Boeing’s 737 Max 9 and the Alaska airline grounding: what you need to know

Boeing’s 737 Max 9 and the Alaska airline grounding: what you need to know

Friday’s emergency landing of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 in Portland, Oregon, led the Federal Aviation Administration to order some U.S. airlines to stop using certain Max 9 planes until ‘they are inspected. The order will affect about 171 plans owned by Alaska, United and other airlines. The episode also raised troubling new questions about the safety of a work plane plagued by years of problems and multiple fatal accidents.

No one was seriously injured in Friday’s incident. The airliner returned to Portland Airport shortly after the plane’s fuselage opened mid-flight, leaving a door-sized hole in the side of the plane.

A few hours after the episode, Alaska Airlines said it would ground all 65 Boeing 737 Max 9s in its fleet until mechanics could carefully inspect each plane. Later Saturday, the FAA ordered the temporary grounding of some other airlines’ fleet plans.

THE National Transportation Safety Board He also said that an investigation was underway into the causes of the incident. Jessica Kowal, a Boeing spokeswoman, said in a statement: “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. »

And while the particular technical problem that caused Friday’s scare seems unique, Boeing’s 737 Max airlines have perhaps the most worrying history of any modern airliner currently in service.

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, which was carrying 171 passengers and six crew members bound for Ontario, California, made an emergency landing at Portland Airport Friday evening, 20 minutes after takeoff.

Passengers on the flight reported hearing a loud noise before noticing that a section of the fuselage had opened mid-flight.

Although the FAA has not yet publicly discussed the cause of the incident, in its grounding order to the airlines it asked them to inspect what it called a “door jam in the middle of the cabin “. When an aircraft does not need all of the emergency exits for which it was originally designed, the unnecessary exits are filled with a plug. But the cause of this separation is still unclear.

The plane involved in Friday’s incident was virtually new by commercial airline standards. It was first recorded in November and recorded only 145 flights.

Two crashes involving Boeing 737 Max 8s killed a total of 346 people in less than five months in 2018 and 2019. Both crashes were later linked to a faulty system that overrode the pilot’s controls.

These accidents led to the global grounding of plans for the Boeing 737 Max, parking hundreds of planes on tarmacs around the world for nearly two years while engineers worked to identify and fix the problem so regulators could recertify the plans.

The first accident occurred in October 2018, when a passenger plane carrying 189 people from Jakarta, Indonesia, crashed into the Java Sea just minutes after takeoff. Four months later, another 737 Max, that of Ethiopian Airlines, crashed just after takeoff while en route to Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board, including the eight crew members of the flight.

Days later, President Donald J. Trump announced that U.S. regulators would temporarily halt all flights of the Boeing 737 Max while investigators and Boeing sought to determine how a software system meant to make the plane safer had instead played a role. role in disasters. .

U.S. regulators were among the last to ground the model, but they did so after pressure mounted and 42 other countries took drastic measures to prevent further crashes.

Reporting by the New York Times and others ultimately revealed that competitive pressure, faulty design and problematic oversight all played a role in the troubling history of the plane, Boeing’s best-selling plane to date. day, and a plane with hundreds of billions of dollars in advance airline orders. all over the world when he was grounded.

Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion in a 2021 settlement with the Justice Department to resolve a criminal charge that it conspired to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the company and assesses his plans.

In 2022, Boeing paid $200 million more in a settlement with U.S. securities regulators over accusations the company misled investors by suggesting human error was at fault. the origin of the two fatal accidents and omitting society’s concerns about the plane.

By the time the plans were recertified, 20 months after the accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia, Boeing estimated that the crisis had cost the company $20.7 billion.

Part of Boeing’s single-island 737 Max series, the Max 9 can carry up to 220 passengers, depending on its seat configuration. United Airlines has 79 Max 9s in service, the most of any airline, according to Cirium, an aviation analytics firm. A total of 215 Max 9 aircraft are in service worldwide, Cirium said. United and Alaska Airlines own about a third.

Other airlines flying the Max 9 include Copa Airlines of Panama and Aeromexico in the Americas, SCAT Airlines of Kazakhstan, Iceland Air, Turkish Airlines and FlyDubai.

A FlyDubai spokesperson said the three 737 Max 9 airliners in its fleet carried out the necessary safety checks over the past 24 months and that the company was awaiting guidance from Boeing before carrying out further inspections.

Major aviation safety incidents, including those that do not result in injury or loss of life, generally result in immediate reviews by regulators in the United States, the European Union and China.

Safety investigations are usually carried out by the authorities of the country where the incident occurred, in cooperation with the authorities of the country where the aircraft was manufactured.

Investigators are looking at everything: the plane’s design; its manufacturing, maintenance and inspection history; weather report; air traffic control decisions; and the actions of the flight crew. They look for the causes of an incident as well as lessons for aviation safety.

In the case of the Alaska Airlines incident, the plane was manufactured in the United States and lost a fuselage section during a flight within the United States. The National Transportation Safety Board will therefore be the lead agency investigating the incident.

Security investigations can take several months. They involve technical experts from the government, the airline that operated the plane, unions and the plane’s manufacturer – in this case, Boeing.

The safety office consults closely with the Federal Aviation Administration, which certifies the airworthiness of aircraft. If it appears that a defect in the aircraft contributed to a safety incident, the FAA may order that the model be grounded until inspections or repairs are made.

The FAA does not need to wait for the safety board’s report before deciding whether to ground a plane model or order rapid inspections. Either way, airlines usually rush to check their planes as soon as they know what to look for.

Grounding one of the industry’s main workhorses could put a strain on travelers as airlines sometimes have to cancel flights because they don’t have planes to replace the grounded model on the ground.

United said the groundings would result in the cancellation of 60 flights, a small fraction of its schedule, on Saturday alone. In the case of Alaska Airlines, the 65 737 Max 9s grounded awaiting inspection represent 28% of the company’s Boeing 737 fleet. The company also operates the smaller Embraer E175, but with less than half the seats of the Boing 737 it is unlikely it will be able to take up all the slack.

As of midday Saturday, Alaska Airlines had canceled about 100 flights, or 13% of those scheduled for the day, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking site.

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David B.Otero

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