Alaska and United could return 737 MAX 9s to skies in coming days

The Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft is set to return to the skies after being grounded following an incident on an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this month. The incident involved a door plug explosively blowing out of the aircraft during flight, raising concerns about the safety of the planes. However, both Alaska and United Airlines have now received final instructions from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for inspecting their fleets of MAX 9 aircraft, which have been grounded since the Jan. 5 incident.

Alaska Airlines announced on Wednesday that it will begin detailed inspections of its MAX 9 aircraft and plans to return the jets to service once each inspection is completed. The inspections involve removing rows of seats, paneling, and opening the door plug itself to check for any problems and make repairs if necessary. United Airlines, the largest U.S. operator of the aircraft, also reported that it received final inspection instructions on Wednesday.

Each inspection is expected to take around 12 hours, and Alaska Airlines expects its first few MAX 9s to begin flying as soon as Friday, with the remaining inspections completed over the next week. The airline hopes to return more planes to service each day as inspections are completed and each aircraft is deemed airworthy. Alaska Airlines has a total of 65 MAX 9s in its fleet.

Similarly, United Airlines plans to start returning its MAX 9s to service as soon as Sunday following the detailed inspections required by the FAA. United Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Toby Enqvist emphasized that each aircraft will only be returned to service once the thorough inspection process is complete. United Airlines has 79 MAX 9s in its fleet.

The grounding of the MAX 9 jet has resulted in thousands of flight cancellations in the U.S. alone this month. The uncertainty surrounding when the aircraft would be able to resume service was further heightened when both Alaska and United reported finding loose bolts around the door plug on other MAX 9s. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still investigating the Alaska Flight 1282 incident.

Given the recent incidents, it’s understandable that travelers may be wary of the return of the MAX 9 aircraft. However, FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker reassured the public that only aircraft deemed fully safe to fly will be allowed to return to commercial service. He stated that the enhanced review conducted by the FAA gives him confidence to proceed with the inspection and maintenance phase before resuming operations.

In addition to allowing the MAX 9 to return to service, the FAA announced that it will not permit Boeing to expand its production of the 737 MAX aircraft until the quality control issues uncovered are resolved. Boeing, on the other hand, plans to hold a series of “quality stand downs” to address these issues. During these sessions, employees will pause their work for a day to focus on quality-related discussions.

Boeing has faced significant criticism from regulators, lawmakers, and airlines following the inflight emergency on Jan. 5. The company’s reputation and safety record have been called into question, and it is now under pressure to address the concerns raised by the incidents.

Overall, the return of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to service is a significant development for the aviation industry. The detailed inspections and maintenance procedures being carried out by Alaska and United Airlines, along with the FAA’s scrutiny, aim to ensure the safety of these planes before they are allowed to fly again. However, it will take time for travelers to regain confidence in the aircraft, and Boeing will need to demonstrate that it has resolved the quality control issues that have been raised.

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