Boeing is facing a fresh and growing crisis after Australian airline Qantas found cracks in a 737 Next Generation plane, adding to a growing number of airlines reporting such issues and grounding some of the planes as a result.
Qantas said on Thursday that it found cracks in part of one of its 737NG planes, and said it would repair the plane and inspect 33 other planes this week.
The airline said that it did not see an immediate safety risk, and that it would "never operate an aircraft unless it was completely safe to do so," the BBC reported.
The discovery comes a month after Boeing discovered the cracking problem in the 737NG, prompting the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to instruct airlines that fly the planes to inspect them. Thousands of 737NG planes are in service globally.
Those inspections were instructed for planes that had made more than 30,000 flights, while Qantas said its plane had made fewer than 27,000 flights, the BBC reported.
A source told Reuters that cracks were also found on another Qantas plane that has flown almost 27,500 times on Wednesday.
And another source also told Reuters that US carrier Southwest Airlines also found cracks in one of its planes that had flown around 28,500 times.
The plane grounded by Qantas adds to a growing list of 737NG planes grounded by airlines. Korean Air grounded nine of the planes on Friday after cracks were discovered, and news agency Agence France-Presse reported that up to 50 737NG planes have now been grounded around the world.
The cracks are on an area of the plane called the pickle fork, which connects the plane body, wing structure, and landing gear.
Qantas said that detailed analysis by Boeing shows that even when a crack is present, it does not immediately compromise the safety of the aircraft, as indicated by the timeframe given by regulators to perform the checks," Australia's ABC News reported.
But Australia's aircraft engineers association called on the airline to ground all of its 737NG planes.
Its secretary said on Thursday that the crack "was about an inch long, it's very small. But these things do propagate very quickly when they're under load … It's when that grows, and that grows very quickly, that you have problems," The Guardian reported.
The new problem is distinct from Boeing's ongoing crisis over its 737 Max planes, which killed 346 people in two separate crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, and have been grounded around the world since.
Boeing's CEO Dennis Muilenburg testified before Congress about the issue on Wednesday, where he was accused by lawmakers of "pushing profits over quality and safety." Muilenburg directly apologized to victims' families, and said the company "made some mistakes" in the plane's design.
Boeing has lost billions and airlines around the world are demanding compensation as they cancel flights, reduce routes, have new deliveries stalled, and pay to maintain the planes that were delivered, which they will not be able to fly until Boeing's updates are approved by regulators.