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Airlines Are Reeling From Boeing’s Frightening Series of Near-Disasters

Southwest and Alaska said that the manufacturer’s uncertain status makes it hard to forecast the year ahead.

Aerial photo of a United plane
Photo by Chris Leipelt via Unsplash

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Boeing is blowing the door off the airline industry.  

With the major airplane manufacturer experiencing headache after terrifying headache, the airlines that depend on its aircraft are reaching for the air sickness bags. Some of the industry’s biggest players have started warning investors of the spillover effects of Boeing’s woes, according to a Wall Street Journal feature published Tuesday.

Plane as Day

In the weeks since a mid-fuselage exit door blew off a 737 Max 9 Alaska Airlines aircraft shortly after takeoff, Boeing planes have seen: a tire fall off, crushing cars below; a fiery engine malfunction forcing an emergency landing in Houston; a case of “stuck rudder pedals” after landing; a landing gone awry, also in Houston; fumes filling the cabin, forcing a different emergency landing in Portland; and, on Monday, a “technical event during the flight which caused a strong movement,” resulting in an emergency landing and 50 injuries in Australia. And, oh, did we mention the sudden and shocking death this week of retired employee and longtime whistleblower John Barnett?

Also on Monday, The New York Times reported the troubling results found in a leaked copy of a six-week audit of Boeing’s production process for the 737 Max jet by the Federal Aviation Administration. And what’s bad for Boeing eventually trickles down to the poor suckers who have to, you know, actually fly the planes:

  • With regulators placing heavily increased scrutiny on Boeing’s production capacities, Southwest said Tuesday that it’s slashing flight capacity and re-evaluating its full-year guidance, saying it no longer expects to receive the nearly 30 MAX 7 jets that were expected to be delivered this year.
  • Alaska Airlines has said the three-week grounding of Boeing Max 9 jets has erased $150 million in company profit. United, meanwhile, has paused the hiring of new pilots and has begun shopping for new planes with Airbus to replace Boeing planes it no longer expects to receive. 

“This is not a 12-month issue. This is a two-decade issue,” United CEO Scott Kirby said at an investor conference on Tuesday. Southwest, which exclusively flies Boeing planes, saw its share price, ahem, freefall more than 15% on Tuesday.

Boeing’s Bad Audition: The FAA found Boeing failed 33 of 89 specific audits, for a total of 97 instances of alleged non-compliance. Inspectors also found mechanics at key supplier Spirit AeroSystems using makeshift tools like hotel room key cards and Dawn dish soap in the production process. In other words, your therapist may be overwhelmed for the next few months by a rush of new clients seeking treatment for sudden cases of extreme aerophobia.