FAA expands door plug inspections to older 737s

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In the wake of a door-plug blowout incident on a Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft on Jan. 5, the Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday issued an additional safety alert, urging airlines to inspect the door plugs on certain older Boeing 737 models that share a similar design.

The 170 Boeing 737-9 MAX planes have been grounded by the FAA until inspections on bolts are completed. No similar grounding has been announced on the Boeing 737-900ER, the model that the FAA wants inspected.

According to the FAA, the Boeing 737-900ER door plugs are identical in design to those found on the 9 MAX, and some airlines have reported “findings” related to the bolts during maintenance inspections.

Door plugs are panels that seal holes on aircraft where additional doors are not required due to the number of seats. They can be converted into exits if more seats are installed on the plane. The Boeing 737-900ER is not part of the newer MAX fleet but has the same door plug design, dependent on four bolts.

The FAA said “operators are encouraged to conduct a visual inspection to ensure the door plug is restrained from any movements through the two (2) upper guide track bolts and two (2) lower arrestor bolts.”

Alaska Airlines said its maintenance and engineering technicians completed preliminary inspections of a group of its 737-9 MAX aircraft as ordered by the FAA.

“We provided the data to Boeing, which will share it with the FAA for further analysis and consultation. We’re awaiting the next steps based on this collection of new information, including the final inspection orders so we can begin safely returning our planes to service,” the airlines said.

The ongoing grounding of the 737-9 MAX continues to impact Alaska Airlines operations with all 65 of its 737-9 MAX still out of service. The airlines has 231 of Boeing 737 aircraft.

“This remains a dynamic situation and we greatly appreciate the patience of our guests. We are notifying those whose flights are canceled and working to reaccommodate them. We also have a Flexible Travel Policy in effect,” the airline said.

9 COMMENTS

  1. A door plug, no matter where it is built by whom, is pretty doggone basic. It comes down to the fasteners and if they were torqued down. I have a friend at Boeing who has related that those on the assembly line have tools that are pretorque-ready. It is basically fail-safe if they simply pull the trigger on the tool to tighten the bolts.
    We will complexity it, of course. Because at the end of the day, SOMEone didn’t tighten them and SOMEone signed off.

  2. Boeing is the same company that cannot get Starliner certified by NASA to take astronauts to the space station at a cost of almost $500 million to taxpayers.

    What happened to American quality & ingenuity? It’s missing from the mega-corps, but is alive and well in new companies like Tesla, Stoke, & SpaceX.

  3. This has nothing to do with Alaska Airlines and everything to do with Boeing. Both the incident airplane and the airplanes where loose bolts were found following inspection were almost brand new off the assembly line meaning someone (in all reality more than one person) dropped the ball during the manufacturing process. While it is true that the -900ER shares the same door plug as the MAX, those airplanes are much older and have been through multiple routine maintenancce checks at this point so the likelihood of a similar failure is quite small.

    • I find your premise unlikely. The door plug that left was on an aircraft that had 143 cycles. It is more logical that an Alaska Airlines contractor or employee removed the plug for an ease of access for a maintenance issue and neglected to reinstall the 4 bolts. 4 different people in two different plants would have had to miss the fact the bolts were missing at Boeing and at Spirit Aerosystems. I think that the FAA has found this to be a correct assumption, hence the inspection of the 900ER series.

  4. There were depressurization warnings on this aircraft previous to hatch coming off . It points to Alaska Airlines maintenance issues in my mind wether the fasteners were properly or improperly installed .

    I’ve mentioned this before that over 10 billion commercial airline boardings have taken place on Boeing aircraft in the last in ten years with one fatality . Pretty good statistic for traveling on Boeing jets . It’s all about numbers . Numbers don’t lie . Boeing is being treated unfairly . This is why pilots write up issues and mechanics inspect these planes ever 100 hours and do heavy checks and annuals .

    So now Parka Air ( airline that’s parked with Eskimo face on tail ) is creating havoc on Alaskan commercial air travel . Our Alaska flagship airline that’s makes a lot of money sticking to Alaskans has laid down on us Alaskans. Please inspect the damn planes and get them back into the air.

    And by the way I am much more concerned by the hiring practices and the dumbs dumbs they are putting in the right seat of these jetliners now ? Much bigger issue than some loose bolts on a 737 that safely landed after incident .

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