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Updated January 13th, 2024 at 11:03 IST

Boeing's MAX 9 emergency raises questions on production practices

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently investigating the production practices related to the incident.

Boeing
Boeing conducts various checks, including pressurization tests, before delivering the aircraft to the airline. | Image:Boeing
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Boeing's MAX 9 emergency: Boeing's standard industrial procedures for the installation of a specific panel are under scrutiny. According to a source familiar with Boeing's manufacturing process, the aerospace giant typically refrains from adjusting the mentioned panel unless factory tests uncover irregularities. The panel, supplied by Boeing partner Spirit AeroSystems, is fitted as part of the fuselage and serves as a replacement for an optional emergency exit.

Traditionally, Boeing workers remove the panel during assembly, allowing for the installation of cabin equipment before reattaching and completing the installation. However, the source emphasized that adjustments are only made if there are indications of incorrect installation, following standard factory procedures.

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Boeing conducts various checks, including pressurization tests, before delivering the aircraft to the airline. The source clarified that the interior components are loaded into the plane at different stages of production. Notably, these insights into Boeing's manufacturing practices are general observations and not specific to the Alaska Airlines incident, where a panel tore off mid-air, prompting an emergency landing.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently investigating the production practices related to the incident. The FAA recently announced a formal investigation into the MAX 9, with Chief Mike Whitaker stating that the issues are perceived as manufacturing-related rather than a design problem.

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Both Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems have declined to comment on the ongoing investigations. The National Transportation Safety Board is also conducting a separate inquiry into the incident. As the aerospace industry faces challenges such as supply and labor shortages, observers acknowledge the use of workarounds to maintain production, making it challenging to monitor exact production flows.

The specific panel, serving as an optional emergency exit plug, is reportedly secured vertically inside the fuselage by four bolts. The plug tore off an Alaska Airlines jet at 16,000 feet, leading to the grounding of over 170 similar planes by the FAA. Quality controls are now under increased scrutiny following reports of loose bolts in other aircraft post-incident.

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As the investigations progress, a clearer understanding of Boeing's manufacturing practices for its largest single-aisle plane will help determine whether design or manufacturing factors contributed to the alarming incident.

(With Reuters inputs)

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Published January 13th, 2024 at 11:03 IST

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