FAA says 94% of Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes inspected, back in service

Feb 5, 2024

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday said two U.S. airlines have inspected and returned to service nearly 94% of Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes following a mid-air emergency last month.

The FAA lifted its grounding of MAX 9 airplanes on Jan. 24 after it halted flights following the cabin panel blowout on an Alaska Airlines jet on Jan. 5. The FAA said 78 of 79 United Airlines MAX 9 planes have been inspected and returned to service and 57 of 65 Alaska MAX 9 planes.

Alaska said inspections on all but the plane involved in the emergency will be complete by Tuesday.

The FAA required inspections include close review of specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings and detailed visual inspections of door plugs and dozens of associated components. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether the bolts were missing on the plane that suffered the cabin panel blowout.

The grounding forced the airlines to cancel thousands of flights in January.

Deputy FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Jodi Baker told reporters Monday the FAA was reimagining its oversight of Boeing. At Boeing’s Renton 737 factory the FAA is “doing a nose to tail, wingtip to wingtip inspection. And as we get findings out of that inspection, we anticipate that will drive our reimagined oversight,” she added.

She said the FAA may need more staffing and will still conduct regular audits.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker is set to testify on Tuesday before a U.S. House committee. Lawmakers last week asked him if the FAA was changing its on-site surveillance of Boeing and its suppliers.

Baker said the FAA wants to conduct “more surveillance… It’s being able to build relationships with employees so you can understand the challenges that they’re having day in and day out, and help us see if there’s systemic challenges then with the manufacturer as well.”

Last month, the FAA barred the troubled planemaker from expanding production of its best-selling 737 MAX, following “unacceptable” quality issues.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said last week Boeing is “producing 737s at a rate of 38 per month and we will remain at that rate until the FAA and Boeing is satisfied with our quality of manufacturing process.”

The FAA has not estimated how long the limitation would last.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Josie Kao)

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