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Alaska Airlines chief says checks on Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes found 'many' loose bolts

The chief executive of an American airline company has said internal checks found "many" loose bolts on their Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes.

Ben Minicucci, the head of Alaska Airlines, told Sky News' US partner network NBC News that he was "angry" about an incident on 5 January when a panel on one of the company's planes blew out mid-air on a flight carrying 177 people.

"I'm more than frustrated and disappointed," he said.

"I am angry. This happened to Alaska Airlines. It happened to our guests and happened to our people.

"My demand on Boeing is what are they going to do to improve their quality programmes in-house."

Mr Minicucci, who became president of Alaska Airlines in 2016, said he was "incredulous" that something like the 5 January incident could even happen.

It prompted new in-house inspections in Alaska Airlines which found more loose bolts.

"I knew that this was an issue out of the [Boeing] factory," he said. "There was no question in my mind."

"And it's clear to me that we received an airplane from Boeing with a faulty door. Now the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] investigation is going to figure out why that was a faulty door, whether it was bad installation, missing hardware, a manufacturing issue, but there's no doubt that Alaska received an airplane off the production line with a faulty door," he said.

After the panel blew out, the US Federal Aviation Administration ordered all Boeing Max 9 planes grounded and launched a safety investigation.

The agency announced an audit of Boeing's MAX 9 production line and suppliers "to evaluate Boeing's compliance with its approved quality procedures".

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It is also subjecting Boeing, as well as its third-party suppliers, to increased monitoring.

With no announcement on when Boeing-made planes can return to service, Alaska Airlines has spent weeks cancelling and rearranging its schedule, leaving thousands of passengers scrambling for flights.

United Airlines has also said it found additional loose bolts on its MAX 9 planes.

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In a statement, Boeing said: "We have let down our airline customers and are deeply sorry for the significant disruption to them, their employees and their passengers.

"We are taking action on a comprehensive plan to bring these airplanes safely back to service and to improve our quality and delivery performance.

"We will follow the lead of the FAA and support our customers every step of the way."