Southwest Airlines decided on Saturday to ground 81 of its older airplanes for emergency inspections after another airplane developed a hole in its roof during flight.
The Dallas-based airline announced that it “has decided to keep a subset of its Boeing 737 fleet out of the flying schedule to begin an aggressive inspection effort in cooperation with Boeing engineers.” The Boeing 737-300 airplane, that was delivered in 1996, suffered a rapid depressurization as it flew over western Arizona on Friday afternoon, soon after it departed Phoenix for Sacramento, Calif.
Pilots of the airplane took it from an altitude 36,000 feet to under 15,000 feet, in a matter of just two to three minutes, as oxygen masks were deployed and some passengers could see a hole which was described as three or four feet long.
The airplane was diverted to Yuma, Arizona, where Southwest, Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to inspect it on Saturday. “The safety of our customers and employees is our primary concern, and we are grateful there were no serious injuries,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
He added, “We have launched personnel to Yuma to begin the investigation process with the NTSB, FAA and appropriate parties to determine the cause of the depressurization.” The 81 aircraft constitute nearly 15 per cent of Southwest’s fleet, which comprised 548 airplanes as of December, 31, 2010.
Southwest also said that the airplanes would be inspected over the next few days, adding that the airline “is working aggressively to minimize customer inconvenience.”