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June 17, 2024

Alaska Airlines Grounds All Boeing 737 MAX 9 Flights After Critical Part Failure Midair

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Jan 11, 2024

An Alaska Airlines flight from San Francisco to Portland was forced to make an emergency landing Monday after a critical exterior panel blew out in midair, causing rapid decompression. The plane landed safely with no injuries, but the incident has raised major questions around Boeing’s manufacturing and safety protocols.

Alaska Airlines has now grounded all 34 of its Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft through at least Saturday for further inspections, leading to hundreds more flight cancellations. The plane model only recently returned to service in Jan 2023 after being grounded for nearly 2 years following two deadly crashes.

Panel Failure Occurs Shortly After Takeoff

Flight 1282 took off from San Francisco International Airport at 2:26 p.m. Monday, headed to Portland International Airport with 159 passengers and 6 crew members on board.

Approximately 15 minutes into the flight at an altitude of 30,000 feet, panels making up part of the exterior plug door near the front left side of the aircraft blew out. This caused rapid decompression, with oxygen masks deploying and items being sucked towards the hole in the fuselage.

“It was like an explosion,” said passenger Joanne Mera, who was seated one row behind where the panel blew out. “We heard this massive noise and everything started shaking violently. The force created a wind tunnel down the length of the plane.”

The quick actions of the pilots were credited with saving lives. After donning their own oxygen masks, they initiated a controlled descent and made an emergency landing back at San Francisco just 17 minutes later.

“The pilots did an amazing job keeping everyone calm while maneuvering the plane back safely with a portion of the aircraft missing,” said passenger Bob Williams. “It was terrifying, but their expertise was on full display.”

Teen Passenger Narrowly Avoids Being Sucked Out Window

In what passengers called a near-disaster, a male teenager seated in row 15 directly next to the panel failure had his t-shirt ripped off by the force of the blowout. His seatbelt is credited with preventing him from being sucked out of the plane completely.

“I saw his shirt fly off and hit the ceiling while he was pulled up out of his seat, the seat belt cutting into his waist being the only thing still attaching him inside the plane,” said Joanne Mera. “A few more seconds and he would have been gone. It was utterly horrifying.”

The youth was taken to the hospital upon landing for treatment of bruising from the seat belt restraints.

Initial Mechanical Failure Traced to Panel Attachment Bolts

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has taken over the investigation, says early findings indicate several of the bolts attaching the exterior plug door panel did not meet manufacturing specifications.

“The early details we have gathered indicate that multiple bolts holding the panel in place either failed completely or sheared off, likely due to improper installation or defects,” said NTSB spokesperson Erin Martin.

Failed Part Description Potential Issue
Exterior Plug Door Access panel towards front of plane allowing external access to electronics bay Multiple attachment bolts improperly secured or defective from manufacturing process

This critical panel failure depressurized the cabin, causing the violent uncontrolled shaking and suction inside the aircraft. It marks the latest in a string of mechanical failures and oversight issues that have plagued the Boeing Company and threatened passenger safety.

Alaska Airlines Initiates Audit of Entire Boeing 737 MAX 9 Fleet

In response to this event, Alaska Airlines has decided to halt all flights utilizing their Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft through at least Jan. 14. Teams have been deployed to visually inspect each of the 34 planes currently in service, checking for any defects or issues with exterior panel bolts and attachments.

“The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority,” said Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci. “Until we are completely confident in the security of the exterior access panels, we are putting a hold on further MAX 9 flights.”

Hundreds more flight cancellations are expected this week as a result, with Alaska offering rebooking on alternate routes or refunds for affected passengers.

This is the second time in a year Alaska has been forced to ground their entire MAX 9 fleet to conduct emergency safety reviews, further underscoring Boeing’s lack of quality control.

History of Issues With Boeing’s 737 MAX Program

The Boeing 737 MAX line of aircraft has had a turbulent history riddled with safety concerns. variants were grounded globally in 2019 after two crashes killed 346 people, blamed in part on an automated flight control system Boeing had implemented without properly informing pilots.

The failures were tied back to systemic issues at Boeing factories, where ‘profit took priority over quality’, per Congressional testimony. Key safety features were sold as expensive add-ons instead of being included standard. Regulatory oversight from the FAA was also called into question after details emerged of Boeing engineers pressuring safety inspectors to look the other way.

After nearly two years of investigation, software fixes, and updated pilot training protocols, the MAX was approved to resume passenger service starting in late 2020. Alaska Airlines currently utilizes 34 MAX 9 jets in their fleet, first putting them into service in Dec. 2022 after delivery delays from Boeing.

CEO Vows “This Can Never Happen Again” But Concerns Remain

A clearly emotional Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun addressed the latest incident involving panel failure in a message to employees this week. He acknowledged the fear this has caused passengers while vowing “this can never happen again.”

Calhoun went on to outline several steps Boeing will be taking in hopes of restoring confidence, including a new 24/7 safety reporting hotline and tighter documentation requirements in manufacturing quality control checks.

“I know that aviation accidents have become rare events, but that only intensifies the shock when they do occur,” Calhoun said. “We carry the immense weight of knowing that when even a single life is lost, we must stop, listen, learn, and act to do better.”

But stakeholders remain concerned that problems stemming from profit-driven corner cutting continue to put lives at risk.

“The culture problems at Boeing clearly run deep and systemic,” said aviation analyst Bjorn Fehrm. “While the CEO says all the right things during a crisis, making lasting change requires completely rethinking priorities away from shareholder returns and towards safety first.”

It remains to be seen whether Boeing can truly reorient their internal incentives and oversight policies to match the reassurances being put forth externally. Only through consistent, transparent actions that put quality ahead of financial targets over many years can trust be rebuilt with airlines, regulators, and the flying public.

In the meantime, Alaska Airlines continues working to complete inspections and get affected passengers rebooked while questions swirl around Boeing’s manufacturing flaws. This latest failure of a critical aircraft component demonstrates there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of all those choosing to fly the corporation’s planes.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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