Loose Parts Found in Door Panels of Boeing Max 9 Jets, Raising Safety Concerns


Federal investigators are examining whether missing bolts contributed to a door panel sliding off an Alaska Airlines jetliner during flight. The investigation comes as both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines reported finding loose parts in the door plugs, or panels, of several Boeing 737 Max 9 jets.

Preliminary inspections carried out by the airlines revealed issues related to installation, such as bolts that required additional tightening. Both Alaska and United are working to examine their Max 9 aircraft, with initial reports indicating the presence of loose hardware.

These findings add to the mounting pressure on Boeing to address concerns surrounding the safety of its planes. The urgency has escalated following an incident last week in which a plug covering an emergency door tore off an Alaska Airlines plane mid-flight, causing a terrifying fuselage blowout at an altitude of 16,000 feet.

In response, Boeing has organized an online meeting for its employees to discuss safety protocols. The company has committed to assisting with any findings identified by the airlines during their inspections of Max 9 jets. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded 171 out of the 200 delivered Max 9 jets until the door plugs can be inspected and repaired if necessary.

Door plugs are inserted in locations where emergency exit doors would typically be located on the Max 9s. As Alaska and United have aircraft with fewer seats, they replace the standard heavy doors with plugs. These panels can be opened for maintenance purposes, and the bolts serve to prevent them from moving upwards during flight through the use of rollers.

During Alaska Airlines flight 1282, roller guides at the top of one of the plugs broke, allowing the entire panel to swing upwards, detaching from the 12 stop pads that keep it attached to the door frame. The reason behind the breakage remains unclear and is under investigation. The NTSB is also determining whether four missing bolts contributed to the incident or if they were blown off during the decompression event.

The interior of the aircraft suffered significant damage, but the pilots were able to return to Portland safely, and there were no serious injuries reported among the passengers and crew.

The lost door panel was discovered in a school teacher’s backyard near Portland and will be sent to the NTSB’s lab in Washington, D.C., for further study to determine the cause of the detachment.

As a result of the grounded aircraft, Alaska and United have had to cancel numerous flights. Alaska Airlines has 65 Max 9s, while United Airlines has 79. The inspections of the planes were delayed until Boeing and the FAA provided complete instructions.

The aircraft involved in the blowout incident was newly in service as of November. After experiencing cabin-pressurization system warning lights during three flights, the airline ceased using the plane on Pacific routes to Hawaii. However, it continued to operate on overland routes until the cause of the pressurization warnings was identified.

Despite speculation, the NTSB has not found any evidence linking the warnings to the door plug blowout.

The Boeing 737 Max is the latest version of the long-standing 737, a twin-engine, single-aisle aircraft that has been in operation since the late 1960s. It has been widely utilized by airlines for domestic routes in the United States.

Following the news, shares of Boeing fell 8%, and Spirit AeroSystems, responsible for installing the door plugs on Max jets, saw an 11% decrease in their stock value.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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