A Southwest Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing at
Philadelphia International Airport today (April 17th) after one of its
engines exploded in midair. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
confirmed that one passenger, a woman, was killed when debris from the
explosion penetrated the Boeing 737-700 aircraft’s pressurized cabin,
causing the aircraft’s emergency oxygen masks to deploy and sending
flight attendants scurrying to assist injured passengers. In today’s
post, our personal injury accident lawyer provides an overview of aircraft
engine failure and the legal avenues that may be available to engine failure
accident victims and their families.
Aircraft engine failure
Aircraft safety experts at both the FAA and the NTSB have long reported
that many aircraft engine failures occur during takeoffs and landings.
This observation is due to the fact that aircraft engines are more likely
to fail when they are subjected to the most stress, such as “full
power” on takeoffs and during landings, when engines may need to
rapidly transition from relatively “lower power” settings
to high power to control an aircraft’s rate of descent. Single-engine
aircraft are, of course, at highest risk for catastrophic consequences
of engine failure.
Engines that are used on commercial airlines are required to be constructed
so that the engine housing is strong enough to contain any engine parts
that may become projectiles in the event of an engine failure. Given the
reports made by passengers on the Southwest Airlines flight, and photographs
of the damaged engine, it appears that the engine suffered an unusually
violent “decontainment” type of engine failure.
Decontainment engine failure on a commercial airline is indeed rare, but
not unheard of. Recall that United Airlines Flight 232 crash-landed at
Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989 after an “uncontained”
failure of one of its engines disabled the aircraft’s hydraulic
flight controls. 185 of the 296 passengers and crew members on board survived.
Southwest Airlines Flight 1380
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the engine that exploded
on Southwest’s Flight 1380 was a model CFM56-7B. This engine is
made by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and French
engine manufacturer Safran SA and is the only engine certified for use
on the Boeing 737-700, an aircraft model that is used extensively by Southwest
Airlines as well as by other U.S and international carriers. According
to CFM International, the CFM56-series engines are among the most widely
used commercial aircraft engines in the world. CFM also reports that its
engine products are installed on some 6,700 aircraft and have amassed
an excellent safety record during more than 350 million hours of worldwide
Preventing aircraft engine failure
The fact that the death on Southwest 1380 was the first death recorded
on a scheduled commercial U.S. airline in 9 years, and the first death
ever on Southwest Airlines, is testimony to the professionalism of commercial
aircraft engine inspectors and the efficacy of FAA-mandated engine inspections.
When coupled with regular inspections of airframes and avionics (instrumentation),
as well as preflight visual inspections by an aircrew member, inflight
engine failures on commercial airlines are rare.
The most effective method for preventing aircraft engine failure on both
private and commercial aircraft is regular inspection of engines by individuals
who are certified by the FAA as possessing the necessary knowledge, skills,
and abilities to conduct such inspections. Inspection of individual components,
such as engines, also benefits from mandatory reporting of equipment problems
by engine manufacturers and engine inspectors to a central agency such
as the FAA or NTSB.
How a personal injury accident lawyer can help those injured by aircraft
As noted in previous sections of this post, inflight engine failure involving
commercial air carriers is rare. So rare, in fact, that such failures
can often be traced back to a failure in the inspection process. While
it is too early to assign a cause to the engine failure on Southwest 1380,
it is reasonable to suspect that faulty inspection procedures may have
played a role in that accident by failing to detect a structural defect
that later caused the engine to fly apart.
UPDATE (4-18-18): FAA and NTSB inspectors reported that, based on preliminary visual inspection
of the engine involved in the Southwest Flight 1380 accident, a compressor
blade on the affected engine appears to have broken away from its shaft
and that evidence of “metal fatigue” is present at the point
where the blade would have joined the shaft. Metal fatigue may be considered
evidence that there was a problem with the blade/shaft junction that had
been developing over a period of time prior to the engine failure.
If you, or a family member, have been injured in an aircraft accident where
engine failure is suspected, our aircraft accident injury lawyer invites you to
contact us to arrange a free review of the facts surrounding your injury. Your initial
consultation with our firm is always free and does not place under any
obligation to retain us to represent you. Should you decide that we should
represent you, we will handle all aspects of your case in return for a
previously-negotiated percentage of the verdict that we will win for you.