On January 6th, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an order instructing all United States airlines to temporarily ground all Boeing 737 MAX 9 jetliners until they are thoroughly inspected. The development came less than a day after a Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane suffered a blowout, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the aircraft’s fuselage. Unfortunately, it also left some 26,000 Alaskan Airlines passengers stranded.
Alaska Air Flight 1282 was traveling to Ontario, California, but had to make an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon. According to flight data, before the incident took place, the plane climbed to 16,000 feet (4,876 meters). Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), explained that the door fell off over the Portland suburb of Cedar Hills.
The plane landed safely after some anxious moments, along with all 174 passengers and six crew members. Homendy shared that the seat next to the cabin panel had no passengers.
However, Portland newspaper The Oregonian, claims that the sudden decompression ripped off the shirt of a young boy seated in the row and injured him. Reports say several other passengers sustained minor injuries.
Several passengers on board Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 opened up about their unnerving experience that lasted almost 20 minutes. One of the passengers mentioned that the gap was as wide as a refrigerator, and an extremely powerful wind tore through it. All the air masks dropped because of the wind, and the city lights below and the night sky were clearly visible through the hole. Luckily, no serious injuries were reported.
The FAA order affects the operations of about 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes. The agency has not discussed the cause of this incident. However, in its grounding orders, the FAA instructed the airlines to thoroughly inspect the crafts’ mid-cabin door plug. Some Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes with fewer seats don’t require all the emergency exits originally designed for them. Plugs are used to fill these redundant exits.
Following the FAA order, Alaska Airlines started inspecting the door plugs. They expect the process to be completed within the next few days. Alaska Airlines currently has 65 MAX 9s in service. The door plugs on the ill-fated Alaska Air flight, as well as the other MAX 9s were installed by Spirit AeroSystems.
Aviation data provider Cirium reveals that United Airlines operates 79 MAX 9s right now, and the company has already suspended the use of certain Boeing 737 MAX 9s. Thirty-three out of the airline’s 79 MAX 9s have already been inspected.
Those inspections have not been good. United and Alaska Airlines found loose parts on multiple grounded MAX 9s.
The Troubled History of Boeing’s MAX
The history of Boeing’s MAX aircraft in the recent past has been a matter of grave concern for commuters. Boeing’s reputation took a heavy blow after two crashes in 2018 and 2019 involving MAX 8, an earlier model. Nearly 350 people lost their lives in these two accidents. Investigations revealed some serious flaws related to the design of one of the planes’ automated systems.
These two crashes resulted in travelers losing confidence in both the FAA and Boeing. In 2020, these planes were declared as safe to fly. However, the process of rebuilding trust is not quite complete yet. The latest incident involving Alaska Air Flight 1282 is another serious jolt in Boeing’s plans to come clear of all apprehensions.
Last December, the FAA monitored some MAX aircrafts for loose bolts in the rudder control system. A few months earlier, in August 2023, a directive was issued by the FAA, stating that when the engine’s anti-ice system runs for more than five minutes, the engine may overheat and break apart.
Boeing is currently in the process of developing a smaller model of the MAX. The safety design of those planes is being reviewed right now by regulators. In December 2023, Boeing requested an exemption of two years from the FAA safety rules to rework this system. The company intends to apply the necessary fixes to older MAX planes.
Do Travelers Need To Worry?
The latest incident is raising serious safety concerns among travelers, particularly budget travelers frequently traveling on low-cost airlines. These airlines save on expenses by providing simple seats with basic comfort levels, operating from smaller airports, and route mapping optimization.
They do not, however, save costs by compromising passenger safety. In fact, many factors make these airlines safer compared to many traditional “full-service” airlines.
Most low-cost airline operators are relatively new in the aviation sector. They have the latest models of airplanes equipped with state-of-the-art safety mechanisms and procedures.
Moreover, most budget airlines across the globe use only one aircraft model. This makes it significantly easier to streamline maintenance, simplifies maintenance staff training, and keeps repair costs under control.
They spend money to maintain a decent flight safety record. They understand that any safety incident could have a disastrous impact on their reputation and business.
Texas-based Southwest Airlines is the world’s oldest budget airline, with over 12 million flights over 40 years. Yet they have never had a crash. Ryanair and Easyjet, the two biggest budget flight operators in the United Kingdom, have similar track records.
The recent mishap is indeed a severe concern for Boeing’s MAX aircraft and its reputation. However, it is unlikely to have a long-term impact on millions of people traveling on different low-cost airlines worldwide. Some factors they may consider while opting for an airline include regular maintenance, adherence to regulatory requirements, airline ranking, track record of safety and reliability, pilot qualifications and training, etc.
This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.