Safety fears increase over ageing Boeing 707s

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The Independent Online
First Edition

CONCERN is growing about the safety of the ageing fleet of Boeing 707 airliners after four engines fell off two aircraft during flights this year.

This follows a warning by Boeing in 1988 about potential weaknesses in the pylon that connects the 707 engines to their wings. They recommended airlines should carry out more frequent inspections.

This was later made mandatory by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Since then cracks on pylons and their surrounding fittings have been found on 33 aircraft.

There were 304 707s in use at the end of last year; some more than 35 years old. Most are owned by Middle Eastern and African airlines but a significant number still operate in the US.

On 31 March this year the crew of a Nigerian-owned 707 had to make an emergency landing at a military base in southern France when two engines fell off at about 3,000ft (914m). A wing caught fire after debris from the engines ripped open one of the fuel tanks. The three-man crew, two Britons and a Swede, were unharmed, but the aircraft, which was carrying freight, was substantially damaged. In April two more engines fell off a 707. The Colombian-owned aircraft, which was also carrying freight, had just taken off from Miami airport. The crew managed to land successfully and no one was injured.

Boeing contacted all the owners of 707s following these two incidents to reiterate its 1988 recommendations. Tom Cole, a company spokesman, said: 'With ageing aircraft you are bound to get cracking and corrosion - 707s are getting pretty old and they need to be inspected constantly.'

Captain Eric Pritchard, of the Air Safety Group, an independent body, said: 'Corrosion is a big problem in the 707s. Any faults should be spotted during regular maintenance. However, some of the current owners have not got the proper facilities.'