We are flying from Hawaii and back in a few weeks on United Airlines. However, this week’s news, reported first by FlightGlobal, has definitely caught our attention. The reason is, we are scheduled to fly twice on these airplanes. Given how fortunate Beat of Hawaii is to have so many aviation industry folk reading, we ask whether we should be concerned or not?
FAA requires inspection for frame cracks on older 757 plane wings used on Hawaii flights.
A highly regarded plane with a great history in Hawaii flights has come under scrutiny. The Federal Aviation Administration said it will now require that Boeing 757 aircraft be inspected after airlines found cracks on 757 airplane wings.
Mitigating the seriousness of the issue, the FAA said that at this time, it will not have an immediate effect but instead they will propose an airworthiness directive. This all came to light last year when it was revealed in a Boeing service alert.
The FAA has received a report indicating an operator of model 757-200 airplanes found cracks on the left side and right side in the station 1640 frame web between stringer S-14 and S-15, during maintenance. One crack initiated at a corrosion pit in the open liner hole and propagated by fatigue.Federal Aviation Administration
The FAA said further that some of these “liner holes… on some airplanes were not plugged, creating a stress concentration around the unplugged hole, which could lead to cracks.”
How old are these planes?
The two aircraft that the FAA reported issues were found on included one that had flown some 30k flights (cycles), while the other had 40k cycles. In checking recent United Boeing 757 Hawaii flights, we found planes with ages varying from 23 to nearly 29 years.
The FAA order applies to all 757 aircraft (both models, 200 and 300) and it is accepting input through August. This order followed other rules related to possible cracks in the same area on these same planes in both 2018 and 2020.
Other unrelated issues related to the United 757 fleet included a mid-Pacific diversion due to a rudder flight control issue in May. In June there was another 757 diversion from Hawaii to the mainland.
The titan of Hawaii flights no longer: Boeing 757.
The long, thin “flying pencil” has been certified for Hawaii flights for over 30 years. And the plane was responsible for direct flights opening, to the Big Island and Kauai in particular, as well as to Honolulu and Maui. Routes to neighbor island airports are too light in traffic to warrant a Boeing 767, and the runway at Lihue would need to be longer in order to support full 767 flights.
American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines have flown 757 aircraft to Hawaii. Among Hawaii routes still served by the venerable old plane are United Airlines’ Denver to Kauai and Denver to Kona flights. Other Hawaii routes that previously used the planes included Delta flights, which the new Delta Airlines A321neo fleet has recently replaced .
What made this Hawaii plane unique?
The 757 is similar to the no longer seen Boeing 727. It has two powerful wing-mounted engines and is a plane well liked by pilots. The cabin is a familiar 2×2 in business/first and 3×3 in economy. United has upgraded its 757 fleet with lie-flat Polaris business seating. Editor Jeff said about the United 757 that he’s flown on both into and out of Hawaii hundreds of times: It was always a very uncomfortable plane, both in economy and in the older first-class cabins. But it got the job done.”
American stopped flying the Boeing 757 to Hawaii in 2020.
American had more 757’s in their fleet than any other airline until they retired them in early 2020. Delta now holds that title. Delta and United both still operate them, although Delta stopped flying them to and from Hawaii, and both will retire them entirely in the near future. These are being replaced by both the Airbus A321 as well as Boeing 737 MAX variants. Previously, 737 Next Generation planes had replaced them on shorter mainland to Hawaii flights, leaving only longer routes to the 757. Boeing 757 can travel about 1,000 miles further than the older 737s, while the longest range 737 MAX7 is capable of roughy the same distance as the 757.