Southwest Has First US Airline Fatality in 9 Years

Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) was the first airline to report a passenger death since 2009 this Tuesday after one of its Boeing Co. (BA) 737 jetliner's suffered an in-flight engine failure. The engine, which broke apart at more than 30,000 feet, sprayed metal prices through the fuselage and forced the jet to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

The incident revolves around one of the industry's most commonly used engines, supplied by CFM International, a joint venture between industrial conglomerate General Electric Co. (GE) an France's Safran SA. The engines power most of Boeing and its European rival Airbus SE's single-aisle airliners, the "workhorses of the industry," as reported by The Wall Street Journal.  (See also: Jet Demand Benefits Airbus Over Boeing: Analysts.)

Spotlight on Popular Jet Engine 

April 17's rare airline fatality was caused by the rupture of one of two CFM56-7B engines on a Boeing 737-700 operated by the Dallas-based discount carrier. The plane was reportedly cruising at altitude, heading from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Dallas Love Field with 149 passengers and crew members on board. Two years ago, Southwest had a similar failure of another CFM56 engine, which resulted in an emergency landing. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed enhanced inspections of the CFM engines but has not yet made the safety fix mandatory. In light of the recent tragedy, Southwest announced that it will step up inspections of the CFM56s used in its fleet, while CFM International said it is sending a team of experts to aid a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) probe. 

One average, a CFM56-powered plane takes off somewhere in the world every two seconds, as reported by the WSJ. The version of the popular engine that was involved in Tuesday's incident has been in service since 1997 and is used in more than 6,700 airliners. The NTSB indicates that its investigators look into about three to four incidents of engine failures annually. In 2016, a Boeing 767 operated by American Airlines Group (AAL) exploded in 2016 on takeoff from Chicago O'Hare International Airport, resulting in passenger injuries during evacuation. (See also: Airline Stocks Are a Cheap Buy: Bernstein.)

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