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Wednesday,  April 17, 2024 5:36 PM 

Alaska and United find loose bolts on Boeing 737 MAX 9s during checks

Alaska and United find loose bolts on Boeing 737 MAX 9s during checks
A Boeing 737 MAX 9 operated by Alaska Airlines. (Shutterstock/Robin Guess)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Boeing is facing increased scrutiny as United and Alaska Airlines find loose parts on their 737 MAX 9 planes.

According to Reuters, the two airlines reported installation issues on their MAX 9 planes following close inspections of the aircraft, which are grounded after a panel flew off an Alaska Airlines flight, blowing out an exit door, shortly after takeoff from Portland, Oregon, airport last Friday (Jan. 5). 

The mid-air incident left a gaping hole that forced pilots to make an emergency landing, successfully returning all 177 passengers and crew to Portland.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded 171 planes, ordering inspections of the MAX 9, a twin-engine, single-aisle plane commonly used for U.S. domestic flights.

The move left nearly 200,000 passengers facing cancellations on Saturday through Monday, reports say.

The MAX 9, which first went into service in May 2017, is the newest version of Boeing's 737 aircraft.

The now-damaged plane that Alaska Airlines’ was flying was nearly new, operating only since November, according to Flightradar24.

READ MORE: U.S. grounds Boeing 737-9 MAXs after Alaska Airlines blowout; Canadian airlines don’t fly model

Upon reviewing its aircraft, Alaska Airlines, which operates 65 MAX 9s, said late Monday that reports from its technicians indicated some "loose hardware" was seen on some of its planes in the relevant area when it finished checking its fleet.

“When we are able to proceed with the formal inspection process, all aircraft will be thoroughly inspected in accordance with detailed instructions provided by the FAA in consultation with Boeing,” the airline said in a statement. “Any findings will be fully addressed in a matter that satisfies our safety standards and FAA compliance.”

U.S. officials are inspecting Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft to find out why an Alaska Airlines’ window blew out shortly after takeoff on Friday (Jan. 5). (@Kyrinker/X)

The inspections will also require documenting all findings and those will be reported to the FAA, Alaska said.

“No aircraft will be returned to service until all of these steps are complete,” the carrier said.

Alaska cancelled more than 100 flights, or 15 per cent of its Saturday schedule by midday, according to FlightAware data.

United, which also flies MAX 9s, said its inspections would result in about 60 cancellations.

It, too, found loose parts on its aircraft, according to reports.

The U.S. carrier, which has 79 MAX 9s in its fleet, said Monday that its preliminary checks found bolts that needed tightening on several panels.

The alarming disclosures have heightened concerns about Boeing’s production process of its MAX 9 jets.

Other carriers that use Boeing 737 MAX 9 jetliners include Copa Airlines, Aeromexico, Turkish Airlines, Icelandair, Lion Air, Flyduabi and SCAT (a small Kazakh carrier).

Relevance to Canada

In Canada, Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, Flair and Lynx all fly 737-8 MAXs, but not the 9 model, which apparently has a different door configuration.

“Air Canada has only the Boeing 737-8 version of the MAX aircraft in its fleet. We have 40 of these aircraft and they have performed very reliably with an excellent safety record,” Air Canada told CTV News. “The mid-cabin exit door configuration only applies to the 737 MAX 9, and is not present on our 737 MAX 8.”

WestJet also confirmed with the outlet that its Boeing MAX 8 “does not have the same door in question with this event.”

Air Transat and Porter Airlines also don’t fly the model. 

Still, while the MAX 9 may not be used in Canada, Canadian travellers connecting to U.S. flights could still be impacted by the groundings. 

WestJet and Alaska have an interline agreement, while Air Canada and United have a codeshare deal that lets passengers book trips with either carrier to about 50 destinations in the U.S. and Canada.

Porter and Alaska, too, have a new partnership aimed at providing passengers more flight options from coast to coast.

Boeing expresses regret

Boeing’s 737 MAX series is no stranger to controversy.

Transport Canada grounded all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the country in March 2019 following two overseas crashes that left 346 passengers dead. The order that was lifted in January 2021.

Boeing addressed the ongoing 737-9 inspections in a statement Monday.

“As operators conduct the required inspections, we are staying in close contact with them and will help address any and all findings,” the company wrote on its website. “We are committed to ensuring every Boeing airplane meets design specifications and the highest safety and quality standards.”

“We regret the impact this has had on our customers and their passengers.”

The Alaska Airlines incident came days after a Japan Airlines (JAL) plane collided with a Coast Guard aircraft at Tokyo's Haneda airport, killing five of six crew on the smaller aircraft.

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