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July 24, 2024

FAA Completes Inspections on 40 Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft As Investigations Continue

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Jan 18, 2024

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced this week that they have completed required inspections on 40 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, a key step toward potentially approving the planes to fly again after being grounded nearly two years ago following two deadly crashes. However, investigations are ongoing into issues with manufacturing and quality control at Boeing.

FAA Finishes Inspections, But Approval Not Imminent

On January 17th, the FAA confirmed that they had finished evaluating preliminary data from the first 40 of 69 Boeing 737 MAX planes that have undergone required inspections [1]. The inspections were looking closely at issues around the installation of cabin pressure switches, which had been flagged as potential safety issues.

So far, the FAA has not found any “non-conformities” that would keep the planes grounded during their review of the inspection data. Acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen stated: “We continue to follow our standard, deliberate process…We won’t sign off on the MAX’s return to service until all of our safety experts are satisfied.” [2]

While finishing these inspections is a step forward, it does not guarantee or imply the FAA will move quickly to lift the grounding order on the MAX. Further evaluations and determinations around pilot training requirements could delay any ungrounding decision. Currently there is no clear timeline for when the FAA might officially clear the planes to fly passengers again.

New Scrutiny on Boeing’s Manufacturing and Oversight Processes

Inspections were required on the MAX fleet following several issues in recent years that have raised alarms about Boeing’s manufacturing quality and safety culture.

Most notably, in late 2022, an exterior panel blew out from a Boeing 737-9 MAX plane operated by Alaska Airlines during a flight, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the aircraft. While the plane managed to land safely, the incident led to immediate groundings of all 737-9 MAX planes out of an abundance of caution [3].

Investigations revealed that two fasteners designed to hold the panel in place were not properly secured, likely due to issues during the original manufacturing process. This discovery prompted concerns over inadequate quality control and oversight within Boeing’s production operations.

The FAA has now launched an formal probe into Boeing’s manufacturing procedures and whether there are wider issues with foreign object debris (FOD) left inside MAX airplanes during assembly [4].

“We are taking steps to make needed changes across our company in quality and transparency,” Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in an internal memo sent to all employees last week.

These incidents have also led to 4 different lawsuits being filed against Boeing by passengers aboard the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX flight, citing negligence and failure to properly construct and test the aircrafts [5].

Fallout for Boeing Partners and Customers

In response to the latest concerns, Boeing competitor Airbus made the decision last week to pause deliveries of its own A320 model jets while it does checks for any loose or left-behind tools, rags or other foreign objects [6]. The move shows how quality concerns with one manufacturer can have spillover effects across the industry.

Airlines relying on the 737 MAX – especially Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines – have also been greatly impacted as they again have portions of their fleet unexpectedly grounded. Alaska has warned of flight cancellations of around 110 flights per day as inspections continue [7]. Hundreds of its passengers also experienced chaos when many flights were cancelled abruptly last Saturday after the initial incident report came out.

“This has been a profoundly disappointing situation for our company, our customers and the communities we serve,” said Alaska Air Group CEO Ben Minicucci.

United Airlines, American Airlines and others around the world with MAX planes are also awaiting further updates from Boeing and air safety regulators that may allow their grounded jets to fly again soon.

What’s Next in the Investigations

Now that the first phase of required inspections are complete, the FAA will continue analyzing reams of data from these checks as well as from Boeing’s ongoing internal safety audits. Their findings will shape any requirements around new pilot training, software upgrades or other modifications needed before the MAX is approved to return to service.

Key questions still remain around how systemic Boeing’s problems may be and whether they indicate deeper issues in its internal processes and corporate culture:

  • Could foreign object debris or loose parts be more widespread problems with the MAX and other Boeing aircraft?
  • Where specifically is Boeing falling short in its quality control, oversight and transparency?
  • Should leadership and management be held accountable for perpetuating a negligent safety culture?

“The biggest unknown remains what Congressional hearings will find as they review these incidents and how deep Boeing’s problems run,” said aviation industry analyst Bjorn Fehrm.

The coming months promise to have major implications for public trust in aviation safety oversight and for the future of Boeing’s business as investigations unfold.

References

[1] https://seekingalpha.com/news/4055611-faa-finishes-first-40-inspections-of-boeing-737-max-9-planes
[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-01-17/boeing-makes-progress-with-737-ungrounding-after-first-checks
[3] https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/federal-official-part-blew-off-jetliner-made-malaysia-106468356
[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/boeings-manufacturing-process-under-faa-investigation-2024-1
[5] https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/4413545-four-passengers-file-new-lawsuit-against-alaska-airlines-boeing/
[6] https://twitter.com/jonostrower/status/1747715010070282297
[7] https://www.alaskasnewssource.com/2024/01/18/alaska-airlines-will-cancel-least-110-flights-each-day-during-inspections-ceo-says/

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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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