Boeing plans additional inspections: ‘Not where we need to be’

Boeing will conduct additional inspections for the production of its 737 Max aircraft model following the recent midair blowout of a panel on one of its aircraft earlier this month, the company’s head announced Monday.

In a message to employees, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Stan Deal said the company is planning “additional inspections” throughout the build process at Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, the manufacturer that made the fuselage and door plug that blew off minutes after an Alaska Airlines flight departed Portland, Ore.

The midair blowout on Jan. 8 left a gaping hole on the side of the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft that carried 177 passengers, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing back at Portland International Airport. The Alaska Airlines flight was supposed to travel to Ontario, Calif.

Under the new plan, Boeing will inspect Spirit’s installation of the door plug and approve them before they are sent to Boeing, which has its main factory in Everett, Wash., Deal said.

No serious injuries were reported aboard the flight, though the incident sparked widespread calls for a full investigation into what led up to the blowout.

Deal noted Monday that while the company has taken steps in recent years to improve its quality inspection process, the midair blowout highlighted the progress to company still needs to make.

“But, the AS1282 accident and recent customer findings make clear that we are not where we need to be. To that end, we are taking immediate actions to bolster quality assurance and controls across our factories,” he said.

Deal said the additional inspections will “provide one more layer of scrutiny on top of the thousands of inspections” already performed on each 737 Max aircraft. The Boeing head noted the company has increased the number of commercial airplanes quality inspectors by 20 percent since 2019 and vowed to “make more investments in the quality function,” in the future.

The company is also planning additional team sessions to focus on its Quality Management System and created a team to work alongside the existing team at Spirit AeroSystems, Deal confirmed.

Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems will also open their factories to airlines that carry the 737 aircraft to allow for further review of the company’s production and quality procedures.

The Federal Aviation Administration last week launched a separate investigation into whether Boeing complied with the agency’s safety regulations. The FAA temporarily grounded the estimated 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft a day after the midair blowout to allow for full safety inspections.

In its announcement last week, the FAA noted the “safety of the flying public, not speed” will dictate when the Boeing 737 Max 9 will return to service.

The agency said it will also increase its oversight of Boeing and will audit the company’s production.

“And as we prepare new 737-9s for delivery, we will conduct the same thorough inspections of the mid-exit door plugs as mandated by the FAA,” Deal said. “Customer representatives will continue to have access to anything they want to see onboard their airplane before delivery.

Deal reiterated Boeing’s pledge to cooperate fully with the investigations by both the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The NTSB is looking into the design of the panel and will try to determine whether four bolts that were designed to hold the panel in the plane were missing when the plane departed. The door, which blew off the plane about 16,000 feet above Oregon, was expected to be sent to the NTSB’s Washington, D.C., materials laboratory for further inspection.

The intact door panel on the right side of the door was examined by the NTSB, though no discrepancies were found.

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines reported separately earlier this month they discovered loose panels on some of their Boeing 737 Max 9 jets, though an official cause of the blowout has yet to be determined.

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said earlier this week the warning light indicating a pressurization problem with the plane that experienced the blowout lit up on three previous flights, two earlier this month and one in early December.

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