Further updates have involved the ongoing grounding of Boeing 737-9s worldwide as the NTSB and the FAA investigate further.
Alaska Airlines Inspections Begin
10 days following a significant incident involving an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 with routine service from Portland to Ontario, preliminary inspections have formally begun.
Alaska Airlines says it is inspecting around 20 planes from the 737-9 series over the weekend as it looks to begin the process of eventually returning the aircraft safely.
While much focus has been placed on Boeing and its production practices alongside quality control, Alaska Airlines is looking to enhance its process.
Additionally, the airline will launch its review of Boeing’s product and control systems to understand better how issues can slip through and ultimately impact its aircraft.
The major U.S. carrier has transitioned from Airbus-produced aircraft to fully Boeing jets for the mainline fleet as it re-aligns with a broader group strategy. As a result, Alaska Airlines heavily relies on Boeing and the aircraft they produce, especially the 737 series.
Alaska Airlines is among the largest operators of the 737-9 worldwide, so it needs to ensure that all aircraft deliveries will be to the highest standards in the future. Not only is this to ensure the safety of all those who step aboard their services with the plane, but also to ensure that no further operational meltdowns occur because of quality or design-related issues.
Return To Service Can’t Happen Yet
While airlines like Alaska Airlines look to begin work to return the aircraft to service, the most critical part of the approval comes from Boeing and the FAA.
This relates to the Muilti-Operator Message. Essentially, an MOM is a bulletin provided, in this case, by Boeing regarding a specific aircraft type that would require similar work to be undertaken.
The FAA reported that they had initially received an MOM from Boeing towards the halfway point of the week just gone—however, revisions needed to be made. As a new week approaches, the FAA still requires further data from Boeing before formally approving inspections and prospective maintenance to begin on the grounded 737-9s.
The FAA formally extended these 737-9 groundings at the end of the week. The FAA, however, is genuinely running with the “no timeline” for return to service by saying the groundings will continue indefinitely.
As for airlines, Alaska Airlines has joined United in cancelling services into next week, but the expectation is that these cancellations will continue according to most. While United and Alaska form the bulk of the headlines, Aeromexico and Copa Airlines also have the type grounded further south, impacting their daily flying.
Alaska said its cancellations show around 20% of the daily schedule being axed. The airline is working overtime to aid customers who have faced cancellations to ensure they aren’t too significantly impacted. Thus, those currently in the role of network operations are being put through their paces.
FAA Continues Thorough Approach
A thorough approach to the investigation from the NTSB continues down to the FAA. The regulator has said it will not formally approve the inspection and maintenance process until a review occurs.
This review involves a round of 40 inspections; once the FAA can give the green light to these alongside further approvals, the formal process will occur.
The FAA did say that it was encouraged by the exhaustive nature of Boeing’s instructions for inspections and maintenance. The American plane maker must get their response to this incident right. While many, alongside Boeing, say this incident should’ve never happened, it has done and is in the past.
Boeing now must ensure its response from communication to how it gets this plane back in the skies is thorough, transparent and safe. Trust has to be earned, and critical executives know they’ve lost that trust again but believe with time, they’ll recover this.
While the 737-9 ungrounding would be the first step in the right direction for Boeing, they have a lot more to handle following this as the FAA investigates their production practices thoroughly. As part of this investigation, the hope is to understand better how quality escapes occur.
What Comes From All This?
Boeing’s 2024 looks very different from what it had initially imagined on January 1st, and there still could be very much to come if investigations into their procedures continue.
While details about what happened aboard the Alaska Airlines flight have come to light, the formal specifics around why are yet to be determined as the NTSB only recently shipped the door for investigative work to continue.
The FAA’s head has said that he believes it’s more than anything related to a quality issue, thus not an actual problem that can be connected to the 737-9 or, for that matter, the 737 MAX series. As a result, the focus has shifted to why this happened.
Boeing will now be under the spotlight as the FAA reviews practises, and other airlines hope to answer their burning questions about why the product they’re receiving simply isn’t up to standard.
Boeing couldn’t afford such an incident and, frankly, shouldn’t have had it happen in the first place. Following the incidents of ET302 and JT610 in 2019 and 2018, respectively, revelations highlighted just how poor quality assurance was at the company. New incoming management vowed to fix this and adjust the culture. However, those claims are now being massively questioned.
2024 will be another interesting year for Boeing; what was initially poised to be a quiet one hopefully has been anything but that, and two weeks into the new year, they’re scrambling with executives already talking about rebuilding.