FAA Investigating Boeing After Door Panel Falls Off Midflight

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it’s launching an investigation into Boeing after a plug sealing off an emergency exit ripped off midair on an Alaska Airlines flight last week.

The FAA said it has notified Boeing of the investigation, which will determine whether the aircraft manufacturer failed to confirm that the design of its 737-9 Max jets were safe.

“This incident should have never happened and it cannot happen again,” the FAA said in a statement, adding: “Boeing’s manufacturing practices need to comply with the high safety standards they’re legally accountable to meet.”

News of the investigation follows an incident last Friday in which an Alaska Airlines flight took off from Portland, Oregon, only to have a panel plugging an emergency exit blow out shortly after takeoff. The jet carrying 171 passengers returned to Portland without any serious injuries on board.

This photo released by the National Transportation Safety Board shows a gaping hole where the paneled-over door had been at the fuselage plug area of an Alaska Airlines flight.
This photo released by the National Transportation Safety Board shows a gaping hole where the paneled-over door had been at the fuselage plug area of an Alaska Airlines flight.

via Associated Press

An official with the National Transportation Safety Board described the harrowing incident at a news conference Sunday, saying the rush of air into the jet damaged several rows of seats, ripped insulation from the walls, forced open the cockpit door and ripped the headsets off the captain and co-pilot.

The FAA responded by grounding every Max 9 aircraft configured with a door plug sealing up an emergency exit. Alaska and United Airlines ― the only U.S. airlines using the Max 9 ― have the door plugs in place because they’ve configured their Max 9 jets to accommodate a maximum of 180 passengers, necessitating fewer emergency exit doors.

While the emergency exit door is held shut by air pressure, making it impossible to open midflight, the door plugs are held in place by bolts and look like a regular part of the cabin wall from inside the jet.

Following the incident, both Alaska and United conducted inspections and confirmed they found loose bolts on the door plugs of some of their Max 9 aircrafts.

Boeing’s 737 model jets have been plagued with problems since launching service in 2017. The jets were grounded worldwide between March 2019 and December 2020 after two incidents after a Lion Air flight crashed in 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just months later. The accidents, which killed all people on board, were due to a problem with the 737 model’s flight stabilizing system.

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