The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Saturday ordered the inspection of 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft suspended from flight until then. A decision taken after an incident that occurred Friday during a flight near Portland (in Oregon), in the northwest of the United States.
After an incident that occurred Friday during a flight near Portland (in the state of Oregon), the American Federal Civil Aviation Agency (FAA) ordered, Saturday January 6, the immediate inspection of 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft suspended from flight until then.
The FAA directive “requires operators (airlines) to inspect the aircraft before a new flight,” the agency said in a press release, estimating that this operation required between 4 and 8 hours per aircraft.
According to data communicated by Boeing to AFP, some 218 copies of the 737 MAX 9 have been delivered to date.
Before the FAA’s announcement, the American airline Alaska had already neutralized all of its 65 planes of this model.
The decision followed an incident that occurred Friday shortly after an Alaska Airlines flight took off from Portland International Airport (in the northwestern state of Oregon) around 5 p.m. , local time, to Ontario (California), in the greater suburbs of Los Angeles.
According to images posted on social networks, a door opened and detached from the cabin in mid-flight. The aircraft, which was carrying 171 passengers and 6 crew members, was at an altitude of nearly 5,000 meters at the time, according to flight data from the FlightAware website.
“It was really brutal”
According to several specialists, notably the head of the specialized site The Air Current, Jon Ostrower, it seems that it is a door that is blocked and hidden by a partition which only reveals a porthole.
After turning around, the plane returned to land at its original airport, the incident causing only a few minor injuries. “The aircraft returned to land safely at Portland International Airport with all 171 passengers and six crew members,” according to a statement from Alaska Airlines.
“It was really brutal. As soon as I got to altitude, the window cover just came off and I didn’t notice it until the oxygen masks came down,” one passenger on the flight, Kyle Rinker, told the American channel CNN.
According to the Portland daily, The Oregonian, citing passengers, no one was in the seat immediately next to the blown-off partition. But the teenager who was sitting in the middle seat had his shirt torn off by the decompression, causing minor injuries, according to the daily.
“The first thing that came to my mind was ‘I’m going to die,'” Vi Nguyen told the New York Times.
A “terrifying incident”
The American Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, spoke on X (formerly Twitter) of “a terrifying incident” and said he was in contact with the FAA.
I’ve been briefed on last night’s incident and remain in close contact with FAA on the response. Grateful to the flight crew that kept passengers safe during this terrifying incident. FAA is supporting the NTSB’s investigation and will take all appropriate steps moving forward. https://t.co/dlZtUJiF4E
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) January 6, 2024
On Saturday, Alaska Airlines indicated on X that “more than a quarter” of its 737 MAX-9 fleet had been inspected since the incident and said it had not found, at this stage, “any element of concern”.
As of this morning, inspections on more than a quarter of our 737-9 fleet are complete with no concerning findings. Aircraft will return to service as their inspections are completed with our full confidence.
— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) January 6, 2024
The American transportation safety agency, the NTSB, announced that it had sent a team to Portland to investigate the reasons for this malfunction.
The incriminated device was certified in November, according to the FAA registry available online.
The manufacturer of the device, the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing, said it was gathering more information and making a technical team available to investigators, according to a reaction sent to AFP.
Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said in a statement that the airline was “working with Boeing and regulators to understand what happened.”
United Airlines and Alaska Airlines have the largest 737-9 fleets in the world. Icelandair and Turkish Airlines also use them.
The incident comes after the 737 MAX suffered a series of technical problems and two crashes in recent years. These two accidents, which caused the death of 346 people in October 2018 and March 2019, resulted in the 737 MAX being kept on the ground for 20 months, before it was re-authorized to fly.
The FAA had only authorized return to service after changes to the flight control system.
More recently, Boeing had to slow down deliveries due to problems with the fuselage, particularly with the aircraft’s rear bulkhead.
As of the end of December, Boeing has delivered a total of more than 1,370 units of the 737 MAX and its order book currently stands at more than 4,000.
Suspended by China since the crashes, deliveries of 737 MAX to the country’s companies have still not resumed.