Boeing under scrutiny again after latest 737 Max problem

Boeing under scrutiny again after latest 737 Max problem

A harrowing flight this weekend is once again forcing Boeing to confront concerns about its plans, particularly the 737 Max, already one of the most scrutinized jets in history.

No one was seriously injured during the episode on Friday evening on an Alaska Airlines flight during which part of the fuselage of a 737 Max 9 exploded in mid-flight, exposing passengers to howling wind. The plane landed safely, but the event, on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, frightened travelers and triggered immediate safety inspections on similar planes.

Federal authorities have focused their attention on a door plug in the middle of the cabin, used to fill the space where an emergency exit would be placed if the plane was configured with more seats.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered inspections of 171 Max 9 planes operated by Alaska and other U.S. airlines, prompting dozens of flight cancellations Saturday. He said inspections are expected to take four to eight hours per plan.

“We agree and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 aircraft with the same configuration as the affected aircraft,” Boeing representative Jessica Kowal said Saturday.

It is unclear whether Boeing is responsible for what happened, but the episode raises new questions for the manufacturer. Another version of the Max, a 737 Max 8, was involved in two accidents that killed hundreds of people in 2018 and 2019 and led to the global grounding of that plane.

“The problem is what’s happening at Boeing,” said John Goglia, 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 the more than 1,300 delivered Max planes for a possible loose bolt in the rudder control system. Over the summer, Boeing said a key supplier had poorly drilled holes in a component that helps maintain cabin pressure. Since then, Boeing has invested and worked more closely with that supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, to resolve production issues.

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

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

Deliveries of another Boeing plane, the twin-aisle 787 Dreamliner, were virtually grounded for more than a year, until summer 2022, while the planemaker worked with the FAA to address various manufacturing issues. quality, including very fine gaps in the body of the aircraft. body.

Another flaw discovered last summer further slowed deliveries of the plane. And production of the 737 and 787 has been slow to ramp up due to these and other quality and supply chain issues.

The Max was grounded in early 2019 after two accidents that killed a total of 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia. For 20 months, Boeing worked with regulators around the world to resolve problems with the plane’s flight control software and other components.

By the time passenger flights aboard the Max were summed up in late 2020, the crisis had cost the company an estimated $20 billion.

The two mid-sized variants of the aircraft, the Max 8 and Max 9, have been flying ever since. But the smallest, the Max 7, and the largest, the Max 10, have not yet been approved by regulators.

The Max is the best-selling aircraft in Boeing history. The more than 4,500 outstanding orders for the plane represent more than 76 percent of Boeing’s order backlog. The plane is also popular among airlines: Of the nearly three million flights scheduled worldwide this month, about 5% are expected to be flown using a Max, mainly the Max 8, according to Cirium , an aeronautical data provider.

Alaska Airlines has 65 Max 9 planes, while United Airlines has 79. Both were conducting inspections Saturday.

On Sunday, Turkish Airlines announced that it immediately grounded the five Max 9 plans in its fleet until further notice.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have begun looking into the case and are expected to look at a wide range of factors. To begin, they would have to examine radar and other data to find the blown-up section of the plane. They should also look at work done by Boeing or Alaska Airlines on the plane.

“It’s the kind of thing where until you actually get into the investigation – you identify all the facts, conditions and circumstances of this particular event – you determine whether this is simply a one-time or systemic problem,” Greg said. Feith, an aviation safety expert and former NTSB investigator.

In the meantime, those who develop, maintain, operate and regulate the plans will all be in the spotlight.

“Every American deserves a full explanation from Boeing and the FAA about what went wrong and what steps are being taken to ensure another incident does not happen in the future,” the statement said Saturday. Senator JD Vance, Republican of Ohio. on X.

Marc Walker And Safak Timur reports contributed.

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David B.Otero

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