In the hours after a gaping hole opened in in the roof above passengers on flight 812 to Sacramento, Southwest Airlines made a move rather unprecedented in the commercial-airline world: it grounded nearly all its 737 flights without any prodding by the FAA.
But while Southwest was busy nipping the problem in the bud, Boeing, maker of the plane that cracked open and others that are likely close to doing the same, dragged its feet and is still trying to wrap its head around what went wrong and what to do about it.
The dichotomy is pointed out by The Wall Street Journal today in a piece that shows how Boeing was caught flat-footed in an area they usually excel at.
Typically, airlines wait for regulatory direction and manufacturer recommendations before removing planes from service. In this case, that was a tricky proposition--partly because Boeing Co. was temporarily caught off guard and regulators didn't know what initial action to take.
The Journal looked at a heap of documents related to the gaping-hole incident, and found that the normal system used by Boeing and the FAA to test for metal fatigue didn't work.
Extensive testing of planes is currently underway, but no long-term plan to detect the cracks that led to the incident has been hashed out yet.
But it seems clear that of all parties involved in the fuselage failure, Boeing is the most clueless as to what the next steps are.
Southwest officials wondered how could a gash that was five feet long and perfectly straight, like a paper cut, have appeared in a plane that was only 15 years old?
Boeing didn't know. "We did not expect this to happen," a representative of the manufacturer told them.
In fairness, no one expected a giant hole to open in the ceiling of the plane.
But the difference between a company like Southwest, that--despite its often shoddy record on maintenance--got out in front of the latest problem, and Boeing, still scratching its head wondering what to do next, is striking.