FAA grounds more than 170 Boeing 737 Max 9 after section of Alaska Airlines plane explodes

Passengers’ oxygen masks hang from the ceiling next to a missing window and a portion of a side wall of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, which was headed to Ontario, California and suffered depressurization shortly after takeoff, in Portland, Oregon, USA, on January 5, 2024, in this image obtained from social networks.

Instagram/@strawberrvy | Instagram/@strawberrvy via Reute

The Federal Aviation Administration on Saturday ordered the temporary grounding of dozens of boeing 737 Max 9 for inspections, a day after a part of the plane exploded in the middle of a Alaska Airlines flight.

Images and video of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 shared on social media showed a gaping hole in the side of the plane and passengers wearing oxygen masks before returning to Portland shortly after taking off for Ontario, California, on Friday. in the afternoon.

The FAA’s emergency airworthiness directive will affect about 171 aircraft worldwide and applies to U.S. airlines and carriers operating on U.S. soil, the agency said. Alaska and United Airlines said late Saturday they would ground all of their Boeing 737 Max 9 fleets.

According to federal safety officials, no serious injuries were reported on the flight. There were 171 passengers and six crew members on board, Alaska Air said.

“Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement.

Large-scale groundings of aircraft by the FAA or other aviation authorities are rare. The FAA has closely scrutinized the Boeing 737 Max since two deadly crashes grounded the plane worldwide nearly five years ago. Two other models of the Max, the smallest and largest versions, have not yet been cleared by the agency to enter commercial service.

The missing fuselage section appeared to be an exit not used by Alaska Airlines or other airlines that do not have high-density seating configurations, and was obscured.

The National Transportation Safety Board has begun its investigation. President Jennifer Homendy, at a news conference in Portland Saturday night, asked the public for help finding the plane’s missing door.

Homendy said there were no passengers sitting in the seat closest to the panel or in the middle seat in the row where the door exploded, adding that it was fortunate the plane was still climbing and not at cruising altitude when the travelers and the crew could have been standing. or walking around the cabin.

“We could have ended up with something more tragic,” he said.

The incident was described as “an explosive decompression at the departure window,” according to Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the union representing United cabin crew and flight attendants in Alaska. Spirit and other carriers.

Anthony Brickhouse, a professor of aerospace safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said such an incident is extremely rare.

“Rapid decompression is serious business,” he said. “Seeing a big hole in an airplane is not something we normally see. In aviation safety, we would call it a structural failure.”

The incident is also a reminder to keep your seat belt fastened when seated, he added.

“I always advise people on a commercial airplane to keep their seat belt on regardless of what the light says,” Brickhouse said.

Before the FAA issued its directive, Alaska Airlines previously said it would ground its fleet of Boeing 737 Max 9 planes. On Saturday, the airline said 18 of the planes “were given extensive and exhaustive door inspections.” plug as part of a recent intensive maintenance visit,” but then said he would temporarily ground them all.

“We are in contact with the FAA to determine what, if any, additional work is required before these aircraft return to service,” Alaska said.

ET, Alaska said it canceled 160 flights, affecting 23,000 customers.

The investigation begins

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to Portland on Saturday to investigate the incident.

united airlinesthe largest aircraft operator in the US, had prepared to ground dozens of its planes. boeing 737 Max 9 planes for inspections, CNBC previously reported. The airline said late Saturday that it had grounded its entire fleet of 79 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes, after previously saying that 30 of the planes had already satisfied the FAA inspection requirement.

The FAA said inspections will last between four and eight hours per plane.

The Boeing 737 Max 9 is a larger version of Boeing’s best-selling airliner, the 737 Max 8. Max planes were grounded worldwide in 2019 after two fatal crashes about five months apart. The United States lifted the ban on the planes from flying in late 2020 after software updates and training.

covered door

The Boeing 737 Max 9 has an emergency exit door cut out behind the wings for use in densely seated cabin configurations, such as those used by low-cost airlines, according to Flightradar24.

“The doors do not activate on Alaska Airlines planes and are permanently ‘plugged,'” Flightradar24 said.

Boeing did not comment beyond its statement when asked about the sealed emergency exit door. AeroSystems Spiritwhich makes the 737 Max fuselages, confirmed to CNBC that it installed the covered door on the plane.

“Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers,” Boeing said in a statement Saturday. “We agree with and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane.”

The company said it supports the NTSB investigation.

There are 215 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft in service worldwide, according to aviation data firm Cirium. In addition to United and Alaska Air, other carriers include Aeroméxico, Turkish Airlines, Icelandair and Panama’s Copa Airlines.

Southwest Airlines and american airlines operate the smaller 737 Max 8.

Late last year, Boeing urged airlines to inspect planes for a “possible” loose bolt in the rudder control system, the latest in a series of manufacturing flaws on Boeing planes that have prompted inspections. additional and delayed aircraft deliveries.

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