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Southwest inspects fleet after Friday's incident

A Southwest pilot inspects his plane upon arrival at the Oakland International Airport.

UPDATED REPORT

JEREMY HOBSON: Southwest Airlines has already found three 737-300s with cracks like the ones suspected of causing a Southwest plane to lose pressure and make an emergency landing in Arizona on Friday.

For more on what this means for the company -- and the safety of a popular model of plane -- let's bring in Marketplace's Gregory Warner. He's with us live. Good morning.

GREGORY WARNER: Good morning.

HOBSON: How popular is this particular is this 737-300 and should people who flying it now be concerned?

WARNER: There are over 900 of this particular model in the air -- its an older model of 737. They're mostly used outside the United States. But that this is the question: Is there something special about the 737-300 that gives it a shorter shelf life than other models that have been in the air for longer periods of time and show no problems.

I called Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly. He said that it would be comforting to think that these cracks were something that Southwest could have easily detected.

SETH KAPLAN: But this wasn't. The flaw here was hidden between where different pieces of metal overlap.

In other words it was a crack in a place that maintenance crews would not have checked on a regular basis.

HOBSON: What goes through an airline's mind when its responding to news like this?

WARNER: Southwest has one of the safest records in the industry and they fly more passengers than any airline in the world. Now they're in damage control -- canceling flights, checking out these planes, basically doing whatever they can to avoid a second incident. Because where passengers don't care about statistics. No one prays before they get into a car.

HOBSON: Marketplace's Gregory Warner, thanks so much.

WARNER: Thank you Jeremy.


ORIGINAL REPORT

JEREMY HOBSON: Southwest Airlines is inspecting dozens of its 737-300 jets. The company is looking for cracks like the ones suspected of causing a Southwest plane to lose pressure and make an emergency landing in Arizona Friday.

For more on this story let's bring in Marketplace's Gregory Warner. He's with us live now. Good morning.

GREGORY WARNER: Good morning Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, how popular is this particular plane model, the 737-300 and should people who are going to be flying on one be concerned?

WARNER: Well, there are over 900 of that particular model in the air -- it's an older model. Most of those are outside of the U.S. People have raised questions about the safety of 737s in general in the last few years. Though that could be because the 737s is one of the most popular airplanes in the world so the relatively rare incidents show up more frequently.

I called up Joseph Lampel. He's a professor of strategy and innovation at the Cass School of Management in London. He said the fact that they found cracks in three more Southwest planes, as scary as that sounds, doesn't mean they can't fly. And it doesn't mean that Southwest failed to do maintenance according to FAA regulations.

JOSEPH LAMPEL: The question is that any regulatory schemes always leaves some room for judgment by the people on the ground.

So that judgment call of course is being rejudged not just by Southwest, but by other airlines, probably taking a closer look at these models.

HOBSON: And quickly Gregory, what goes through an airline's mind when they're dealing with news like this?

WARNER: Southwest is obviously trying to save its reputation -- avoid the media storm of any potential second incident. Because this is an industry where statistics don't matter to passengers. We know that airplanes are way safer than cars -- they tell us that -- but no one prays before they get in a car.

HOBSON: Indeed. Marketplace's Gregory Warner, thanks.

WARNER: Thanks Jeremy.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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