In a recent turn of events, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has directed U.S. airlines to suspend operations of certain Boeing 737 Max 9 planes pending inspections. This follows an alarming incident where a Max 9, operated as Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, lost a piece of its body midair, leading to a safe yet distressing emergency landing. Passengers reported a gaping hole that exposed the night sky and city lights below, fortunately, no one was seriously injured. The incident has led Alaska and United Airlines to cancel numerous flights, grounding their Max 9 fleets for federally mandated inspections.
The FAA’s investigation is centred on a “mid-cabin door plug,” a feature unique to some Boeing 737 Max 9s. Aircrafts configured with fewer seats than the maximum have unnecessary doors filled with plugs. The door plug on Flight 1282, which flew from Portland, Oregon to Ontario, California, tore off 20 minutes after takeoff. The National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) chairwoman, Jennifer Homendy, highlighted the potential for a graver outcome had this occurred at cruising altitudes. The NTSB is now scrutinizing the plane’s maintenance records and pressurization system.
The FAA’s directive impacts approximately 171 planes, with inspections estimated to take four to eight hours per aircraft. Dave Spero of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists emphasized that such risks are unacceptable in aviation.
Boeing’s 737 Max series has a troubled history, notably with the Max 8 model. Following the tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in 2019, which collectively claimed 346 lives, the Max fleet was globally grounded. Subsequent investigations attributed the crashes to design flaws in the flight control system. Boeing made necessary modifications, and the FAA cleared the Max for flight in late 2020. Boeing also settled with the Justice Department for $2.5 billion over charges of defrauding the FAA.
More recently, in December, Boeing advised inspections of all 737 Max planes for potential rudder control system issues. The Max series, despite its troubled past, remains widely used. However, Boeing continues to grapple with quality control issues across its fleet, including the 787 Dreamliner, and faces over $2 billion in losses on the new Air Force One jets.
The latest incident with the Alaska Airlines flight adds to Boeing’s ongoing challenges. The company’s recent operational and financial struggles are reflective of deeper systemic issues, underlining the need for stringent safety protocols and quality assurance in the aviation industry. As investigations continue, Boeing faces increased scrutiny, with safety and reliability remaining paramount for air travel.