FAA orders emergency inspections of Boeing jets

AirTran airplanes are seen on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on September 27, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

WASHINGTON - Federal officials have issued an emergency order requiring inspections of Boeing planes with similar construction to the Southwest Airlines plane that had a 5-foot tear that led to an emergency landing last week.

The Federal Aviation Administration order Tuesday applies to Boeing 737-300s, 400s and 500s that have a similarly constructed joint where pieces of the plane's skin meet. The joint is at about the midpoint of the passenger cabin.

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Nearly all the U.S.-registered planes covered in the order have already been re-inspected. The FAA has previously said the order will affect 80 U.S. planes, 78 of which are operated by Southwest. The other two are operated by Alaska Airlines.

Southwest has said it has finished their inspections, finding five more planes with similar signs of metal fatigue.

In a statement, the FAA said:

"The FAA is focused on safety, above all else. The agency's enforcement program is designed to ensure that operators comply with the FAA's rigorous safety rules. The law establishes the maximum allowable penalties. Under the FAA's regulations, airlines and other companies that are subject to FAA enforcement actions have an opportunity to discuss the charges and provide evidence to counter them before the FAA issues a final penalty. If an airline presents evidence that a charge was unwarranted or unsubstantiated, or has made significant safety investments over and above what the regulations require to correct the violations, the FAA may reduce the amount of the penalty."

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