Nearly 200 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes are grounded around the world today, mostly in North America, as aviation authorities and airlines deal with the fallout from Friday’s Alaska Airlines mid-air cabin blowout.
According to NBC News, the door plug which was the cause of the blowout was discovered in an Oregon backyard.
The website FlightAware.com reports some 467 Alaska Airlines’ flights have been cancelled since Saturday, while United had cancelled 589.
The Federal Aviation Administration in Washington D.C. announced on the weekend that it was grounding 171 MAX 9’s in the wake of the incident, in which a sealed cabin “door plug” that was bolted to the fuselage of an Alaskan Airlines plane blew off after the plane departed from Portland, Oregon on Friday night. Authorities say they found the plug in the backyard of a home in suburban Portland, and are investigating the cause of the incident, which took place at 16,000 feet.
Not all MAX 9’s have a door plug, but some airlines use them to cover up unused emergency exits.
Media accounts say clothes were ripped off people’s bodies, and that the force of the wind suddenly bursting through the open section of the plane even whipped the headset off one of the pilots.
NPR said flight crew members desccribed the atmosphere aboard last Friday's Alaska Airlines-operated Boeing 737 Max 9 flight as chaotic, "loud" and "very violent"
Alaska has 65 MAX 9’s in its fleet, while United has 79; more than any airline in the world.
No Canadian airlines use the MAX 9, but MAX 8’s are widely used by Air Canada and WestJet.
“Air Canada has only the Boeing 737-8 version of the MAX aircraft in its fleet. We have 40 of these aircraft and they have performed very reliably with an excellent safety record,” an Air Canada spokesperson told CTV News. “The mid-cabin exit door configuration only applies to the 737 MAX 9, and is not present on our 737 MAX 8.”
WestJet made a similar statement.
“I can confirm that WestJet does not operate any MAX 9 aircraft and that the MAX 8 we do operate does not have the same door in question with this event,” a spokesperson for the airline told CTV. “WestJet remains in constant communication with the manufacturer and regulator to ensure that there are no specific impacts to the MAX 8 fleet.”
ALASKA FACING SAFETY SCRUTINY
Multiple reports quote the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board as saying that airline authorities had ordered that particular plane not be used for long over water flights because decreased air pressure lights had come on during three previous flights.
But it wasn’t immediately clear if there is a link between the door plug blowout and the warning light issue.
Alaska Airlines decided to restrict the aircraft from long flights over water so the plane “could return very quickly to an airport” if the warning light reappeared, said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Homendy said that “an additional maintenance look" was requested but "not completed" before the incident.
The plane began service in October, 2023.
The BBC said Boeing planned an all-employee meeting about safety on 08JAN to address its response to the incident.
"When serious accidents like this occur, it is critical for us to work transparently with our customers and regulators to understand and address the causes of the event, and to ensure they don't happen again," said Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun.
Authorities across the globe grounded Max 8 planes for nearly two years after a Lion Air flight crashed in Indonesia in 2018, and an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 crashed in 2019. Boeing later changed an automated flight control system that had been implicated in the crashes.