Why was rule delayed?

In August, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed making ultrasonic inspections of the fan blades in Boeing 737 aircraft engines mandatory. The agency never issued a final decision, however.

The engine’s manufacturer had recommended such inspections be conducted within a year.

On Tuesday, fan blade snapped in a Boeing 737 operated by Southwest Airlines. Damage to the plane’s body killed a passenger.

Whether the proposed FAA rule, had it been implemented, would have detected damage to the fan blade that failed is not known. National Transportation Safety Board investigators have said the fan blade that broke showed signs of metal fatigue, including microscopic cracks.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said this week that it is too early to draw any conclusions regarding what caused the engine explosion on Thursday. He is absolutely right. Refusing to do that before all the facts have been collected and analyzed is critical to determining the cause of transportation accidents. The NTSB has an excellent record on that.

Still, news about the inspection proposal is troubling. Both NTSB and FAA officials need to look into why the rule was suggested, then delayed for so long.

Too long, perhaps.

By Patricia Older

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