The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority has issued seemingly contradictory orders around Boeing’s ongoing safety woes.
The beleaguered manufacturer’s 737 Max 9s are to be allowed to fly again after passing a new inspection regime but, in news that will hardly reassure flyers (or investors) the plane’s production lines are not yet deemed safe enough to increase output, the FAA has said.
After a near-mid-air disaster on 5 January when a Max 9’s “door plug” blew out during an Alaska Airlines flight at a little under 5,000 metres altitude (16,400 ft), depressurising the plane and triggering an emergency descent and landing, the FAA grounded the Max 9 fleet pending tests.
Industry insiders and whistleblowers went on to reiterate claims that key safety inspections were being removed or “rushed” and, as if for confirmation, this was shortly followed up by further incidents before the month was out: an engine fire on an Atlas Air Boeing cargo flight; and a nose wheel falling off a Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 just before take-off at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
No expansion of production lines
FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker announced last week that, after an “exhaustive, enhanced review” the FAA had the “confidence to proceed” on the Max 9 issue, as long as the aircraft were subject to a new suite of detailed inspection and maintenance instructions endorsed by a Corrective Action Review Board (CARB), made up of safety experts.
Whitaker was however at pains to emphasise this would not mean “business as usual for Boeing”.
We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the 737 Max until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved.Mike Whitaker, FAA Administrator
12 hours of checks
Neither is it business as usual for the airlines unfortunate enough to have the Max 9s as part of their fleet. Since the grounding of the U.S.’s United and Alaska fleets, around 100 flights per day on average have had to be cancelled by the carriers.
Alaska Airlines noted that the new regime of checks, which, according to the FAA newsroom, includes:
- an inspection of specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings
- detailed visual inspections of left and right mid-cabin exit door plugs and dozens of associated components
- retorquing fasteners
- correcting any damage or abnormal conditions
was “expected to take up to 12 hours for each plane” and with 65 of the planes in the fleet, this could take some time. “We’ll add more planes back into service every day as inspections are completed and each aircraft is deemed airworthy,” the airline added. “We expect inspections on all our 737-9 MAX to be completed over the next week.”