The US-based Federal Aviation Administration has written to Kenya Airways directing it to inspect its fleet of Boeing 737 New Generation aircraft for potential cracks that have been found on this type of planes.
The directive, which has also been sent to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), raises the prospect of the carrier having to take the planes out of service, complicating the loss-making airline’s efforts to return to the profit territory.
The directive to KCAA and KQ, which has been sent to all the civil aviation regulators worldwide, requires the agency to conduct inspection of the aircraft to ascertain whether they are affected by the cracks.
KQ chairman Michael Joseph said the inspections on the B737 are ongoing as directed by the manufacturer.
“Inspections are ongoing according to the Federal Aviation Administration directive,” Mr Joseph told Shipping & Logistics on phone.
The move follows revelation by Boeing which discovered the cracks while conducting modification on some of the heavily used equipment.
Boeing "discovered the cracks while conducting modifications on a heavily used aircraft," the FAA said in a statement earlier last week.
The 737 NG aircraft includes the Boeing 737-700, Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737-900. Kenya Airways operate eight Boeing 737-800 and two Boeing 737-700.
“We have received communication from FAA and our work as the regulator is to ensure that KQ, which operates this fleet, complies with the order,” says Gilbert Kibe, KCAA director-general.
Mr Kibe said the inspection will be conducted by the carriers’ engineers.
“We want this inspection to happen immediately in compliance with the issued directive,” the DG said.
Kenya Airways normally use these type of aircraft for regional routes with higher passenger numbers where the Embraer 190, which forms the bulk of the carrier’s aircraft fleet cannot fly. The Boeing 737-800 has a flying range of 5,665km.
FAA directed operators to conduct specific inspections, make any necessary repairs and to report their findings to the agency immediately.
This comes a few months after the grounding of the Boeing 737-800 Max following a software problem that led to the crashing of two aircraft in Ethiopia and Indonesia.
The Boeing hitch involves cracks that have appeared in components that attach the wings to the fuselage on planes that have been flown a lot.
KQ’s Boeing 737-700 fleet is aging and requires replacement. However, it is not clear how far the carrier has moved with the plans to replace them.
The national carrier had indicated earlier that it was betting on the grounded Boeing 737-800 Max series to replace its retiring fleet of 737-700. This plan is yet to be concluded.
KQ does not have Boeing 737-Max on its fleet and it is yet to make any orders, but the airline said in an earlier interview that this is the next aircraft that they could acquire in the Boeing series.
The plane has been credited for fuel efficiency and it has been one of the company’s bestselling aircrafts after delivering over 370 planes since 2017, with placed orders of about 5,000.
KQ currently has a fleet of 40 aircrafts, which is a mixture of the Brazilian made Embraer 190 and a range of Boeing jets.
These aircraft comprise 20 that the national carrier fully owns with the remaining 20 having been leased from other companies.
The airline has leased three of the Boeing 777-300ER to Turkish airline while Boeing 787 Dreamliner has been leased to Oman Air where KQ earns lease rental income from the arrangement.