The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has temporarily grounded 171 737-9 MAX planes, following an incident on January 6, 2024, in which part of the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines aircraft blew out during flight.
Alaska Airlines has since grounded its 65 Boeing 737-9 fleet, with comprehensive safety inspections to now take place.
In a statement released by Boeing, the manufacturer said that “safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers.”
The statement continued: “We agree with and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane.
“In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation into last night’s event. We will remain in close contact with our regulator and customers.”
The affected flight 1282 from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, carrying 171 passengers and six crew members, safely returned to Portland International Airport with no serious injuries reported.
The incident happened minutes after take-off as the aircraft was still climbing. An unused emergency exit door, also known as a ‘plug door’, towards the plane’s rear blew out, leaving a hole in the side of the fuselage, causing loss of cabin pressure.
According to reports, the rear mid-cabin exit door is typically used in dense seating configurations on some MAX 9 planes to meet evacuation requirements but is ‘plugged’ on other planes, including the Alaska Airlines flight.
The FAA revealed that inspections would affect 171 aircraft operated by US airlines or in US territory, but other airlines including Turkish Airlines and Copa Airlines have reportedly grounded aircraft.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has announced it has adopted an Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD) despite that, to the agency’s knowledge and also based on statements from the FAA and Boeing, no airline in an EASA Member State currently operates an aircraft in the relevant configuration.