The door panel that flew off a Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet mid-flight last month appeared to be missing four key bolts, according to a preliminary report released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday (Feb. 6).
It’s the first official look into how the scary incident on Jan. 5 occurred. U.S. lawmakers and the public have been demanding answers to what caused a panel to blow out of an Alaska Airlines-operated jet shortly after takeoff.
The malfunction, which occurred roughly five kilometres above Oregon, left a gaping hole in the jet, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing in Portland, where all 177 passengers and crew safely disembarked.
The seat that was next to the panel that ripped off was (luckily) unoccupied at the time, reports say.
"Boeing is accountable for what happened"
Since the incident, plane manufacturer Boeing, its safety record, and its reputation, have been front and centre.
“Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened,” said Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun in a statement on Tuesday. “An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory. We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers.”
Calhoun said the company is implementing “a comprehensive plan to strengthen quality and the confidence of our stakeholders.”
“It will take significant, demonstrated action and transparency at every turn – and that is where we are squarely focused,” he said.
The disclosures have heightened concerns about Boeing’s production process of its MAX 9s.
After the Alaska Airlines incident on Jan. 5, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes – most of which were operated by United Airlines and Alaska Airlines – for inspections.
Those aircraft were allowed to return to the skies in late January and nearly all are flying again.
Other carriers that fly Boeing 737 MAX 9 jetliners include Copa Airlines, Aeromexico, Turkish Airlines, Icelandair, Lion Air, Flyduabi and SCAT (a small Kazakh carrier).
Canadian airlines don’t fly that particular Boeing aircraft model. However, travellers connecting to U.S. flights could still be impacted.
WestJet and Alaska have an interline agreement, while Air Canada and United share 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.
Tuesday’s report focused on quality control, probing how the Alaska Airlines door panel, fitted into a MAX 9 as an optional exit, could have blown out and detach from the plane.
The plug is held down by four bolts and then secured by "stop fittings" at 12 different locations along the side of the plug and the door frame, Reuters reports.
Boeing on Tuesday said it is taking immediate action to strengthen quality.
The company says it has implemented a control plan to ensure all 737-9 mid-exit door plugs are installed according to specifications, with new inspections.
The plan also includes adding signage and protocol to fully document when the door plug is opened or removed in Boeing’s factory, ensuring it is reinstalled and inspected prior to delivery.
Boeing is also implementing plans to improve “overall quality and stability across the 737 production system.”
The company added that it will open its factory to 737 customers “to conduct their own additional reviews.”
“This added scrutiny – from ourselves, from our regulator and from our customers – will make us better. It’s that simple,” said Calhoun.
Boeing’s 737 MAX series is no stranger to controversy.