Newsday via Dallasnews.com

NEW YORK – Nose landing gear on Boeing 737 jets like the Southwest Airlines plane that malfunctioned Monday at LaGuardia Airport has collapsed or failed to retract in at least 20 documented incidents worldwide since 1990, according to data from the National Safety Transportation Board.

Three of the malfunctioning landing gear incidents have occurred since 2007 on Southwest Airlines jets, according to the NTSB.

Nose gear troubles, which can include the loss of the wheels midair as well as mechanical failures, are usually caused by technical malfunctions or human error, such as a pilot approaching the runway too fast or a rough set-down during a bumpy landing. Aviation experts cautioned against drawing any conclusion from the NTSB statistics.

The NTSB is investigating Monday’s hard landing of the Southwest Airlines 737 at LaGuardia after the nose gear malfunctioned and the jet skidded about halfway across the 7,000-foot runway. Neither the NTSB nor Boeing would comment on what could have cause the gear to collapse.

In a company statement, Boeing officials said the company has “people on the ground supporting our customer and is providing technical assistance to the NTSB.”

Several passengers reported hearing a loud bang echo through the cabin of Flight 345 before it filled with smoke after the jet pitched forward Monday. Nine passengers were injured, none seriously, officials said. The 145 passengers and five crew members used an inflatable emergency slide to exit the plane after it screeched to a halt on a patch of grass just off the tarmac.

In a statement, Southwest Airlines said the aircraft has been in service since October 1999 and was last inspected July 18.

“Southwest is working with both the NTSB and Boeing in a preliminary investigation of this event,” the statement said. “Overnight, the aircraft was removed from the runway. Southwest has resumed full operations at LaGuardia.”

The same type of nose gear that collapsed on the Southwest Airlines jet Monday is equipped on 737s worldwide. Southwest had similar equipment failure after 2012 landing in El Paso, Texas, according to NTSB documents.

Since 2004, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued at least two Airworthiness Directives relating to the landing gear of the Boeing 737.

In 2004, a new directive required that the proximity switch electronics unit on Boeing 737 models 600 and later be replaced to prevent a malfunction of the aural warnings for landing gear. A malfunction of the aural warning, the directive reads, “could jeopardize a safe flight and landing.”

Another directive that went into effect in 2010 requires “repetitive lubrication of the left and right main landing gear forward trunnion pins,” and inspection for possible issues with other pieces of the main landing gear, “to prevent cracking of the forward trunnion pin, which could result in fracture of the pin and consequent collapse of the MLG (main landing gear).”

And after an incident in August 2006 in which the nose landing gear of a Boeing 737-500 collapsed at Newark Liberty International Airport while the plane was being towed by maintenance staff, Boeing issued a service letter addressing that and six other nose gear collapses that occurred while those aircraft were being towed or pushed back between 2004 and 2006, according to NTSB records.

But aircraft maintenance mechanic Edward Libassi, president of A&P Aircraft Maintenance based at Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York, said the Boeing 737’s landing gear doesn’t require any more maintenance or suffer any more failures than other commercial airliners.

“I don’t know what happened yesterday, whether it was a hard landing or something previously that may have cracked or fractured and maybe they haven’t found it,” Libassi said, referring to the 737 as “bulletproof.”

“I know Southwest does follow all the perimeters of their work scope,” said Libassi, who works on more than 600 planes, including Southwest’s fleet, each year at MacArthur. “They’ve never shortchanged their passengers. You can’t fly that many airplanes out of that many bases without something happening.”

Landing gear typically is well-maintained, he added. “I’ve never addressed any landing gear issues on any Southwest airplane and walked away full of grease or oil because nobody’s paying attention to it,” Libassi said.

John Goglia, an aviation consultant and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the Boeing 737 model aircraft are reliable, and Monday’s incident at LaGuardia shouldn’t alarm passengers.

“They’ve had their share” of incidents, Goglia said. “But there are lot of those planes.”

Full story via Dallasnews.com.

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