Even though 'incorrect manufacturing' has been cited as the reason why a fuselage tore on an American Airlines flight last year, Boeing's lack of records is hampering the US National Transportation Safety Board's investigation. This shortage of documentation is also hindering the NTSB's probe into a similar incident on a Southwest Airlines flight earlier this year.
On the 26th October, 2010, a hole appeared in the fuselage of a Boeing 757-200 American Airlines flight 16 minutes after takeoff from Miami International Airport, decompressing the cabin at around 32,000 feet. Although the plane returned to Miami with no injuries to the 160 on board, the NTSB concluded that: “Fatigue failure of the fuselage crown skin due to incorrect manufacturing of the crown skin panel that resulted in a skin thickness less than the manufacturer-specified thickness.”
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However, even though other commercial aircraft companies including Airbus SA, Embraer SA and Bombardier keep their manufacturing records for the entire planes lifespan, Boeing only keeps records for 10-11 years.
“Records of manufacture for the skin panels on the accident airplane and the other airplanes with fuselage skin cracking were not retained, and were not required to be retained,” noted the NTSB. “Therefore, a cause for the manufacturing non-conformance could not be identified.”
As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration may increase the length of time manufacturers are required to keep production records.