Boeing halts test flights of new plane over engine issue

In this March 7, 2017, file photo the first of Boeing's new 737 MAX 9 models sits outside its production plant in Renton, Washington. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

DALLAS (AP) — Boeing is suspending test flights of a new commercial airplane Southwest Airlines plans to start using in a few months because of possible problems with a key engine part.

The company said Wednesday it was notified of a potential manufacturing-quality issue by CFM, which makes the engines for the Boeing 737 Max.

Boeing Co. said it has not experienced any issues with the low-pressure turbine discs during test flights.

The company said it still plans to begin deliveries of the plane later this month, and production will continue.

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The Max is designed to be a more fuel-efficient version of the workhorse 737, Boeing’s most popular commercial plane. Malaysia’s Malindo Air plans to be the first airline to fly the new plane, starting before July. Dallas-based Southwest expects to begin using the plane for passenger flights this fall.

Seattle-based Boeing said it has put CFM’s Leap 1B engines through more than 2,000 hours of testing, including flights lasting more than nine hours, and additional tests that simulated 3,000 takeoffs and landings, and did not see any problems with the low-pressure turbine discs.

The discs are made by a supplier to CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and France’s Safran.

“CFM and its supplier notified us after discovering the issue as a part of their quality inspection process,” a Boeing spokesman said in a written statement. “We will work closely with CFM to understand the precise scope and root cause of the quality issue.”

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New planes and parts go through extensive testing to turn up problems before passengers go on board.

Cai von Rumohr, an analyst with Cowen and Co., said “this doesn’t look like a serious concern” because Boeing still expects to deliver the first plane this month and it appears to be a fixable manufacturing problem rather than a design flaw.