FAA Clears Boeing 737 MAX 9 To Resume Flights, With A Catch

FAA Clears Boeing 737 MAX 9 To Resume Flights, With A Catch

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On January 5, 2024, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 made global headlines, when a door plug blew off while the aircraft was inflight. This caused the FAA to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 9, as regulators are investigating what happened.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that this incident happened due to a quality control lapse at Boeing, whereby four bolts simply weren’t installed correctly when work was being done, rather than some other greater structural issue with the aircraft. This makes sense, when you consider that the 737-900ER has been flying safely for many years, and has the same door plug situation.

Anyway, there’s now a major update regarding the 737 MAX 9 returning to the skies, and it’s good news for airlines.

FAA ungrounds Boeing 737 MAX 9 in conjunction with inspections

The FAA has just outlined the maintenance and inspection procedures that airlines will have to comply with in order to put the Boeing 737 MAX 9 back into service. The FAA has reviewed data from 40 inspections of grounded aircraft, and has also convened a Corrective Action Review Board, made up of safety experts, who approved the inspection and maintenance process.

Following the completion of the enhanced maintenance and inspection process on each aircraft, the door plugs on the Boeing 737 MAX 9 will be in compliance with the original design, which is safe to operate. This enhanced maintenance process includes the following:

  • An inspection of specific bolts, guide tracks, and fittings
  • Detailed visual inspections of left and right mid-cabin exit door plugs and dozens of associated components
  • Retorquing fasteners
  • Correcting any damage or abnormal conditions

Airlines are expected to complete this work in the coming days, and both Alaska and United are planning to resume 737 MAX 9 flights by this weekend.

Here’s how FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker describes this development:

“We grounded the Boeing 737-9 MAX within hours of the incident over Portland and made clear this aircraft would not go back into service until it was safe. The exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase.”

United Boeing 737 MAX 9s will return to service

FAA increasing oversight of Boeing, restricting growth

While it’s good news for airlines and Boeing that the 737 MAX 9 can return to service, there’s also some bad news for Boeing (well, at least “bad” in terms of the company’s ability to do whatever it wants with limited repercussions). The FAA is increasing oversight of Boeing, and that will limit growth in the near future, as Boeing 737 MAX production will be restricted. Increased oversight of Boeing will include the following:

  • Capping expanded production of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to ensure accountability and full compliance with required quality control procedures
  • Launching an investigation scrutinizing Boeing’s compliance with manufacturing requirements; the FAA will use the full extent of its enforcement authority to ensure the company is held accountable for any non-compliance
  • Aggressively expanding oversight of new aircraft with increased floor presence at all Boeing facilities
  • Closely monitoring data to identify risk
  • Launching an analysis of potential safety-focused reforms around quality control and delegation

Here’s how FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker describes this development:

“The quality assurance issues we have seen are unacceptable. That is why we will have more boots on the ground closely scrutinizing and monitoring production and manufacturing activities.” 

“However, let me be clear: This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing. We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the 737 MAX until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved.”

Alaska Boeing 737 MAX 9s will return to service

Bottom line

The Boeing 737 MAX 9 will be returning to the skies in the coming days, as the FAA has approved a maintenance and inspection procedure to ensure the same problem doesn’t happen again. However, Boeing will be subject to increased regulatory scrutiny, including not being able to increase 737 MAX production until the FAA is pleased with the quality of work at Boeing.

I’m happy to see the 737 MAX 9 returning to the skies, in terms of the ability of airlines to deliver on capacity. I’m also happy to see that Boeing is going to be regulated a bit more closely. Here’s to hoping that this isn’t just lip service, and that Boeing is actually forced to make some changes (ideally starting at the top).

What do you make of this Boeing 737 MAX update?

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  1. Boeing Kills Guest

    BOEING got that plane cleared to fly WITHOUT TRUE FAA inspection or approvals. The FAA ALLOWED Boeing to certify that aircraft by their own internal inspectors. Boeing and the FAA were in bed together which cost 346 lives in the 2 crashes after hiding an entire ghost flying MCAS software system totally unknown to the pilots of these aircraft. ASK THE FAMILIES OF THE 346 DEAD PEOPLE if this plane should be allowed to fly....

    BOEING got that plane cleared to fly WITHOUT TRUE FAA inspection or approvals. The FAA ALLOWED Boeing to certify that aircraft by their own internal inspectors. Boeing and the FAA were in bed together which cost 346 lives in the 2 crashes after hiding an entire ghost flying MCAS software system totally unknown to the pilots of these aircraft. ASK THE FAMILIES OF THE 346 DEAD PEOPLE if this plane should be allowed to fly. They should have weight in that process since the FAA gave Boeing the keys to the kingdom themselves. This was a horriffic politically influenced process that disposed of the lives of 346 people. I sincerely believe this aircraft will again result in disaster and when it does, Boeing is finished as they should be already until a totally new group of inspectors and certifying officials can do the job the FAA has completely failed to do.

  2. Son Nguyen Guest

    When they could not get the workers screw the bolts properly then we flyers are all screwed. Someone needs to watch and monitors their work make sure it will bedone correctly.

  3. Thomas Hughes Guest

    Did/Do we use ‘Loctite’ on the bolts as well?

  4. Richard Glatthaar Guest

    No more tail wagging the dog Boeing. The FAA will be up your backside now after you endangered the public. No room for this in commercial (or any) aviation!

    1. Being Kills Guest

      Not true. The FAA gave Boeing the ability to do ALL THEIR OWN quality control and airworthiness certification before the MAX9 aircraft ever flew. 2 crashes and 346 deaths later, there's a problem. Now doors are flying off midair. What's next? The FAA is a complete failure. They need cleaned out, prosecuted, and replaced and Boeing shouldn't be allowed to release another newly built plane until all the MAX9 aircraft have been through a recertification...

      Not true. The FAA gave Boeing the ability to do ALL THEIR OWN quality control and airworthiness certification before the MAX9 aircraft ever flew. 2 crashes and 346 deaths later, there's a problem. Now doors are flying off midair. What's next? The FAA is a complete failure. They need cleaned out, prosecuted, and replaced and Boeing shouldn't be allowed to release another newly built plane until all the MAX9 aircraft have been through a recertification from the ground up. More people will likely die if drastic measures aren't taken to revamp ALL processes at both Boeing and ESPECIALLY the FAA.

  5. HARMAN M MIDDLETON Guest

    ANOTHER POSTER OLIGARCH FOR DAS CAPITAL AND THE DEMISE OF U.S. INDUSTRIAL MIGHT:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Welch

  6. William Hopkins Guest

    This is the result when the marketing department is allowed to supercede the engineering department!
    That maybe OK in some industries, but it TOTALLY UNEXEPTABLE in the airplane manufacturing industry!!
    Boeing needs to get back to it's roots!

  7. Stee Guest

    Disappointing from Boeing.....they have lost it,... please throw in the towel for the max.

  8. KR Guest

    What do you so when you book a 737 that's not a MAX, but the airline clearly states "the aircraft can be changed"? As you know, one airline invests in almost exclusively Boeing aircraft. So, is their disclaimer a bait and switch?

  9. Syd Guest

    Looks more and more likely that Boeing will get destroyed. Welp...

  10. Jordan Diamond

    So nothing about how often they need to inspect these jets to make sure the bolts are STILL tight.

    What about the people who are sitting next to the "door plug". Will they now be notified?

    Too many unanswered questions.

    I will steer clear of the 737 MAX going forward. Only if I have to (and that's rare), but I will still do my best to avoid.

    1. David Guest

      "The" nuts on the bolts that were missing don't even need to be tight. The nuts do not resist any forces. You could have had a large cotter pin with no nut at all and this accident would not have happened. You probably could have had a bolt that was taped in with gorilla tape and so log as it didn't slide out, you'd be fine. It is an extremely safe design so long as you put the bolts in with cotter pins through them.

  11. Steve Egger Guest

    Will the FAA figure ever out it’s the individual assigned to do the task is the problem?
    There’s way too many incompetent people working on these planes.

    1. Gregory Harper Guest

      No, the individual is not the main concern. All people make mistakes. The ‘System’ needs to recognise this and have built in checks that scrutinise others’ work. That’s the Quality Control that Boeing has been criticised for.

    2. HARMAN M MIDDLETON Guest

      This is a correct concern. I was a salaried layoff @ Boeing after 16-1/2 Yrs, in 2003. Then rehired into the hourly manufacturing shop (Renton factory / wings) in 2006, with an FAA Mechanic license in hand. A year later I took a huge upgrade onto the flightline in Seattle (Boeing field South) with military airplanes on a the 737 AWACS programs.

      By the time I was re-assigned (via move memo) over into commercial flight...

      This is a correct concern. I was a salaried layoff @ Boeing after 16-1/2 Yrs, in 2003. Then rehired into the hourly manufacturing shop (Renton factory / wings) in 2006, with an FAA Mechanic license in hand. A year later I took a huge upgrade onto the flightline in Seattle (Boeing field South) with military airplanes on a the 737 AWACS programs.

      By the time I was re-assigned (via move memo) over into commercial flight test on the 747-8 & 787-8 in 2010, Boeing was hiring “FAA A&P rated mechanics” OVER THE PHONE. Strictly based on holding the ticket, I worked with one who was previously homeless i LosAngeles, CA when he was hired. NicNamed: “Lunchbox” by his peers on the ramp.

      AMT&I: aviation maintenance technician & inspector + 1 Job Code for both sides of the production & inspection process. In the post merger era, Boeing rolled up 12 unique “job codes”, into just 3. So much for “specialized skills”, and organizational labor discipline!

      Boeing commercial division, has descended so far down the path of “shareholder value” insanity that I believe there will be no effective recovery. Corruption from stem to stern…
      “capitalism”; greed + ever bigger and incompetent gorvernment “oversight",
      = the great way down to failure & oblivion.

  12. Scott Guest

    A lot of good that will do. The aircraft is an over modified piece of junk. That’s why it’s called a Max. The name says it all.

    1. Jordan Diamond

      Arrrh, very good!

      737 Beyond its MAX!

  13. Miami305 Member

    "Capping expanded production of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft "
    This is clearly punitive in nature as it adds no measurable safety. (Not that I disagree with punishing Boeing.) But from a safety POV, it means nothing. If Boeing can produce 50 tat need to be 100% built to specs, then building 500 or 5000 of these is no different... the safety requirements/checks are the same.

    A better solution for safety would be required...

    "Capping expanded production of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft "
    This is clearly punitive in nature as it adds no measurable safety. (Not that I disagree with punishing Boeing.) But from a safety POV, it means nothing. If Boeing can produce 50 tat need to be 100% built to specs, then building 500 or 5000 of these is no different... the safety requirements/checks are the same.

    A better solution for safety would be required 3rd party checks of ALL 737 MAX, paid for by Boeing of course. It could include checklists by independent 3rd parties and 100s of pictures of each and every in production aircraft produced. That way, the DOT/FAA could go back at any time and review the checks (on Boeing's dime of course). Two additional rounds of safety.

    1. ted poco Guest

      Until quality is fixed production should be capped so line workers don’t skip steps to keep up with production goals. Many skilled Boeing workers retired during Covid and many junior employees work on the assembly lines.

      In addition quality is so bad at Spirit areosystems that they have teams at Boeing to fix issues. This isn’t how you run modern production lines.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      it makes all the sense in the world for production to not be expanded until Boeing fixes quality. Slowing down to get it right is as basic as functions learned in kindergarten.
      and, yes, slowing production hurts Boeing financially as well as the airlines that are depending on MAX deliveries but the government's job is to protect the public. The FAA will undoubtedly spend more time on the production floor at Boeing - and...

      it makes all the sense in the world for production to not be expanded until Boeing fixes quality. Slowing down to get it right is as basic as functions learned in kindergarten.
      and, yes, slowing production hurts Boeing financially as well as the airlines that are depending on MAX deliveries but the government's job is to protect the public. The FAA will undoubtedly spend more time on the production floor at Boeing - and that shouldn't have to be the case. Boeing has been given enormous latitude to certify and run its operations and they have failed.

      This is their problem to fix and they can't blame anyone else.
      Airlines including WN, UA and AS all say their deliveries of MAXs will slow and will hurt them.

      Wall Street is lowering Boeing's earnings and cash flow forecasts. The sooner Boeing proves it can run a reliable operation, the sooner things will return to normal.

      the only real question is how soon it will take to get the MAX 7 certified. This action by the FAA doesn't stop Boeing from shifting production to other models. A further delay on the MAX might be the straw that breaks WN's loyalty to Boeing.

    3. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      If Boeing can produce 50 tat need to be 100% built to specs, then building 500 or 5000 of these is no different

      You've just told us that you've never worked on/in (nor overseen) production, of any type.

      Tighten deadlines + increased quantity = decline in initial quality.

      It's an equation as consistent as price vis-a-vis decline vs demand.

    4. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Should add to that, "within the same work force"

      Only way to thwart that inevitability, is with a large infusion of experienced engineers and process supervisors who have previously been exposed to the infrastructure with/within which they'll be working.

      Boeing didn't do nor receive, that.

      To be fair, it wasn't for lack of trying, as that was the alleged end-goal for their proposed union with Embraer. But still, they didn't get that.

  14. Malcolm Guest

    Calhoun should never have been appointed. He comes from the same corrupt stable of former GE men who once called Jack Welch his "forever mentor." All the wreckers of Boeing came from Jack Welch's GE-way school of slash-and-burn management: cut costs, cut people, outsource core engineering tasks to low quality suppliers, all in the name of driving profits and increasing "shareholder value" through buybacks and dividends while trashing Boeing's proud engineering heritage. Boeing and GE...

    Calhoun should never have been appointed. He comes from the same corrupt stable of former GE men who once called Jack Welch his "forever mentor." All the wreckers of Boeing came from Jack Welch's GE-way school of slash-and-burn management: cut costs, cut people, outsource core engineering tasks to low quality suppliers, all in the name of driving profits and increasing "shareholder value" through buybacks and dividends while trashing Boeing's proud engineering heritage. Boeing and GE have become the junk and graveyards of American capitalism of the last 40 years. It has not only gutted two of the proudest names in US corporate history it has literally killed hundreds of people and will do so again if the obsession with profit maximisation and financial results is not cured.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      So true. Don't forget Jim McNerny, in that list of scoundrels.

    2. Alex Guest

      It's amazing to me that the world of Ayn Rand seems to be coming true with institutions losing their competence, but it's actually unchecked capitalism that's doing it rather than the socialism she wrote about.

  15. Parnel Guest

    The good news for me is less people are interested in an exit row

    1. Samus Aran Guest

      The plug at issue here is present when there is no door installed at that location - so the row there doesn't appear to be an exit row.

  16. vlcnc Guest

    Good news for airlines = bad news for passengers as these death traps are returned to the skies prematurely.

  17. lavanderialarry Guest

    Will not fly this piece of junk, not now, or ever.

  18. Ken Guest

    What was faa doing before? No check for quality control? They only act when there is an accident?

    1. Andy 11235 Guest

      LOL Prior to this, the FAA has operated as a subsidiary of Boeing, rather than adhering to a mandate of safety. For example, instead of having actual FAA inspectors doing the, errr, FAA inspections, they have allowed Boeing employees to do these inspections. No conflict of interest once you understand that both organizations answer to the same leadership.

    2. Dusty Guest

      This is exhibit A for having well funded regulatory agencies so that they can afford enough experienced and well paid employees to keep the corporations honest. When they don't have that, you get regulatory capture and more 737 MAXs. The small government movement has been a disaster for our country.

    3. Sean M. Diamond

      @Dusty - Precisely. The FAA is not an independent regulator, but rather dependent on political will for its funding (and consequently its priorities). If the same situation existed elsewhere, the FAA itself would immediately assess the other regulator as non-compliant with ICAO standards and downgrade it to IASA Category 2.

    4. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      @ Sean M.

      On that note, maybe you can explain why the US still has Thailand listed under Category-2, when seemingly no one else in the world has an issue with Thai aviation processes.

      I honestly can't find an answer for this, and am just to the point of concluding that the right politician didn't get greased, or something.

    5. FlyerDon Guest

      There is an expression in Washington, that one particular party lives by, “starve the beast”. The postal service has been a poster child for it and so has the IRS. Unfortunately it now seems to apply to the FAA and the DOT too. They give enough funds for an agency to exist but not enough for it to grow or improve.

    6. [email protected] Guest

      100% Correct about the FAA . The FAA can’t do anything anymore. They give these jobs to their relatives and still get paid. Try calling them and see for yourself.

    7. GBSanDiego Guest

      That’s right! While everyone is huddling at the Door Plug, who knows what else is going to fall off? Didn’t a panel fell off the tail off a new MAX already? What about the loose bolts or no bolts that were found on the wings just a few months ago?

    8. Michael Guest

      It’ll take someone with cajones to want seat 26A

    9. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      It’ll take someone with cajones to want seat 26A

      True ...or someone with no clue what type of aircraft that they're on, even though it's presented when they're booking and often written on the safety cards positioned right in front of them as they sit.

      But fortunately for the airlines: that comprises about (checks notes) 99% of the flying public. ;)

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Malcolm Guest

Calhoun should never have been appointed. He comes from the same corrupt stable of former GE men who once called Jack Welch his "forever mentor." All the wreckers of Boeing came from Jack Welch's GE-way school of slash-and-burn management: cut costs, cut people, outsource core engineering tasks to low quality suppliers, all in the name of driving profits and increasing "shareholder value" through buybacks and dividends while trashing Boeing's proud engineering heritage. Boeing and GE have become the junk and graveyards of American capitalism of the last 40 years. It has not only gutted two of the proudest names in US corporate history it has literally killed hundreds of people and will do so again if the obsession with profit maximisation and financial results is not cured.

8
Sean M. Diamond

@Dusty - Precisely. The FAA is not an independent regulator, but rather dependent on political will for its funding (and consequently its priorities). If the same situation existed elsewhere, the FAA itself would immediately assess the other regulator as non-compliant with ICAO standards and downgrade it to IASA Category 2.

8
Dusty Guest

This is exhibit A for having well funded regulatory agencies so that they can afford enough experienced and well paid employees to keep the corporations honest. When they don't have that, you get regulatory capture and more 737 MAXs. The small government movement has been a disaster for our country.

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