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Qantas grounds 33 planes after cracks found

Qantas has announced an inspection blitz on 33 planes after structural cracks were discovered in one of its older model Boeing 737 NGs.

The cracks are on what is known as the "pickle fork" - a part that attaches the plane's fuselage, or body, to the wing structure.

Repairing the cracks requires grounding the aircraft, with remedial work costing an estimated $400,000 per aircraft, according to aviation consultancy IBA.

Boeing said 38 planes worldwide had been grounded after undergoing urgent checks but further details weren't provided.

Qantas Boeing 737.
Qantas Boeing 737.

Qantas discovered cracks in a plane with about 26,700 takeoff and landing cycles - which typically correspond to the number of flights, while it was undergoing heavy maintenance.

A Qantas spokesman said the airline had found cracking in one jet with just under 27,000 cycles that had been removed from service for repair. He said that no Qantas jets had yet reached 30,000 cycles, but that the airline would inspect 33 planes with more than 22,600 cycles by the end of this week.

Virgin Australia said it had already inspected all 19 of its 737 NGs with more than 22,600 cycles and did not find any cracks while US airline Southwest said it found cracks in one aircraft with about 28,500 cycles.

One Qantas 737 has so far been found with pickle-fork cracks. Picture: Jordan Shields
One Qantas 737 has so far been found with pickle-fork cracks. Picture: Jordan Shields

In a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission last week, Boeing said all 737 NGs with more than 30,000 flight cycles and about one-third of planes with over 22,600 flight cycles had been inspected for pickle fork cracks. The manufacturer said additional assessments were underway to determine the cause and potential implications for planes with fewer than 22,600 cycles. "Depending on the results of these assessments, additional inspections or repairs may be required," Boeing said.

The issue surfaced while the newer 737 MAX model is grounded globally following two deadly crashes.