Boeing says it always knew that tiny cracks could develop in the metal skin of "Classic" 737 models, though engineers anticipated that a plane could complete 60,000 takeoffs and landings before the cracks appeared. But the Southwest Airlines 737-300 that developed a fuselage hole in mid-flight on Friday had completed fewer than 40,000 cycles, catching engineers and regulators off-guard. "We are all concerned about this recent development," said Paul Richter, Boeing's chief project engineer for older jets, adding that Friday's incident was a "statistical event" that had nothing to do with Southwest's maintenance program. The FAA has ordered immediate inspections of older 737 models, with additional checks every 500 cycles until the cause of the cracking issue can be identified.
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