Southwest to cancel 70 flights for inspections

DALLAS -- Southwest Airlines expected to cancel 70 more flights, or 2 percent of its Monday schedule, as it inspected older planes for cracks in the fuselage.

The airline canceled about 600 flights and grounded 79 planes over the weekend after a Boeing 737-300 jet sprang a 5-foot hole in the roof shortly after takeoff from Phoenix on Friday. The plane made an emergency landing. Southwest said no one was seriously injured.

The Dallas-based carrier is the busiest at McCarran International, serving more than 1 million passengers a month.

Spokeswoman Brandy King said today that Southwest had inspected 33 similar planes and returned them to service and expected to complete checks on remaining grounded planes by late Tuesday.

King said two planes had cracks similar to those in the Phoenix jet and would be repaired before they fly again. A National Transportation Safety Board member told The Associated Press that a third plane was also found to have cracks developing.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires airlines to regularly inspect planes for cracks, which can be the result of metal fatigue from pressurizing the cabin while climbing to cruising altitude and decompressing it as they come in for landings.

The Southwest jet with the torn roof had made more than 39,000 takeoff and landing cycles.