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New inspections of 747s ordered

©Associated Press
February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Federal safety regulators on Wednesday ordered new inspections of Boeing 747 fuselages as a result of the investigation into the China Airlines crash in the Taiwan Strait in May.

The plane broke into four pieces in flight, killing all 225 aboard.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered U.S. operators of 747s to check if a metal repair patch, or doubler, was used to cover scratches or cracks on the underside of the fuselage near the aircraft's tail. Doublers are used to double the strength of the aircraft's skin after it has been repaired.

Investigators found scratches and a 15-inch crack under a doubler that had been attached to the plane after the tail hit a runway in 1980, according to the FAA. The part was recovered from the ocean.

Airlines that operate 747s are required to check if they've made a similar repair. If they have, they must remove the plate, inspect the skin underneath and fix any cracks or scratches. Undetected scratches could lead to cracks from metal fatigue that could cause the plane to break up, the FAA said.

There are about 400 Boeing 747s in the U.S. fleet and 1,000 worldwide, according to Liz Verdier, Boeing spokeswoman.

"The actual number of people who have to do the inspections is going to be very small, but everybody's got to look," Verdier said.

The company in November told airlines to make the inspections and repairs, if necessary.

The FAA also said it had recently gotten a report that scratches were found under a doubler on another 747 as a result of an inspection Boeing requested.

The FAA is sending the advisories to its counterpart agencies overseas.

Investigators have not determined the probable cause of the China Airlines accident.

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