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FAA to issue inspection order for Boeing 767 planes because of possible bell crank problem
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration this week will order airlines to inspect all Boeing 767 jetliners after engineers concluded that a routine test may not reveal a problem in part of the planes' elevator control system.
Boeing officials and others hastened to say on Tuesday that the problem does not present a safety hazard for passengers. The aircraft is the most widely-used airplane for flights across the Atlantic Ocean. Boeing has manufactured more than 775 of the planes, which are used by about 60 airlines worldwide.
"If either Boeing or the FAA thought there was any peril to passengers at all, we would take dramatic action, including grounding the fleet," said Boeing spokeswoman Loretta Gunter. "But that's not what we see here."
Thirty to 60 days expected for inspections
Gunter said the FAA is expected to give airlines 30 or 60 days to inspect the airplanes.
At issue is the device that moves the plane's elevators, the wing-like flaps on the tail that guide the plane up or down. Each elevator is controlled by three actuators.
If an actuator jams, the rivets that hold the "bell crank" in position shear, allowing the remaining two actuators to continue to drive the elevator.
Gunter said the plane is designed to fly and land properly even if two actuators fail, although no dual in-flight failure has ever been reported.
Earlier this year, however, two actuators failed while a plane was on the ground.
As part of an investigation into the failure, Boeing tested several used bell cranks in the lab, putting pressure on them to cause the rivets to break. In one instance, a bell crank assembly stayed rigid, contrary to expectations.
Boeing plans service bulletin
The rigid assembly, Boeing said, would not be detected using routine inspection practices. So Boeing plans to issue a service bulletin, probably on Wednesday, asking airlines to voluntarily inspect the assemblies.
Boeing said it expects the FAA to issue an airworthiness directive this week, which would make the inspection mandatory.
EgyptAir officials last week suggested that elevator control malfunctions may have caused the October 31, 1999, crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, which killed all 217 people on board. Wreckage from the flight showed that rivets on two of the three bell cranks in the right elevator were sheared in a direction that would force the elevator down. Boeing officials declined to discuss the EgyptAir crash, but said tests show that planes operate normally even with two of the three actuators broken.
Investigators are studying whether the EgyptAir plane's elevators may have split -- one headed up, the other down -- by pilots fighting for control of the plane, one pushing the control column while the other pulled it. That would support theories that the EgyptAir co-pilot caused the crash by purposely driving the plane into the ocean.
Families of doomed EgyptAir crew sue Boeing, parts makers
National Transportation Safety Board
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