Alaska Airlines began preliminary inspections on a group of its Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft this weekend in the wake of the Jan. 5 incident in which a plug door blew off a MAX 9 midflight.
The preliminary inspections are being conducted on a group of up to 20 of Alaska’s 65 Boeing 737 Max 9 airliners. The Seattle-based airline noted that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is requiring Boeing to provide more data before it approves the manufacturer’s proposed inspection and maintenance instructions that will be used in conducting final inspections on all 737 Max 9 to safely return them to service.
Alaska’s announcement comes after the FAA on Friday extended the grounding of 737 Max 9 airplanes indefinitely while they undergo safety checks.
The regulator also indicated it will increase oversight of Boeing by auditing the 737 Max 9 production line and suppliers, as well as considering having an independent entity take over certifying certain safety aspects of new aircraft that the FAA previously assigned to the planemaker.
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Alaska also indicated that it “engaged in a candid conversation with Boeing’s CEO and leadership team to discuss their quality improvement plans to ensure the delivery of the highest quality aircraft off the production line for Alaska.”
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It added that it appreciates the FAA’s audit and review of safety processes at Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, the Boeing supplier that builds the fuselage for the planes. Alaska plans to expand its quality control team that oversees the production of Alaska aircraft at Boeing’s manufacturing facilities.
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The airline is also reviewing Boeing’s production quality and control systems, including its vendor oversight, and Alaska’s maintenance team will be involved in designing processes to enhance quality control over its aircraft at Boeing.
“Over many decades, we have cultivated a strong partnership with Boeing. With a commitment to transparency and candor, we are dedicated to working together to uphold the utmost quality and safety of our airplanes for our employees and guests,” Alaska said in a statement.
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The incident that prompted the grounding and inspections occurred on Jan. 5, when Alaska Flight 1282 from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, had a plug door blow off the fuselage, which caused a cabin depressurization when the airliner was at 16,000 feet climbing to its cruising altitude.
The plane safely returned to Portland International Airport for an emergency landing and no serious injuries were reported among the flight’s 171 passengers and six crew members. No passengers were seated immediately next to the plug door panel that blew out. The plug door covers an extra emergency exit for 737 Max 9’s with seating layouts to accommodate the plane’s maximum capacity but is inoperable and covered in lower capacity layouts.
The 737 Max 9 that was involved in the incident had previously experienced pressurization warnings, which led Alaska to restrict it from flying long flights over water – such as to Hawaii – and schedule the plane for maintenance. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is in the midst of an investigation into the incident.