Safety Concerns Ground Boeing 737 Max 9 Fleet Over Loose Bolts

United Airlines disclosed the grounding of several Boeing 737 Max 9 planes due to the discovery of loose bolts on door plugs during inspections prompted by a recent alarming incident on an Alaska Airlines flight. On January 6, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the grounding of dozens of 737 Max 9s following an incident on Alaska Flight 1282. This move initiated widespread inspections across the affected aircraft.

The statement from United Airlines emphasised the preliminary findings during inspections, stating, “Since we began preliminary inspections on Saturday, we have found instances that appear to relate to installation issues in the door plug—for example, bolts that needed additional tightening. These findings will be remedied by our Tech Ops team to safely return the aircraft to service.”

Responding to the situation, Boeing issued guidance for airlines to conduct thorough inspections of the Max 9s in their fleets. The aerospace manufacturer expressed a commitment to ensuring the adherence of every Boeing aeroplane to design specifications, safety standards, and high-quality benchmarks. Boeing also conveyed regret for the disruption caused to customers and passengers due to these circumstances.

The recent incident on Alaska Airlines, fortunately, did not result in severe injuries. However, the forceful panel blowout during the flight caused headrests and seat backs to be forcibly ripped from the cabin. Additionally, the cockpit door was violently flung open. Federal safety investigations revealed that if this incident occurred at cruising altitude, when passengers and crews typically move around the cabin, the consequences could have been much graver.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy reported that the missing part from the incident was later discovered in a backyard in Portland. A local school teacher named Bob found the part and promptly contacted the NTSB. This discovery emphasises the potential hazards associated with structural malfunctions during flights and underscores the necessity for stringent inspections and safety measures.

This incident adds to the ongoing scrutiny of the Boeing 737 Max series, which faced a global grounding after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019. While the recent events did not result in a repeat of such tragic outcomes, they highlight the continuous importance of prioritising safety measures in the aviation industry.