Boeing 737 Max 9 planes that have passed a new inspection process will be permitted to fly again, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has announced.
On 5 January, a flight leaving Portland, Oregon had to make an emergency landing after part of the plane — known as a door plug or a fuselage plug — flew off, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the aircraft.
Since then, two other incidents have occurred. Last week an Atlas Air flight experienced a fire engine during a Puerto Rico-bound flight.
On Tuesday, a Delta Boeing 757’s nose wheel “came off and rolled down the hill” before take-off. Passengers were removed from the plane and transferred to another flight.
Despite these mishaps, on Wednesday the FAA said it had approved an inspection and maintenance process to allow grounded Max 9s to return to service, but said it would not allow any ramp-up of the model’s production by the planemaker.
We grounded the Boeing 737-9 MAX and made clear it would not return to flight until it was safe. The enhanced review our team completed gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase prior to returning to operation. https://t.co/xcC5CjdU6p
— FAA Mike Whitaker (@FAA_Mike) January 24, 2024
“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.”
Mr Whitaker said that despite the new inspection processes allowing some aircraft to return to the skies, it would not 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,” he said.
The FAA approved the new, detailed set of inspection and maintenance instructions after a thorough review of data from 40 inspections of grounded planes.
The FAA also convened a Corrective Action Review Board (CARB), made up of safety experts, which 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 comply 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 enhanced maintenance process will require 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, and the correction of any damage or abnormal conditions
The FAA’s announcement comes after Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun met with legislators on Capitol Hill to discuss the recent alarming incidents.
After meeting with senators in private, Mr Calhoun told reporters that he was in Washington “in the spirit of transparency” and to answer questions following the near-disaster midflight Alaskan Airlines incident.