As just about the whole world has seen by now, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 had a major incident on January 5, 2024, whereby a deactivated mid-exit door blew out inflight. Inspections of more of these jets revealed that door plugs on some other 737 MAX 9s also weren’t properly secured, so these planes are now grounded, and Boeing is facing increased regulatory scrutiny.
Anyway, there’s an additional update here, and I’m not sure what exactly to make of this…
In this post:
Boeing 737-900ER inspections recommended
The Boeing 737 MAX 9 is based on the Boeing 737-900ER, and both versions of the aircraft have exactly the same mid-exit door. Regulators are now recommending that airlines visually inspect the mid-exit door plugs on these aircraft, to ensure that they are properly secured. Per the bulletin:
As an added layer of safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is recommending that operators of Boeing 737-900ER aircraft visually inspect mid-exit door plugs to ensure the door is properly secured. The Boeing 737-900ER is not part of the newer MAX fleet but has the same door plug design.
As you can see, this is only a recommendation rather than a requirement, and there are no plans to ground these aircraft. Furthermore, some operators of the aircraft (which include Alaska, Delta, and United) have made it clear that they’re already voluntarily inspecting these aircraft.
How do you make sense of all of this?
I can completely understand the FAA erring on the side of caution and grounding the 737 MAX 9, given the 737 MAX’s history. But what I haven’t seen an answer to (and let me acknowledge that maybe I’m missing something) is why the 737-900ER is at less risk than the 737 MAX 9, according to regulators?
On the one hand, the 737-900ER entered service in 2007, and there hasn’t been a single major incident involving the deactivated mid-exit door. On the other hand, as the FAA states, the 737-900ER “has the same door plug design” as the 737 MAX 9.
So the 737 MAX 9 is grounded over the plug design, while the 737-900ER, which has the same exact feature, is fine to fly? Keep in mind that production of the jets even overlapped — the 737-900ER was produced all the way through 2019, while 737 MAX 9 production started in 2017, so one couldn’t even argue that there were consistent and distinct quality control issues.
I’m not saying the FAA is wrong here, and I don’t have a better solution. After all, it would seem extreme to ground a jet that has been safely flying for over 15 years.
At the same time, I’m confused that the 737 MAX 9 and 737-900ER have exactly the same door plug design, yet one jet is grounded, while the other one isn’t. Are we just assuming the 737 MAX is cursed, or what other possible explanation can we come up with?
The FAA is recommending that airlines visually inspect Boeing 737-900ER mid-exit doors, as they have the same setup as the 737 MAX 9, which is now grounded. It seems sensible that airlines would inspect these planes, but it’s still hard to rationalize the different treatment for the 737-900ER and 737 MAX 9, given that they have the same feature.
What do you make of this 737-900ER and 737 MAX 9 door plug situation?