After a very safe year as far as aviation went in 2023, last Friday, an Alaska Airlines plane suffering from a mid-air blowout caused some disturbance in the industry, which led to all Boeing 737-9s being grounded. A few days after the incident, it has been made clear that pilots reported pressurisation warnings on three flights prior to the incident which left none hurt.
Shortly after take-off in Portland, with 171 passengers and 6 crew members aboard, the 737-9 MAX aircraft was forced to circle back and make an emergency landing because of its depressurisation following the blowout of part of a cabin exit door. According to a passenger called Diego Murillo, the gap left was “as wide as a refrigerator”. The blowout not only caused the cockpit’s door to open but also made a laminated checklist and the first officer’s headset disappear into the air.
Reminder to keep your seatbelt on at all times when flying.— Zero State Reflex (@ZeroStateReflex) January 6, 2024
737 window piece blew out beginning of flight. Just saw the article. Jfc, imagine that happening at 30k..😬
I think this is that flight… nobody was hurt and landed safely. https://t.co/srDBorVNCV#alaskaairlines pic.twitter.com/1YtFUlX0g7
Following the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all Boeing 737-9s with a so-called “plug” exit door in order to perform a safety inspection.
“While we await the airworthiness directive (AD) inspection criteria from the FAA and Boeing, our maintenance teams are prepared and ready to perform the required inspections of the mid exit door plugs on our 737-9 MAX fleet. The 737-9 MAX grounding has significantly impacted our operation. We have cancelled 170 Sunday flights and 60 cancellations for Monday, with more expected”, Alaska Airlines said in a statement.
The fact that the warning signs had been on during three previous flights has been shared by Jennifer Homendy, chair of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Alaska Airlines decided to restrict the aircraft from long flights over water so that the plane “could return very quickly to an airport” if the warning light reappeared, said Jennifer Homendy.
Ms. Homendy cautioned that the pressurisation light might be unrelated to Friday’s incident in which a plug covering an unused exit door blew off the Boeing 737 Max 9 as it cruised about three miles over Oregon.
The warning light came on during three previous flights: on December 7, January 3 and finally on January 4, the day before the door plug broke off. Homendy explained she did not have all the details regarding the December 7 incident but specified the light came on during a flight on January 3 and on January 4 after the plane had landed.
However, at this moment, with the new information that has come to light, it is uncertain whether or not grounding is actually necessary.