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Alaska, United Expected to Fly 737 MAX 9 Again This Weekend

Pending inspections, U.S. airlines will return the 737 MAX 9 to service as early as Friday.

An Alaska 737 MAX 9 (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Zera)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced it will allow Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to resume flying once they receive a series of inspections and maintenance checks. The announcement ends a weeks-long saga that began when a plug filling an unused emergency exit blew off an Alaska Airlines jet.

“We grounded the Boeing 737-9 MAX within hours of the incident over Portland and made clear this aircraft would not go back into service until it was safe,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement from the FAA. “The exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase.”

The grounding mainly affected Alaska and United. Alaska self-grounded its MAX 9 fleet just after the plug door incident, and both carriers found loose bolts in the door plug assembly.

“We are preparing to begin detailed final inspections of our 737-9 MAX aircraft after getting final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement. “We expect to safely bring the first planes back into scheduled commercial service on Friday.”

“Each of our aircraft will only return to service once the rigorous inspections are completed and each aircraft is deemed airworthy according to the FAA requirements. We have 65 737-9 MAX in our fleet. The inspections are expected to take up to 12 hours for each plane,” Alaska continued.

An Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9.
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Zera)

“We will only return each MAX 9 aircraft to service once a thorough inspection process is complete. We are preparing aircraft to return to scheduled service beginning on Sunday,” said Toby Enqvist, United’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer in a memo to employees. Enqvist continued that inspections have also occurred on Boeing 737-900ER planes as recently recommended by the FAA.

The FAA will require 737 MAX 9 operators to complete an inspection of specific bolts, guide tracks, and fittings; perform detailed visual inspections of left and right mid-cabin exit door plugs and dozens of associated components; retorque fasteners; and correct any damage or abnormal conditions.

Halting Expansion of 737 MAX Production

The move coincides with the FAA’s decision to bar Boeing from expanding 737 MAX production as part of a larger quality control investigation into the manufacturer. The Seattle Times reports that the door plug that failed on Alaska 1282 was removed and replaced by Boeing engineers to complete a repair, while Reuters reports it is normal for Boeing to remove door plugs and replace them.

“This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing. We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the 737 MAX until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved,” Whitaker said.

Boeing has been under intense scrutiny for a number of years over quality control issues on its 737 MAX and 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Workers who build the planes report many around them disregard standard safety practices, and in-house inspectors at both Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems say supervisors have disregarded quality concerns to prioritize deliveries.

“The quality assurance issues we have seen are unacceptable,” said Whitaker. “That is why we will have more boots on the ground closely scrutinizing and monitoring production and manufacturing activities.”

The FAA says that it is placing increased oversight on Boeing by taking steps such as capping the number of 737 MAX aircraft Boeing can produce, investigating Boeing’s compliance with manufacturing requirements, increasing floor presence at all Boeing facilities, and more.

Boeing and Spirit Aerospace have yet to make a public comment as these allegations are under review.

Editor’s Note: On Jan. 19, 2024, AirlineGeeks published a story regarding an alleged move by the FAA to return the aircraft to service. However, the original source of the story proved to have incorrect facts. As a result, the story was removed. 

John McDermott

Author

  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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