The Federal Aviation Administration has announced additional actions to ensure that Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft are safe, informing Boeing it will not grant any production expansion of the MAX, including the 737-9 MAX until further notice. The quality assurances the FAA has seen are “unacceptable,” the agency said.
This action comes on top of the FAA’s investigation and ramped up oversight of Boeing and its suppliers. Aviation experts have linked the troubles Boeing is having to its increasing outsourcing of its manufacturing processes, which have driven up profits.
On Jan. 5, a 737-9 MAX aircraft being operated by Alaska Airlines suffered a door-panel blow-out as it climbed out of Portland on its way to Ontario, Calif. All on board made it back to terra firma, but several lawsuits have since been filed against Alaska Airlines and Boeing.
Alaska Airlines is especially hurt by the quality issues at Boeing because the company flies so many of the 737s and had recently purchased 65 of the 737-9 MAX models. Boeing is the only major U.S.-based aircraft manufacturer. The industry is nearly a duopoly, with European-based Airbus the top aircraft manufacturer in the world, and Boeing in second place.
The FAA this week also approved a thorough inspection and maintenance process that must be performed on each of the grounded 171 Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft. Upon successful completion, the aircraft will be eligible to return to service.
Alaska Airlines said its inspections of its planes started this week and all 65 of the 737-9 MAX aircraft should be ready to fly by the end of this week. A 737-9 has taken off from Seattle for San Diego on Friday and landed safely.
“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,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said. “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.
On Thursday, Boeing announced it was having a “stand down for safety” day-long event.
About 10,000 737 program employees on two shifts paused airplane manufacturing for a mandatory working session focused on quality and safety, the company said.
“In the coming weeks, Quality Stand Downs will take place for the Renton factory third shift and at other Commercial Airplanes sites,” Boeing said.
“Stand downs are common practice in heavy manufacturing, most often focused on worker safety. While Boeing has held stand downs previously, this was the first time Boeing has paused airplane production for an entire day with a stand down to focus on quality and safety,” Boeing said.
FAA Administrator Whitaker indicated that trust will take more than a stand down: “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.”
The FAA also convened a Corrective Action Review Board, made up of safety experts who scrutinized and approved the inspection and maintenance process.
Following the completion of the enhanced maintenance and inspection process on each aircraft, the door plugs on the 737-9 MAX will be in compliance with the original design, which is safe to operate.
“This aircraft will not operate until the process is complete and compliance with the original design is confirmed,” the FAA said.
The enhanced maintenance process requires:
- – 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
After grounding the Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft shortly after the Jan. 5 incident, the FAA has laid out a series of actions to increase oversight of Boeing’s production lines.
“The quality assurance issues we have seen are unacceptable,” Whitaker said. “That is why we will have more boots on the ground closely scrutinizing and monitoring production and manufacturing activities.”
Increased oversight activities include:
- – 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.
In addition, the FAA is looking into Boeing’s safety culture.
“In early 2023, the FAA convened 24 experts to review Boeing’s safety management processes and how they affect Boeing’s safety culture. The FAA expects the report within weeks. The results of the Boeing Safety Culture Review report will also inform the agency regarding future action. The review panel included representatives from NASA, the FAA, labor unions, independent engineering experts, air carriers, manufacturers with delegated authority, legal experts and others. The panel has been reviewing thousands of documents, interviewed more than 250 Boeing employees, managers, and executives, Boeing supplier employees, and FAA employees and visited several Boeing sites as well as Spirit AeroSystems’ facility in Wichita,” the FAA said.