Boeing under scrutiny – Indonesia temporarily halts MAX 9 planes

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FILE PHOTO: A worker walks past Boeing's new 737 MAX-9 under construction at their production facility in Renton, Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. Picture taken February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Redmond/File Photo

On January 6, Indonesia temporarily halted the operation of three Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft owned by Lion Air. This decision was made by the transport ministry, despite the fact that these planes had different configurations than the one that experienced an emergency landing in the U.S. the previous week.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandated the temporary grounding of 171 Boeing aircraft equipped with the same panel that caused the detachment of an eight-week-old Alaska Airlines jet. This incident led to an emergency landing, with a noticeable gap in the fuselage.

The Alaska Airlines jet, en route from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, had its door plug blow off, compelling the pilots to return and execute a safe landing with all 171 passengers and six crew members on board.

Indonesia’s three Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes, the only ones in their possession, were grounded from January 6 onwards until further notice, according to Adita Irawati, a spokesperson for the transport ministry. Adita clarified that the Lion Air planes had a “mid cabin emergency exit door type II,” while the Alaska Airlines plane had a “mid exit door plug.” She emphasized that the mid-section emergency doors in the Lion Air planes were functional and could be used for evacuation.

The transport ministry expressed its commitment to prioritize operational safety and announced plans to collaborate with the FAA, Boeing, and Lion Air to closely monitor the situation. In response, a Lion Air spokesperson stated that the airline is conducting additional inspections to ensure the normal functionality of the emergency door mechanism on its planes.

On January 11th, the Brazilian airline GOL recommenced the operation of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in Brazil. The airline currently utilizes nearly 40 MAX 8 aircraft and has existing orders for the MAX 10, excluding any involvement with the MAX 9. GOL highlighted that both Boeing and other manufacturers undergo audits by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address and prevent issues like these in the future.

This weekend, The New York Times reported that the Chairwoman of the US National Transportation Safety Board, Jennifer Homendy said Monday that “the agency was pursuing a theory that bolts that were supposed to hold the plug in place (that blew out in the Alaska Airlines incident) were never installed”. The author of the article, Peter Coy, added that “United Airlines said it had found loose bolts on similar panels on some of its Max 9 jets…(United and Alaska have all the Max 9s in the United States and two-thirds of those worldwide…).”

Following the Alaska Airlines incident, Boeing faces renewed scrutiny while awaiting certification for both its smaller MAX 7 and the larger MAX 10, crucial for competing with an Airbus (AIR.PA) model.

Concerns regarding quality issues in the aviation sector have been expressed by other carriers as well. Ryanair (RYA.I) CEO Michael O’Leary informed Reuters that although Boeing has made “tremendous strides” in production quality over the past two years, it has not reached the desired level yet.

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