Update Jan. 26, 2024—Three weeks after a terrifying door plug blowout at 16,000 feet, Alaska Airlines has cleared some Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes for take-off. Alaska says the grounding cost the company $150M. United Airlines is planning to resume MAX 9 flights on Sunday; all of the planes could be airborne by February. On Jan. 25, Boeing shut down its entire 737 factory for quality control inspections.
Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said in a Jan. 16 video message between 110 and 150 flights are still being cancelled daily due to the grounding of its fleet of 65 737-9 MAX aircraft.
The Boeing passenger jets were taken out of service under a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandate after a Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX door plug — a fuselage panel used in place of an emergency exit on some configurations of the aircraft — failed mid-flight on Jan. 5. The damaged aircraft was able to land without any major injuries to passengers.
Miniucci said the 737-9 MAX comprises about 20 percent of Alaska Airlines’ fleet and would not be returned to service “only when all findings have been fully resolved and meet the stringent standards of Boeing, the FAA and Alaska Airlines.”
Meanwhile, on Jan. 20 the FAA expanded an inspection order issued in the wake of the incident to include Boeing 737-900ER aircraft, which has the same door plug design as the 737-9 MAX. The FAA recommended that operators of the 737-900ER — which include Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines – visually inspect the mid-exit door plugs “to ensure the door is properly secured.”
“Loose Bolts” Found on Boeing 737-9 MAX Aircraft
In a Jan. 23 interview with NBC News, Miniucci said that Alaska Airlines inspectors had found “some loose bolts on many of our MAX-9s.”
FAA also is investigating Boeing’s manufacturing practices and production lines, including those involving subcontractor Spirit AeroSystems, maker of the door plugs.
United Airlines recently told shareholders that the impact of grounding of its 737-9 MAX fleet would result in the company declaring a quarterly loss. United CEO Scott Kirby also said during an appearance on CNBC that the company is revisiting its plans to purchase 100 737 MAX 10 aircraft.
United, which flies 79 of the troubled 737-9 MAX jets — the most of any airline — originally had expected delivery of the 737 MAX 10s by 2020, but Boeing has been plagued by production delays on the aircraft.
“I think the Max 9 grounding is probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for us,” Kirby said. “We’re going to at least build a plan that doesn’t have the Max 10 in it.”