FAA Launches Probe into Boeing Aircrafts After Alaska Air Mishap

The Federal Aviation Administration is temporarily grounding over 170 of Boeing’s 737 Max 9 aircraft after a scary incident.

Photo of an Alaska Airlines plane
Photo by Y S via Unsplash

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Every aerophobic, in their mind’s eye, has experienced a version of what happened on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 last weekend, even if no one can recall it actually ever happening on a real commercial flight before. 

Just 10 minutes after liftoff, the commercial flight from Portland, Oregon to Ontario, California, was forced to make an emergency landing when a chunk of the plane’s cabin tore off in mid-air. Fortunately, all 171 passengers and six crew members survived. Unfortunately for Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration is temporarily grounding over 170 of its 737 Max 9 aircraft.

Breaks on a Plane

Manufacturing defects keep clipping Boeing’s wings. Two deadly crashes in five months across 2018 and 2019 killed 346 passengers and crew members, and resulted in a global grounding of all 387 of its Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft for 20 months. Now, the plane’s successor, the 737 Max 9, is receiving similar treatment after a permanently deactivated optional exit door ripped off the Alaska Airlines flight.

The FAA’s emergency directive will require 171 of the aircraft to undergo inspection, a process that can take up to eight hours. Unsurprisingly, it’s a massive headache for air traffic control:

  • Alaska Airlines immediately grounded all 65 of its 737 Max 9’s after the incident. “Each aircraft will be returned to service only after completion of full maintenance and safety inspections,” Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said in a statement. 
  • United Airlines, which employs 79 of the aircraft, said it has already completed inspections on 33 of them. Still, the delay resulted in over 60 canceled flights on Saturday alone.

The investigation into exactly why the plane’s door came off has started with a bit of good luck, as a crucial missing piece of the aircraft (a door plug) was located in an Oregon teacher’s backyard. National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy only identified the teacher by his first name, saying; “Thank you, Bob.”

Pointing Fingers: The Max 9 is something of a pivotal product for Boeing, accounting for over one-fifth of its deliveries last year. But the company says liability for this latest incident lies in part with someone else: third-party supplier Spirit Aerosystems, which Boeing says installs the fuselage doors during the aircraft’s construction process. Last year, Boeing also said it found Spirit had improperly installed the vertical stabilizer on some Max aircraft. The blame game may be good PR, but it won’t help any of us unsee or stop thinking about that giant hole in the fuselage.