US Aviation orders the grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, after Alaska Airlines incident

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that will order the temporary immobilization and inspections of some aircraft Boeing 737 Max 9 operated by US airlines, a day after a section of the fuselage of a new airliner Alaska Airways exploded shortly after takeoff.

The measure affects some 171 aircraft worldwide, according to a statement from the FAA. Alaska, the world’s second largest operator of this type, has already grounded its Max 9 fleet following the incident on Friday after takeoff from Portland, Oregon. United Airlines Holdings, the main operator of the model, also took some of the planes out of service for inspections.

“Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist in the NTSB investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a post on X.

The forced grounding marks the most severe response to an incident since the manufacturer’s entire fleet of Max aircraft was temporarily taken out of service in 2019 following two deadly crashes. The 737 Max is by far Boeing’s most popular plane and its biggest moneymaker, and single-aisle planes like the Max and the corresponding Airbus SE A320neo family used the shortest routes with the most flights.

Only two US airlines operate the 737 Max 9 variant: United, with 78, and Alaska, with 65, according to data from FlightRadar24. Alaska Airlines said in an update that it had completed inspection of “more than a quarter” of its 737-9 fleet, without making any concerning findings. The airline will begin returning the planes to service once “inspections are completed with our full confidence,” he added.

What happened to the Alaska Airways plane?

The flight 1282 transported to 171 passengers and six crew from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, on January 5, when, about 20 minutes into the trip, the crew reported a pressurization problem. What followed was that the left rear part of the fuselage exploded, leaving a hole that looked like a door opening, all at a flight altitude of approximately 16,000 feet (4,800 meters).

Inside the plane, which was delivered to Alaska Airlines only in October, part of the cabin wall had also fallen away, exposing the insulating material, according to images on social media. Video footage showed the plane landing back in Portland in the dark, with the passengers sitting near the gaping hole. No one was seriously injured.

“All of a sudden I heard a big explosion,” Elizabeth Le, identified as a passenger on the flight, told KCAL News in an interview. “Then I look to my left and there’s a huge chunk, part of the plane that’s just missing and the wind is extremely strong. “The wind is blowing everywhere, but everyone was in their seats.”

China’s aviation regulator is conducting a emergency meeting to consider a response to the incidentincluding a possible immobilization of the Boeing Max fleet in the country, according to two people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified due to private deliberations. The plane variant involved in the Alaska Air incident is not operated by Chinese airlines.

China was the first country to ground the 737 Max after the two accidents that occurred several years ago. Relations have only gradually improved: China received the first delivery of a larger 787 model in several years in December. It has yet to resume 737 deliveries.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the matter. Boeing said it is gathering more information and is in contact with the airline, and that a technical team is ready to support the investigation. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it is checking whether anything will need to be imposed.

He 737Max It has modular fuselage designs, allowing emergency doors to be installed more variably depending on the number of seats. This gives operators greater flexibility with cab configuration.

In it 737-9 Max, Boeing includes a cabin exit door behind the wings, but before the rear exit door. This is activated in dense seating configurations to meet evacuation requirements. Doors do not activate on Alaska Airlines planes and are permanently “plugged”.

Alaska Airlines had scheduled more than 5,000 flights with the Boeing 737 Max 9 model in January, according to aviation data provider Cirium. There are 215 Max 9 aircraft in service globally, with 76 on order, including 25 from Alaska Airlines, Cirium said.

The grounding, although voluntary, is a major setback for Boeing, which has dealt with manufacturing defects and costly repairs in recent years. Boeing has been forced to fix misaligned drill holes in the rear section of the 737, and more recently, the FAA said it is monitoring specific inspections of Boeing 737 MAX planes to look for a possible loose bolt in the rudder control system.

The Alaska Airlines plane experienced pressurization problems twice on January 4, Air Current reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. A warning light had led Alaska Air to remove the plane from extended range operations, or ETOP, the outlet said.

The temporary suspension of flights, which will affect tens of thousands of customers with canceled flights, affects almost 30 percent of Alaska Air’s 227 Boeing 737 family aircraft. Alaska Air is the second largest operator of the 737 Max 9 variant, behind United Airlines Holdings Inc.

Other airlines that operate the variant are Copa Airlines SA, with 29 units, and Aeromexico with 19. FlyDubai, which has three Boeing Max 9 planes, said it is aware of the reports and said its planes have a different cabin configuration than the Alaska model.

The inspections are expected to conclude in the coming days, Minicucci said.

The plane did not appear to have suffered the type of powerful decompression that occurred on a Southwest Airlines Co. plane in 2018 when part of an exploding engine smashed a window of the Boeing 737-700, partly sucking in a woman sitting next to it. the plane and killing her. Video from the Alaska Air ship showed passengers sitting near the gaping hole.

“While this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to handle the situation safely,” the airline said. Alaska Air operates an all-Boeing fleet.