During the recession people became more conscious about repairing their cars since they were not going to be buying a new car soon. Airlines too slowed down maintenance to cut costs ,if you think about it in the context of the cracks found in the Southwest Airline planes.
Consider this : individuals not planning to buy a new car try to get the basic maintenance done during a recession. Airlines do the same thing except that checking the fuselage seems redundant when the economy is tight and the guidelines and specifications seem to be clear.The difference is that in the air you need more than brakes and tires on the road.
Innovations like the ABS brakes have come from the aerospace industry to the auto industry and surprisingly its a reverse movement for maintenance behavior from the auto industry to the airline industry during the recession. Just do the minimum needed.
Keep in mind that the Southwest aircraft in question is only 14 years old. In many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America there are planes that are 30-40 years old on commercial routes and risks of this kind are far higher.
Aircraft engine makers (like GE,Pratt and Whitney and Rolls Royce) are already active in global markets like China and India that have bought new planes to overhaul engines as they age - but fuselage maintenance is something new.Decision processes to spend timely B2B maintenance money in these markets can be far more complicated than a simple "no budget /bad economy" rule with maintenance engineers not being the most powerful influencers of decision making in many cultures.Hopefully as the NTSB and US airlines sort out the fuselage maintenance protocols- the growing global aerospace market will learn important lessons.