You may remember a story from the 20th August, when a China Airways 737 flight to Japan caught fire after landing and burned to as near a cinder as makes no odds. Everyone got out OK, and at the time the buzz in the aviation industry was that it was a rather comforting example of how well the evacuation process works when things get a little crispy. Why the bleeder combusted was another matter - attention quickly focussed on a fuel leak, and the best guess was that some hapless maintenance engineer had made a mistake and would, if left at liberty, be looking for alternative employment.
Ah, if only. On the 25th, the US Federal Aviation Authority issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive, based on initial evidence from the Japanese investigation, asking all carriers who fly recent models of the Boeing 737 to check certain wing components within 24 days. The FAA is the lead dog for aviation authorities worldwide, and stuff like this effectively applies globally.
Now the first results from that EAD are in, and the FAA has ratcheted up the alarm. Another EAD has just been issued, saying that detailed inspections must be made within ten days. with the suspect components explicitly tightened up within 24.
The 737s affected are all models introduced since 1995, the Next Generation or NG series in which you'll have parked your bum if you've flown any of the low cost airlines of late. We'll have to wait for the accident report to know exactly what happened in Japan, but it looks as if a nut and bolt in the slats - parts of the front of the wing that are extended on landing - may lack a washer that stops them coming loose and being propelled at some speed through the fuel tank. There's a report, again from Japan, that one 737 fresh off the production line has been found washerless. Not a comforting thought.
As best as I can ascertain, there have been a few other incidents in the past that may relate to this, but nothing deadly. In terms of the millions of landings that this particular sort of aircraft have made without problem, it's not something to cancel your holiday for - although I very much look forward to learning more. It's not quite at the stage where the entire worldwide fleet of 737NGs is grounded - which given the popularity of the type would have even more repercussions than 7/11 - but it'll be hard work to get through the lot in ten days.
Puts our fetish about security updates to Vista into perspective, mind.