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FAA grounds 171 Boeing 737 Max 9s

Posted by / January 7, 2024

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States has ordered the temporary grounding of 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft after part of a plane fell off during an Alaska Airlines flight. The incident occurred on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, prompting an emergency landing. The FAA’s directive affects 171 planes, and United Airlines, with 79 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes, has confirmed compliance with the required inspections. The inspections, estimated to take four to eight hours per aircraft, were initiated after the Alaska Airlines incident.

Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci stated that the grounding would lead to approximately 60 cancellations, causing disruptions to scheduled flights. The FAA emphasized the importance of these inspections, and Turkish Airlines has also recalled its five Boeing 737 Max 9 planes for checks. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that no UK-registered 737 Max 9 aircraft were affected, and they have asked non-UK carriers to conduct inspections before operating in UK airspace.

The Alaska Airlines flight, carrying 177 passengers and crew, experienced a structural failure at 16,000 feet, resulting in an emergency descent. Fortunately, the incident did not lead to injuries, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy expressed gratitude that the incident did not result in a more tragic outcome and urged the public to contact local police if they find the detached plane door.

Passenger accounts described a loud bang and a sudden loss of cabin pressure, with air masks deployed. One passenger mentioned a child whose shirt was sucked off, emphasizing the severity of the incident. Images of the affected area showed a gap in the fuselage with visible night sky, insulation material, and debris. The section that detached was located in the back third of the plane, behind the wing and engines.

While the investigation is ongoing, Terry Tozer, a former airline pilot, suggested that the section involved might have been an additional emergency exit door, not in use by Alaska Airlines. The loss of this section likely did not impact the aircraft’s flight but posed a significant risk to those in proximity.

Boeing expressed support for the FAA’s decision and is cooperating with the NTSB’s investigation. The 737 Max model has faced previous issues, leading to a nearly two-year grounding following crashes in 2018 and 2019. Safety remains a top priority for Boeing, and they expressed regret for the impact on customers and passengers resulting from the recent incident.

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