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US aviation regulators said on Friday that the 737 Max 9 would stay grounded until Boeing provides additional data.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it wanted to analyse data from inspections of an initial group of 40 of the roughly 170 grounded jets before it decided whether to lift the flying ban it imposed following a harrowing mid-air blowout of a fuselage section on an Alaska Airlines flight.
“We are working to make sure nothing like this happens again,” FAA administrator Michael Whitaker said.
Boeing said earlier this week that it had provided instructions to airlines on how to inspect the planes. But the FAA said it needed more information before signing off on the regimen, though it added it was “encouraged by the exhaustive nature of Boeing’s instructions for inspections and maintenance”.
United Airlines, which flies more Max 9s than any carrier, said on Friday it was cancelling flights on the plane through to Tuesday, giving it more time to manoeuvre as it braced for winter storms across much of the US.
“By cancelling this far in advance, we’re trying to create more certainty for our customers and more flexibility for our frontline teams to do their work,” the airline said.
Earlier on Friday the FAA said it was considering whether to strip Boeing of its right to conduct some of its aircraft inspections for planes leaving its factories.
The move to review the oversight programme, where Boeing’s own employees certify aircraft safety on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, was prompted by the grounding of some 737 Max 9s following the mid-air incident over Oregon last Friday. The so-called “organisation designation authorisation” earlier came under scrutiny when two Boeing 737 Max 8s crashed in 2018 and 2019.
Whitaker said the FAA was “exploring” its options for using an independent third-party to oversee inspections of Boeing’s aircraft and its quality controls.
“It is time to re-examine the delegation of authority and assess any associated safety risks,” he said. “The grounding of the 737-9 and the multiple production-related issues identified in recent years [at Boeing] require us to look at every option to reduce risk.”
The regulator also said it plans to immediately increase its oversight of Boeing’s production. The FAA opened an investigation on Thursday into whether the planes Boeing builds match the specifications it has laid out.
The FAA said it will audit the 737 Max 9 production line and its suppliers “to evaluate Boeing’s compliance with its approved quality procedures”, with further audits conducted as necessary.
Spirit AeroSystems, which supplies the Max’s fuselage, including the door panel section that came off the plane operated by Alaska Airlines, has been in the spotlight over the past year for quality lapses.
The plugged door panel arrived on Friday at the laboratory of the National Transportation Safety Board, part of its accident investigation.
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell sent a letter yesterday to the FAA questioning the agency’s role in inspecting aircraft manufactured by Boeing. Cantwell said she asked a year ago for an audit of certain areas related to Boeing’s production, and the regulator told her it was unnecessary.
“Recent accidents and incidents — including the expelled door plug on Alaska Airlines flight 1282 — call into question Boeing’s quality control,” she said. “In short, it appears that FAA’s oversight processes have not been effective in ensuring that Boeing produces aeroplanes that are in condition for safe operation.”
The FAA also said it would increase its monitoring of any disruptions Max 9s have during operations. However, the planes are not operating, except outside US territory. There are about 215 worldwide — the Max 9 is a less popular variant than the Max 8, which has fewer seats — and the FAA grounded the 171 Boeing jets on Saturday following the incident on Alaska Airlines 1282.
The regulator reiterated on Friday what it had said throughout the week: “The safety of the flying public, not speed, will determine the timeline for returning the Boeing 737-9 Max to service.”
Boeing said: “We welcome the FAA’s announcement and will co-operate fully and transparently with our regulator. We support all actions that
strengthen quality and safety and we are taking actions across our
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