737 Max inspections delayed as Boeing revises guidelines

737 Max inspections delayed as Boeing revises guidelines

Federal regulators said Tuesday that Boeing is revising its instructions on how airlines should inspect its 737 Max 9, delaying the manufacturer’s efforts to get the plane back into the air after a panel in one of the planes exploded during a flight late last week.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the company would modify the guidance it issued Monday based on the comments, but the agency did not provide further details. Instructions on how to comply with FAA rules are often written and distributed by aircraft manufacturers, with input from airlines and the federal agency to ensure they can be consistently followed by technicians.

“Upon receipt of Boeing’s revised guidance, the FAA will conduct a thorough review,” the FAA said in a statement. “The safety of the flying public, not speed, will determine the timetable for returning the Boeing 737-9 Max to service.”

The announcement that Boeing was revising the instructions comes after two airlines reported finding loose parts in the area of ​​the panel being inspected.

On Saturday, the FAA said it would require inspections of the plans after one of the panels exploded on an Alaska Airlines flight that took off from Portland, Oregon, the day before. Although no serious injuries were reported, the incident exposed passengers to high winds and raised new concerns about Boeing’s quality control practices. The incident also forced airlines operating the Max 9 to cancel many flights.

The explosion is the latest in a series of setbacks for Boeing, which has struggled to regain public trust after two crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 in 2018 and 2019, which killed 346 people.

It was not immediately clear how Boeing’s original plan failed. The company said Monday morning that it had shared instructions with airlines on how to inspect the affected panel, also called a door plug, which covered the space where an exit door would otherwise be installed. Hours later, the FAA said it had “approved a method to comply” with the agency’s Saturday order, appearing to confirm Boeing’s statement. Inspections focus on door stoppers, door components and fasteners.

After the announcements, Alaska Airlines and United, the two largest operators of the Max 9, said they found spare parts during the panel’s preliminary inspections.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have recovered the door plug from the Alaska Airlines plane, but they said Monday they are still searching for some related parts.

Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun addressed employees at a meeting Tuesday afternoon, promising transparency in the company’s response.

“We’re going to approach this issue — No. 1 — acknowledging our mistake,” he said, speaking from a Seattle-area factory where the company is developing plans, including the Max, according to Excerpts provided by Boeing. “We are going to approach it 100 percent and transparently every step of the way.”

Mr. Calhoun, who took over as CEO of the company in January 2020 after his predecessor was forced to resign during Max’s previous crisis, said the company would work closely with federal investigators. He also said he was upset when he first saw a photo of the incident. A teenager and his mother, neither of whom were seriously injured, sat next to the exploded sign.

“I have children, I have grandchildren and so do you,” he said. “This stuff matters. Every detail counts.

On Friday’s flight, carrying 171 passengers and six crew members, pilots and flight attendants, they struggled to communicate with each other after the panel exploded. Crew members were surprised when the door separating the cockpit from the passenger cabin opened, Jennifer Homendy, chairwoman of the safety committee, said at a news conference Monday evening. This subjected the pilots to strong wind and cabin noise, making it difficult for them to hear each other and communicate with air traffic control.

Ms Homendy said the cockpit door was designed to open during a rapid decompression event, but the crew had not been informed of this feature of the aircraft. Boeing, she said, planned to make changes to its manual to inform crews.

The Alaska plane was at 16,000 feet altitude when the panel exploded, but the incident could have been much more catastrophic if it had occurred at a higher altitude. If the plane had taxied above 30,000 feet, passengers would have been able to move around the cabin and would have had less time to put on their oxygen masks and strap themselves in safely.

A former acting FAA administrator, Billy Nolen, said in an interview that, as a first step, the agency would work closely with Boeing to develop a process to ensure that all door plugs on 737 Max planes 9 were properly secured.

The result should be detailed instructions telling airlines how to properly inspect doors, complete with diagrams of the pins and bolts that secure the door plugs to the plane. The directive would then be reviewed and approved by the FAA. The agency said it expects airline employees to spend four to eight hours on each plane inspection.

Mr. Nolen, who also headed the FAA’s office of aviation safety, said that after the panel broke up Friday, some airlines began preliminary inspections while awaiting formal instructions from Boeing approved by regulators.

“My understanding is that they needed a detailed set of criteria issued by Boeing and approved by the FAA,” he said. “They have to review it and approve it.”

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David B.Otero

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