US FAA orders checks on 9,300 Boeing 737 planes for possible switch failures

Boeing initially reviewed the issue and found it did not pose a safety issue. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday (July 15) issued a directive to operators of all Boeing Co 737 series airplanes to conduct inspections to address possible failures of cabin altitude pressure switches.

The directive requires operators to conduct repetitive tests of the switches and replace them if needed. The directive covers 2,502 US-registered airplanes and 9,315 airplanes worldwide.

It was prompted after an operator reported in September that both pressure switches failed the on-wing functional test on three different 737 models.

The FAA said failure of the switches could result in the cabin altitude warning system not activating if the cabin altitude exceeds 10,000 feet (3,050 metres), at which point oxygen levels could become dangerously low.

Airplane cabins are pressurised to the equivalent of not more than 8,000 feet (2438 metres).

Boeing said it supports "the FAA's direction, which makes mandatory the inspection interval that we issued to the fleet in June." The FAA directive did not report any in-flight failures of the switches.

The FAA said on Thursday that tests must be conducted within 2,000 flight hours since the last test of the cabin altitude pressure switches, before airplanes have flown 2,000 hours, or within 90 days of the directive's effective date.

Boeing initially reviewed the issue, including the expected failure rate of the switches, and found it did not pose a safety issue.

Subsequent investigation and analysis led the FAA and Boeing to determine in May that "the failure rate of both switches is much higher than initially estimated, and therefore does pose a safety issue."

The FAA added it "does not yet have sufficient information to determine what has caused this unexpectedly high failure rate."

Due to the importance of functions provided by the switch, the FAA in 2012 mandated all Boeing 737 airplanes utilise two switches to provide redundancy in case of one switch's failure.

The directive is unrelated to any issues related to the 737 MAX's return to service.

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