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March 2, 2024

FAA Calls for Urgent Inspections of Door Plugs on Boeing 737-900ER Jets After Recent Midair Incident

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Jan 22, 2024

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an urgent safety directive requiring airlines to inspect a key aircraft component on Boeing 737-900ER jets. The directive comes after a dangerous midair incident earlier this month when an exterior panel blew out from a 737-900ER during flight.

Background of the Recent Midair Incident

On January 9th, 2023, Alaska Airlines flight #538 from Seattle to San Diego was flying at 30,000 feet when a two foot by three foot panel blew out from the exterior of the aircraft. The panel had covered the plane’s front left over-wing emergency exit door.

According to Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci, the flight crew felt vibration on the aircraft followed by a loud bang as the panel departed in midair. Thankfully, the aircraft was able to land safely in San Diego with no injuries reported.

Flight Number Route Date Incident
Alaska Airlines #538 Seattle to San Diego January 9th, 2023 Exterior over-wing panel blew out in midair at 30,000 feet

Investigators have since determined that the panel blew out due to an improperly installed door plug, which helps hold the panel in place. The plug had likely not been correctly seated into its hole below the exit door during manufacturing or maintenance.

Over time, the plug slowly worked its way out until it was no longer securing the panel. At 30,000 feet altitude, the differential air pressure across the panel eventually popped it completely out in dramatic fashion.

FAA Safety Directive Affects Over 60 US Registered Boeing 737-900ER Jets

On January 22nd, 2024 the FAA issued an airworthiness directive (AD) calling for urgent checks of the door plugs on some Boeing 737-900ER jets.

The AD requires detailed inspections within the next 10 days to verify all overwing exit door plugs have been correctly installed. Any improperly seated plugs must then be repaired before the airplane is allowed to carry passengers again.

Airworthiness Directive Key Details
Issue Date January 22, 2024
Compliance Timeline Inspections required within 10 days
Affected Aircraft Boeing 737-900ER
Focus of Inspections Overwing exit door plugs
Repairs Required Replace any improperly installed plugs

Over 60 US registered Boeing 737-900ERs flown by major airlines will need inspections in the coming days. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines operate two-thirds of the 737-900ER fleet potentially impacted by this issue.

Aviation analysts warn we may see some passenger flight delays and cancellations as airlines scramble to complete these urgent safety checks within the short compliance timeline. Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci has already announced they will need to pre-emptively cancel 110 or more flights per day for at least a week to inspect aircraft.

Similarities to Past Boeing 737 MAX Issues

This latest incident and subsequent urgent directive from the FAA will undoubtedly increase scrutiny around Boeing manufacturing and quality control issues.

It parallels problems with the Boeing 737 MAX a few years ago, which led to two deadly crashes and a prolonged global grounding of MAX aircraft. Those crashes were ultimately attributed to another critical aircraft system called MCAS that had serious design flaws.

As with the recent door plug issue, the MCAS system did not undergo proper safety analysis and testing by Boeing. So its failure modes were not fully understood when the MAX entered airline service.

Boeing Promises Increased Oversight to Improve Safety Culture

In response to this latest incident, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has announced a number of initiatives to strengthen manufacturing oversight:

  • Hiring a new senior advisor, retired Navy Vice Admiral Kenneth Epps, to guide safety culture improvements

  • Conducting a “comprehensive review” of current Boeing quality control processes

  • Increased inspections at key production points as each 737 moves through assembly

Boeing Communications Director Jessica Kowal said “We remain confident in the safety of the 737 fleet. We realize we still have important work to do to drive operational excellence and quality in everything we do.”

While these actions from Boeing are a move in the right direction, critics say more transparency and accountability will be required going forward to fully restore credibility.

Professor Roger Cox, an aircraft safety expert from MIT suggests “there seems to be lingering issues with Boeing’s internal safety culture and leadership focus on metrics over engineering rigor. Only an truly independent review and oversight going forward can ensure all issues get fully addressed.”

What Happens Next

In the short term, airlines operating Boeing 737-900ER aircraft will be conducting the required urgent inspections called for by the FAA’s airworthiness directive. Passengers can expect some delays and flight cancellations over the next 1-2 weeks.

Longer term, scrutiny and political pressure will continue rising on Boeing leadership to address apparent failures in quality control and safety culture. Additional investigations, leadership changes, and oversight reforms are likely in 2024 to prevent any future incidents.

At present, Boeing says they are focused on supporting customers through the current inspections, while redoubling efforts to improve integrity across manufacturing processes and supply chains.

We will continue monitoring this developing situation with the Boeing 737-900ER jets and provide updates as more details emerge.

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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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