CFM says more than half of engines inspected after emergency directive

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jet engine manufacturer CFM International Inc said on Thursday airlines have inspected more than half of nearly 700 CFM engines subject to an emergency order issued late Friday by U.S. and European regulators.

FILE PHOTO - U.S. NTSB investigators are on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane in this image released from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS

The inspections cover engines like the one involved in a fatal Southwest Airlines Co LUV.N engine blowout last week. The directives for inspections by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency suggested rising concerns about CFM56-7B engines, built by the joint venture of General Electric Co GE.N and France's Safran SA SAF.PA. The same type of engine had a similar failure in 2016.

Ultrasonic inspections on fan blades that have been used in more than 30,000 cycles, or in service for about 20 years, will be required by May 10, the agencies said. A cycle includes one take-off and landing -- and 150 had already been inspected prior to Friday’s order.

Cincinnati, Ohio-based CFM International said airline operators have completed more than 60 percent of mandated ultrasonic inspections on CFM56-7B engines with more than 30,000 cycles.

As soon as next week, the FAA was expected to finalize a separate directive on CFM56-7B engines it had proposed in August covering a different set of engines, two officials briefed on the matter said.

The engine explosion on Southwest Airlines flight 1380 in Pennsylvania was caused by a fan blade that broke off, the FAA said. The blast shattered a window, killing a passenger, the first U.S. passenger airline fatality since 2009.

The CFM56-7B engine powers the Boeing Next-Generation 737. Approximately 14,000 CFM56-7B engines are operated by 60 companies worldwide.

CFM said GE and Safran Aircraft Engines are supporting airlines with a team of 500 experts worldwide to complete the inspections quickly and help to minimize operational disruption. Southwest has said it is cancelling some flights as a result of inspections.

CFM also recommends completing inspections of fan blades with more than 20,000 cycles by the end of August, and inspections to all other fan blades by the time they reach 20,000 cycles. After first inspection, operators are recommended to repeat the inspection every 3,000 cycles, typically about two years in airline service. Those inspections for fan blades with 20,000 cycles will affect an additional 2,500 engines by August.

The engine that blew apart on last week’s Southwest flight would have been affected by Friday’s inspection order, since the company said it had 40,000 cycles.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio