Southwest grounds 79 jets, cancels 300 flights

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Southwest grounds 79 jets, cancels 300 flights

Post by ToddS on Sat Apr 02, 2011 8:41 pm

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April 2, 2011, 2:57 p.m. EDT
Southwest grounds 79 jets, cancels 300 flights

By Andria Cheng, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Southwest Airlines Co. said Saturday it has grounded 79 of its Boeing 737 aircraft for safety checks and cancelled 300 flights, or almost 10% of its flights a day, in the wake of an emergency landing by another 737-300 on Friday.

A three-foot hole tore in the fuselage of Flight 812 after it had taken off from Phoenix with 118 passengers en route to Sacramento, Calif., according to reports.

The pilot was able to land the plane safely at the Yuma, Ariz., airport that serves as a joint-use facility for the U.S. Marines and civilian aviation.

At least one passenger and a flight attendant suffered minor injuries after the cabin rapidly lost pressure and oxygen masks were deployed, the company said.

Southwest /quotes/comstock/13*!luv/quotes/nls/luv (LUV 12.67, +0.04, +0.32%) said it will begin an “aggressive inspection” in cooperation with Boeing Co. /quotes/comstock/13*!ba/quotes/nls/ba (BA 74.01, +0.08, +0.11%) engineers. It said it’s working with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration to determine why the plane lost pressure.

The company originally said 81 jets would be grounded for inspections. The aircraft will be checked for metal skin fatigue. The plane that was damaged Friday is 15 years old. according to reports.

The company said on its Website it operates more than 3,400 flights a day coast to coast.

Two years ago, a Southwest flight was also forced into an emergency landing after a similar episode when a hole ripped open in a plane’s fuselage, the New York Times reported, adding earlier that year Southwest was fined $7.5 million for safety violations by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Southwest is the world’s largest operator of Boeing 737 jets, according to Bloomberg News, which cited the airline chief executive in saying it had 552 737s in its fleet as of March 22.

Southwest shares closed up 0.3% to $12.67 on Friday. The stock has fallen 2.4% this year, while the Standard & Poor’s was up 6% during the same period.

Andria Cheng is a MarketWatch reporter based in New York.

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