Washington (diplomat.so) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a recommendation for airlines operating these aircraft to inspect door plugs to ensure proper security. This advisory comes after the FAA's recent decision to ground 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes following a mid-air cabin blowout of a door plug on an Alaska Airlines MAX 9 jet on January 5.
The FAA's safety alert, released on Sunday, disclosed that some airlines have observed findings with bolts during maintenance inspections on the 737-900ER mid-exit door plugs. The agency urged air carriers to perform essential portions of the fuselage plug assembly maintenance procedure related to the four bolts securing the door plug to the airframe at the earliest convenience.
Boeing's shares experienced a 2.5% decline in premarket trading on Monday, contributing to a 17.5% decrease since the beginning of the year. The 737-900ER, although not part of the newer MAX fleet, shares the same optional door plug design, allowing for an additional emergency exit door when carriers opt to install more seats.
A Boeing spokesperson expressed full support for the FAA's actions, emphasizing collaboration with customers. The 737-900ER model, introduced in 2007, has accumulated over 11 million hours of operation and 3.9 million flight cycles, with the FAA noting that the door plug has not been a known issue with this particular model.
In contrast to the MAX 9, where loose parts were found during preliminary checks, United and Alaska Airlines have initiated inspections of their 737-900ER fleets. United, with 136 737-900ER aircraft, expects inspections to conclude without disruption to customers. Alaska Airlines, which accounts for 20% of its fleet with MAX 9 planes, began inspections several days ago and reports no findings to date.
The FAA stated on Sunday that the MAX 9 planes will remain grounded until deemed safe for service, with United extending its MAX 9 flight cancellations through January 26. Alaska Airlines, which had previously canceled all flights through Sunday, has not provided information on the duration of extended cancellations.
Globally, the majority of 737-900ERs with door plugs are operated by the three U.S. carriers—United, Alaska, and Delta. Delta confirmed proactive inspections on its 737-900ER fleet, anticipating no operational impacts.
FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker mentioned ongoing efforts to restore confidence in the integrity of these plug doors, while National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy indicated the agency's examination of records related to the door plug, including the uncertainty about the proper installation of bolts on the Alaska Airlines jet. The FAA continues to review data from inspections on the initial group of 40 Boeing 737 MAX 9 jets to determine when they can resume flights.