The emergency landing of an Alaska Airlines Boeing B737 MAX 9 aircraft on 5 January, following a mid-flight fuselage panel blowout, has raised significant questions about the installation processes at Boeing’s facilities.
While the panel was manufactured in Malaysia, reports suggest that the mishap stemmed from improper installation by Boeing mechanics rather than faulty manufacturing.
According to sources cited by The Seattle Times, the mis-installation occurred at Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington, indicating potential lapses in quality control procedures within the aircraft manufacturer’s operations.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating the incident to determine the root cause. If it’s concluded that Boeing’s improper installation was to blame, it could shift liability solely onto the American aviation giant rather than its supplier, Spirit AeroSystems.
At the same time, Boeing has remained tight-lipped about the ongoing investigation, insisting that only the NTSB can provide updates on its progress, the Business Times reported.
“As the air safety agency responsible for investigating the accident, only the U.S. NTSB can release information about the investigation. We will defer to them for any information,” a Boeing spokesperson said.
The incident has reignited scrutiny over Boeing’s safety protocols, particularly regarding its troubled B737 MAX series, which experienced a cabin panel blowout shortly after take-off from Portland on 5 January this year.
With the NTSB’s investigation underway, attention is focused on pinpointing accountability for the mishap.
Currently, some fingers are pointing at Boeing, while others are directed at the manufacturer of the fuselage panel, Spirit Aerosystems.
Previously, NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy revealed on 17 January that the panel in question was manufactured by Spirit Aerosystems in Malaysia.
However, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke clarified that the part had received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
On 24 January, an insider, cited by The Seattle Times, alleged that the panel had been removed and reinstalled by Boeing mechanics shortly before the incident.
The whistleblower’s account suggests that crucial safety measures, such as installing bolts to secure the door plug, were overlooked during the reinstallation process.
The sources also purportedly stated that the mechanics’ installation of the door plug did not undergo formal inspection and approval by a Boeing quality inspector.
Furthermore, while the FAA approved the operation of B737 MAX 9 aircraft on 24 January, the agency has suspended Boeing’s plans for further production expansion, underscoring the gravity of the situation.
In response to the incident, the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia has instructed local carriers operating B737 MAX aircraft to conduct inspections for potential issues with the rudder control system.
Boeing’s President and CEO, Dave Calhoun, acknowledged the gravity of the situation, admitting to mistakes and pledging complete transparency moving forward.
He emphasized Boeing’s commitment to ensuring the safety of every aircraft in its fleet.
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