FAA Investigates Boeing Door Plug Blowout
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced last week that an investigation has been launched into the Boeing737 MAX 9 aircraft after a cabin panel fell off an Alaska Airlines flight midair, causing an emergency landing.
According to reports, the FAA has grounded 171 Boeing Max jets with the same panel while it carries out safety inspections.
About the Incident
According to a report from CBS News, the blowout occurred shortly after an Alaska Airlines flight left Portland, Oregon, forcing it to make an emergency landing.
The aircraft had been in service only eight weeks and was flying at 16,000 feet when the panel tore off the plane, blowing open the cockpit door. According to a report from Reuters, pilots reportedly returned the jet to Portland, with passengers only suffering minor injuries.
Following the Jan. 5 incident, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines stated that they found loose bolts on door plugs on some of their Max 9 aircrafts.
The FAA added that every 737 Max 9 plane with a door plug will remain grounded until the agency decides if the jets can return to service safely. In total, 171 of the Boeing jets are reportedly equipped with plugs.
The administration had reportedly notified Boeing of its investigation, planning to look into whether Boeing “failed to ensure completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.”
A statement from the FAA adds that the full inspection will account for manufacturing practices and production lines, as well as those with subcontractor Spirit AeroSystems, adding to its oversight of Boeing, and studying potential system change.
“Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers. We agree with and fully support the FAA's decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane,” Boeing said in a company statement.
“In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB's investigation into the Jan. 5 accident. We will remain in close contact with our regulator and customers.”
A report from NBC News added that last year, Spirit AeroSystems, the manufacturer of the door plug, was involved in a class action lawsuit that alleged “widespread quality failures.”
The suit, filed in New York in May by investors, reportedly didn’t mention door plugs, but mentioned failures including defects like “the routine presence of foreign object debris” in its products, peeling paint and missing fasteners.
The lawsuit reportedly stated that the company prioritized short-term financial success and production numbers over quality. Spirit AeroSystems told NBC News in a statement that it “strongly disagrees” with the claims made in the lawsuit and would “vigorously defend against the claims.”
Both Alaska Airlines and Boeing have reportedly canceled hundreds of flights, with the MAX 9 planes grounded, including another 230 by United and 152 by Alaska Airlines.
Additionally, a number of U.S. lawmakers have reportedly stated their larger concerns about the FAA and Boeing, also raising questions about the plane maker’s manufacturing quality control.
"Given the previous tragic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, we are deeply concerned that the loose bolts represent a systemic issue with Boeing’s capabilities to manufacture safe airplanes," Senators Ed Markey, JD Vance and Peter Welch wrote to Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun.
In a letter to the FAA, Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell brought up Boeing’s quality control, saying that it appeared the FAA’s oversight processes "have not been effective" in making sure Boeing builds airplanes in safe operating conditions.
The plane maker reportedly informed staff that the findings would be treated as a "quality control issue" and checks were beginning at Boeing and supplier Spirit AeroSystems
Calhoun stated that a "quality escape" was an issue that led to the MAX 9 being in the air while suffering the cabin blowout. In an internal speech to staff, Calhoun stated that, "We’re going to approach this number one acknowledging our mistake."
Additionally, the Stritmatter law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against Boeing last Thursday (Jan. 11) in King County, Washington, on behalf of passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight, using Calhoun's admission of Boeing's "mistake" in connection with the Max 9.
Daniel Laurence, an attorney for the passengers, stated that the flight "has caused economic, physical and ongoing emotional consequences." Boeing has reportedly declined to comment.
Boeing Paint Peeling Concerns
In November 2022, Boeing outlined paint peeling issues on its 787 Dreamliner jetliners, asking United States regulators to approve its plan for a potential fix.
In a petition for exemption to the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing explained that the paint peeling occurs on the upper and lower surfaces of the wing and horizontal stabilizer due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Prior to its request, Boeing would use speed tape over affected areas. According to reports, this short-term fix led some passengers to post photos online of 787 wings with tape and raise concerns.
Because of this, Boeing had requested that the FAA to approve its plan to incorporate a layer of UV-blocking black topcoat between the primer and the white topcoat, as well as increasing the total allowed exterior finish thickness.
The proposed fix would have affected fuel tank lighting protection and, since black color has an increased absorptivity of UV radiation relative to the existing paint scheme, impact fuel tank lightning ignition prevention.
Additionally, Boeing said that the “petition will address a fleet significant maintenance issue that is creating a public perception of an unsafe condition as well as creating the potential for significant airplane downtime” and that “paint peeling issue requires the operators to repaint the wing and horizontal stabilizer at a much higher frequency.”
Repainting for UV damage also reportedly requires removal of the UV damaged material by sanding, increasing the risk of collateral copper foil and CFRP damage and subsequent repair, further increasing the cost and downtime of the more frequent repainting.
In a statement to Reuters, the company said that it had asked the FAA to approve the proposed change to “eliminate the paint adhesion issue experienced on some 787s. We understand the importance of a pristine appearance for our products to both our customers and the flying public.”
Other design change requests included adding cap seals over the nuts of certain 787 wing skin fasteners because certain combinations could lead to ignition sources in the fuel tank.
The FAA said at the time it would carefully review Boeing’s petition.