Updated January 8th, 2024 at 16:20 IST
Boeing faces safety hurdle as FAA grounds 737 MAX jets over missing panel
The incident, where the cockpit door blew open due to the decompression force, has raised concerns about Boeing's aircraft safety.
In a setback for Boeing, safety checks on certain jets encountered a paperwork snag on Sunday as US authorities intensively searched for a missing panel that detached from a new Boeing 737 MAX 9 midair on Friday. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) promptly ordered the temporary grounding of 171 Boeing jets equipped with the same panel, following an emergency landing by an Alaska Airlines jet with a fuselage gap.
The FAA stressed that the grounded jets would remain so until the agency is assured of their safety. The incident, where the cockpit door blew open due to the decompression force, has raised concerns about Boeing's aircraft safety just as it awaits certification for the MAX 7 and MAX 10 models.
Initially, the FAA estimated the required inspections to take four to eight hours, leading to the assumption that the planes could quickly return to service. However, the lack of agreement on inspection criteria between the FAA and Boeing has delayed the process, leaving airlines without detailed instructions.
Out of the 171 affected planes, 144 operate in the United States. Turkish Airlines, Copa Airlines, and Aeromexico have announced the grounding of the affected jets. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have cancelled numerous flights, affecting thousands of passengers, awaiting inspection directions.
Typically, plane makers secure regulatory approval for routine maintenance checks in advance. However, the swift response to the Alaska Airlines incident has left Boeing without FAA approval to guide airlines on complying with the regulator's order.
Alaska Airlines stated it is awaiting directions from the FAA and Boeing to begin inspections. United Airlines, which parked all 79 of its 737 MAX 9s for inspections, mentioned preliminary inspections were underway while awaiting final instructions.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun addressed the company's response in a message to employees, stressing the need for transparency and collaboration with customers and regulators to understand and address the incident's causes.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is leading the investigation, and it is too early to determine the cause of the event. The missing panel is yet to be found, with the NTSB seeking public assistance and planning rooftop checks on industrial buildings in the area.
In 2019, Boeing's 737 MAX planes faced a 20-month global grounding after crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, leading to changes in cockpit software. Boeing has delivered 214 of the 737 MAX 9 model, constituting 15 per cent of the over 1,300 MAX aircraft in service. The majority can still operate, including those with ordinary doors instead of the replacement panels.
The fuselage for Boeing 737s is manufactured by Spirit AeroSystems, and questions about final installation responsibility remain, involving both Spirit and Boeing. Boeing is set to address safety concerns in a company-wide webcast on Tuesday.
(With Reuters inputs)
Published January 8th, 2024 at 07:26 IST