the jets in late 2011. Indonesia’s Lion Mentari Airlines PT claimed the title of largest customer a few months later with an order of 201. Lion’s Malaysia affiliate, Malindo Airways, took delivery of the first 737 Max this week.
Southwest let other carriers move ahead of it when it became clear the Max would be ready to fly commercially months ahead of schedule, and before the discounter was slated to retire its oldest aircraft. Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA is due to take its first 737 Max later this month and five more in June.
Boeing has been rushing to minimize the fallout to scheduled deliveries for the 737 Max. The new plane is expected to account for about 15 percent of Boeing’s 737 deliveries this year.
(Mary Schlangenstein and Julie Johnsson - Bloomberg News)