Qantas said it expects the three grounded jetliners to return to service before the end of the year. File Photo by Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE
Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Australian carrier Qantas said Friday it has grounded three of its Boeing 737 "Next Generation" airliners over concerns about fractures on parts that attach the wings to the fuselage.
The airline said Thursday it had already grounded one of the 737NGs and Boeing said as many as 50 have been stricken from service worldwide. The concern is for what are called "pickle fork" frames after cracks were reported on multiple planes.
"We would never fly an aircraft that wasn't safe," Qantas CEO Andrew David said in a statement Friday. "Even where these hairline cracks are present they're not an immediate risk, which is clear from the fact the checks were not required for at least seven months."
Qantas' grounded 737NGs have flown about 26,000 flights each, and the company has inspected 33 of the models in its fleet of 75. The airline said the repair procedure for the "pickle fork" frame is complex, but it expects all three planes to return to service by the end of the year.
In his statement, David disputed remarks Thursday from the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, which called for Qantas to ground all 737NGs until they are inspected.
"These comments were especially disappointing given the fantastic job our engineers have done to inspect these aircraft well ahead of schedule, and the priority they gave to safety every day of the week," he said.
U.S. carrier Southwest Airlines has also expressed concern for the "pickle fork" frame, upon finding hairline fractures this month on two of its 737NGs.
Boeing is already hampered by the worldwide grounding of its 737 Max fleet, which were involved in two crashes in Africa and Asia that killed nearly 350 people. It's unknown when they will return to flight.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told Congress this week the company had made some mistakes with the 737 Max.