Airlines

Southwest's tragic engine failure shows need for 'deeper' look at entire oversight: Ex-NTSB chair

Key Points
  • The Southwest Airlines engine failure that resulted in a passenger's death shows the need for an extensive review, former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall says.
  • Hall also says it's probably too early to tell whether something like metal fatigue would appear in a routine inspection.
VIDEO3:2003:20
NTSB probes Southwest engine failure

The Southwest Airlines engine failure that resulted in a passenger's death shows the need for an extensive review, but the sky remains "very safe," former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall said Wednesday.

"This one I believe raises concerns that we need to look at probably a little more deeper in being sure that the oversight of the whole process — from manufacturer to inspector and operation — is reviewed and improved," Hall told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

The NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the blown jet engine that set off a terrifying in-flight chain of events on Tuesday and left a businesswoman hanging half outside a shattered window. The plane, a Boeing 737-700, was carrying 149 people on a flight from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Dallas when it made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

A preliminary examination of the GE engine showed evidence of metal fatigue, the NTSB said. Hall told CNBC it's probably too early to tell whether something like metal fatigue would appear in a routine inspection.

"Southwest is known for its rapid turnarounds and keeping its aircraft in the air," he said. "So, that, of course, results in a heavy use of the engine. My main concern is making sure there's adequate time for oversight and inspection of these aircraft because of the extensive use."

Southwest said that it is accelerating its inspections of the engine type that was involved in the accident and that they will likely be completed within 30 days. The tragedy was the airline's first on-board passenger fatality due to an accident in its history, and the first fatal U.S. commercial plane accident since 2009.

Hall, who worked to improve safety in all modes of transportation in the U.S. and abroad during his tenure at NTSB, said the tragedy had some "good things to look at," including the conduct and operation of the Southwest crew and passengers.

The investigation will also allow the board to see how effective its system of emergency evacuation is evaluated, Hall said, adding flying in the air remains "very safe."

"But it's safe because the process that's underway right now has been so effective over the years in eliminating accidents through the investigation process," he said. The investigation "should give reassurance to the public that safety and aviation is embedded in its culture."

Hall, who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton to be a member of the NTSB in 1993, served as chairman from 1994 to 2001. He now is managing partner at Hall & Associates and gives expertise on crisis management and government relations, and transportation safety and security.

—CNBC's Leslie Josephs and the Associated Press contributed to this report.