Saturday, July 20, 2024

Boeing re-inspected after recent 737 Max problems

A scary flight over the weekend is again forcing Boeing to address concerns about its planes, particularly the 737 Max, already the most scrutinized jet in history.

No one was seriously injured in an episode aboard an Alaska Airlines flight Friday night in which part of the 737 Max 9's fuselage flew off in midair, exposing passengers to howling air. The plane landed safely, but the incident on a flight from Portland to Ontario, Calif., alarmed passengers and prompted immediate safety inspections on similar flights.

Federal officials focused on a mid-cabin door plug to fill the space where the emergency exit would be placed if the plane was configured with more seats.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Saturday ordered an inspection of 171 Max 9 planes operated by U.S. airlines or on U.S. territory, prompting the cancellation of hundreds of flights over the weekend. It said inspections would take four to eight hours per flight to complete, although at least one airline said it was still waiting for more details on what those inspections should entail.

“We accept and fully support the FAA's decision to immediately inspect 737-9 aircraft of the same configuration as the affected aircraft,” Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Cowell said Saturday.

Alaska Airlines' woes continued into Sunday, with 163 cancellations, or 21 percent of its scheduled flights, by late afternoon, according to FlightAware. The airline has 65 Max 9 aircraft. Passengers took to social media to complain about long hold times on the phone for customer service and insufficient compensation while waiting at the airport, and faced long delays and sudden cancellations.

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United Airlines said it had canceled about 180 flights scheduled for Sunday's Max 9, while preserving another 85 flights by switching to other flights.

United has 79 Max 9 flights, more than any other airline. In a statement Sunday, it said it had grounded all of those planes, removed the door panels, and begun performing preliminary inspections on the jets, pending instructions from the FAA on what inspections would be required to fly the planes again.

“We continue to work with the FAA to clarify the inspection process and requirements for returning all Max 9 aircraft to service,” the airline said in a statement. “We are working with customers to accommodate them on other flights and in some cases have been able to avoid cancellations by switching to other flight types.”

It's unclear whether Boeing is responsible for what happened to the Alaska Airlines flight, but the episode raises new questions and puts additional pressure on the producer. Another version of the Max, the 737 Max 8, was involved in two crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed hundreds of people and led to the plane's worldwide grounding.

“The issue is what's going on at Boeing,” said John Coglia, a longtime aviation safety consultant and retired member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates plane crashes.

Last month, the company urged airlines to inspect more than 1,300 delivered MAX planes for loose bolts in the rudder-control system. In the summer, Boeing said it was a major supplier Improperly drilled In part to help maintain cabin pressure. Since then, Boeing has invested in and worked closely with that supplier, Spirit Aerosystems, to resolve production issues.

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“We're seeing increased stability and quality performance within our own factories, but we're working to bring the supply chain up to the same standards,” Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun said on a call with investor analysts and reporters in October. .

Spirit Aerosystems also worked on the fuselage for the 737 Max 9, including fabricating and installing the door plug that failed on the Alaska Airlines flight.

Deliveries of another Boeing plane, the twin-aisle 787 Dreamliner, were halted for more than a year until the summer of 2022 while the planemaker worked with the FAA to address various quality concerns, including the plane's paper-thin gaps. Body.

Another flaw discovered last summer slowed deliveries of the plane again. And production of both the 737 and 787 has been slow to ramp up amid other problems with quality and the supply chain.

The MAX was grounded in early 2019 after two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a total of 346 people. For more than 20 months, Boeing worked with regulators around the world to fix problems with the plane's flight control software and other components.

By the time Maxx resumes passenger flights in late 2020, the crisis has cost the company about $20 billion.

Two medium variants of the aircraft, Max 8 and Max 9, have been flying ever since. But the smallest, the Max 7, and the largest, the Max 10, have yet to be approved by regulators.

Max is the best-selling airplane in Boeing history. More than 4,500 orders for the plane account for more than 76 percent of Boeing's order book. The flight is popular with airlines: Of the nearly three million flights scheduled worldwide this month, about 5 percent are scheduled to operate using Max, mostly Max 8, according to flight data provider Sirium.

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Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have begun looking into the case and are expected to examine a wide range of factors, including Boeing's manufacturing process and FAA oversight of the company and any work performed on the Boeing or Alaska Airlines aircraft. Investigators have also identified an area where the door landed and are asking the public for help in locating it.

“It's the kind of thing that, until you really get into the investigation — you identify all the facts, conditions and circumstances of this particular event — do you decide whether it's a one-off or a systemic problem,” Gregg said. Feith, an aviation safety expert and former NTSB investigator.

Meanwhile, those who build, maintain, operate and regulate aircraft will all be on the lookout.

“Every American deserves a full explanation from Boeing and the FAA about what went wrong and the steps taken to ensure another incident does not happen in the future,” Senator JD Vance, R-Ohio, said in a post Saturday. In X.

Mark Walker, Christine Chung And East Safak Contributed report.

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