The investigation of a hole that appeared in the fuselage of a Southwest plane earlier this week is already yielding some information. Most notably, the National Transportation and Security Board (NTSB) released photos that show there was little corrosion in the area that ruptured, suggesting something on the "microscopic" level or perhaps an impact.
So the good news is it doesn't appear the rupture was due to negligence on Southwest's part, although the final verdict is still yet to come. The bad news for Southwest, however, is that all this attention is putting the spotlight on its past safety inspections record. And that's not something the airline can be too happy about.
The airline was recently fined for failing to inspect fuselage cracks—of all things—in 46 of its planes. But the Dallas Morning News reports the Federal Aviation Administraton (FAA) doesn't think the regulations Southwest violated apply to the area of the plane in question, while Boeing said Southwest "had satisfied the necessary inspections with a design improvement."
Still, the Morning News points out that one of the possible explanations for the hole is metal fatigue, where small cracks appear in the fuselage over time, gradually weakening the aircraft's exterior and making it vulnerable to rupture. If that turns out to be the actual cause, the focus will quickly turn to Southwest's inspection program, and whether or not this rupture could—or should—have been avoided.