* Southwest has largest fleet of older Boeing jets
* Southwest willing to expand inspections if warranted
* Four jets with cracks returning to service
By Chris Baltimore
DALLAS, April 8 Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) is
willing to expand inspections for its older Boeing 737 aircraft
but sees no reason for concern a week after one of its jets
made an emergency landing with a hole in its fuselage, the
discount carrier's chief executive officer said on Friday.
An older-model Southwest Airlines 737-300 was forced to
make an emergency landing in Arizona on April 1 when a 5-foot
(1.52 meters) tear opened up in its fuselage 20 minutes after
The incident prompted Southwest, the largest domestic
airline by passengers flown, to ground planes and cancel
hundreds of flights over the weekend so it could inspect more
than 70 of its older model 737-300s.
"If there is some finding that suggests that there is merit
to expanding inspections beyond what we've done, well of course
we're going to do that," said Gary Kelly, chief executive
officer of the discount carrier, speaking to a conference of
However, Kelly warned against an over-burdensome inspection
"At some point if you are going to fly on an airplane,
you've got to take off," he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration, National
Transportation Safety Board and Boeing are all investigating
the cause of the April 1 incident, which has raised concerns
about wear and tear on older models of Boeing's (BA.N) 737.
Boeing responded quickly to the Southwest incident, and the
airline has no plans to seek links with other aircraft makers,
"Boeing has been there for Southwest Airlines," he said.
The 737-300 represents roughly 20 percent of Southwest's
all-737 fleet, the most popular commercial aircraft ever and a
As a result of the inspections, Southwest found "very small
cracks" in five of its aircraft -- and four of those five
aircraft will be back in service by late on Friday, Kelly
Southwest's operations are largely back to normal, Kelly
said. Kelly declined to say how much the inspections cost
Southwest in lost revenues, but said "it is not multimillions
So far, the problem has been limited to Southwest, which
paid a $7.5 million Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fine
for operating 737s without required fuselage structural
inspections in 2006/07.
(Editing by Gary Hill)