Boeing 737 MAX 9 Planes Grounded, FAA Orders Inspections After Window Panel Incident

On Saturday, the US air safety regulator declared a grounding and inspection order for some Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplanes. This decision came in the wake of an incident where a window panel of one such aircraft blew out over Oregon. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stated on X, previously known as Twitter, that it is mandating immediate inspections of specific Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes before they are allowed to resume flights.

The FAA estimates that approximately 171 aircraft globally will be impacted by this order, with each inspection expected to take between four and eight hours. The FAA emphasized that safety will remain the primary factor influencing their decisions.

Alaska and United Airlines operate the majority of MAX-9 planes. So far, Boeing has delivered around 218 737 MAX 9 planes, as reported by AFP. On Friday, Alaska Airlines grounded all 65 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes following an emergency landing of a flight carrying 177 passengers. Passengers reported that a window panel blew out after the plane took off.

Alaska’s Flight 1282 had left Portland International Airport on Friday evening. It safely returned about 20 minutes later after the cabin crew reported a “pressurization issue,” as per the FAA. Social media posts showed images of a blown-out window panel on a plane, with emergency oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling.

In a statement on Friday, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci announced, “Following tonight’s event on Flight 1282, we have decided to take the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft.” He added that each aircraft would only be returned to service after comprehensive maintenance and safety inspections were completed.

Kyle Rinker, a passenger on the flight, shared with CNN that a window came off shortly after the plane took off. He described the incident as abrupt, saying, “Just got to altitude, and the window/wall just popped off.” Another passenger, Vi Nguyen, told The New York Times that she was awakened by a loud noise during the flight. She recalled, “I open up my eyes and the first thing I see is the oxygen mask right in front of me,” and added, “And I look to the left and the wall on the side of the plane is gone.”

Nguyen admitted that her initial thought was, “I’m going to die.” The National Transportation Safety Board, FAA, and Alaska Airlines have all stated that they are investigating the incident. In an earlier statement, the airline noted that, while such incidents are rare, their flight crew was trained and ready to handle the situation safely.

The plane, which was en route to Ontario, California, had been certified as airworthy in October and was a recent addition to the Alaska Airlines fleet, according to the FAA registry website.

Boeing posted on X that it was collecting more information and had a technical team prepared to assist with the investigation. Boeing has faced challenges in recent years with technical and quality control issues related to its 737 MAX models.

In December, Boeing advised airlines to inspect MAX aircraft for loose hardware on plane rudder control systems after an international operator found a bolt missing a nut during routine maintenance.

Boeing’s 737 MAX planes were grounded globally after two MAX 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019 that resulted in the deaths of 346 people. The FAA only approved the planes’ return to service after Boeing made modifications to its flight control system.