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Alaska and United Airlines ground Boeing 737 MAX 9 jets amid safety concerns

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines temporarily grounded their Boeing 737 MAX 9 flights following a cabin panel blowout on last Friday.

Boeing hinted at a potential “quality” issue, prompting the U.S. FAA to ground 171 affected jets.

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Alaska Airlines announced on Wednesday (10 Jan), that it would be grounding all flights operated on Boeing 737 MAX 9 jets until Saturday (13 Jan).

The decision comes in the wake of a cabin panel blowout that occurred last Friday (5 Jan), raising concerns about the safety of the aircraft. Boeing suggested that the incident may be linked to a “quality” issue.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took swift action on Saturday (6 Jan), grounding 171 Boeing jets equipped with the same problematic panel.

This included Alaska’s 65 MAX-9s, resulting in approximately 20% of the airline’s daily flights being cancelled.

United Airlines, the other major U.S. operator of the 737 MAX 9 with 79 planes in its fleet, also joined the decision to ground affected aircraft.

The airline cancelled 167 MAX 9 flights on Wednesday (10 Jan) and anticipates “significant” cancellations on Thursday (11 Jan) as well.

United Airlines assured passengers that some planned flights could still operate by substituting with other aircraft types.

However, the carrier is awaiting final approval for the full inspection process for its grounded jets.

Both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines stressed the importance of prioritizing safety.

Alaska Airlines stated that it awaits revised inspection and maintenance instructions from Boeing, which must be approved by the FAA before the planes can resume operations.

The airline emphasized its commitment to resolving all findings in compliance with FAA and Alaska’s stringent standards before returning the aircraft to service.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg addressed concerns about the timeline for allowing the planes to resume flights, asserting that safety is the primary consideration.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun acknowledged a “quality escape” issue related to the cabin blowout.

He raised questions about inspection breakdowns and the original work that allowed the incident to occur.

Calhoun, who has been in contact with Secretary Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker, emphasized the need to prevent a repeat of the cabin panel blowout.

Meanwhile, both Alaska and United Airlines, on Monday (8 Jan), reported finding loose parts on multiple grounded aircraft, raising additional concerns about the manufacturing process of Boeing’s best-selling jet family.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating whether the detached cabin panel had been properly attached and whether bolts were missing.

Secretary Buttigieg underscored the importance of addressing the safety issues in the MAX 9, emphasizing the need for every delivered plane to be 100% safe. He assured that the FAA would maintain a strict level of oversight to ensure safety compliance.

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