The FAA gave airlines the greenlight to begin inspecting affected Boeing 737 Max 9s, but the planes will remain grounded until operators complete all inspections.
The FAA said Monday that airlines can begin inspecting more than 100 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes after a section of the fuselage on an Alaska Airlines jet blew off shortly after takeoff.
An FAA spokesperson said the agency approved a method that complies with its 737-9 emergency airworthiness directive and it has been provided to the affected carriers.
The FAA decided to temporarily ground certain 737-9s after a door plug on an Alaska Airlines plane suddenly fell off on Friday. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the accident.
That missing plug was found Sunday night in a schoolteacher’s backyard in Cedar Hills, Oregon, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said on Sunday.
The agency added that the 737-9 will continue to remain grounded until operators complete inspections on both the left and right door plugs, door components and fasteners. Carriers also have to complete any corrective requirements to the aircraft following inspections before the 737 Max 9 can go back into service.
Inspections on the 737-9 had been delayed as carriers waited for Boeing to issue guidelines.
The FAA said inspections should take around four to eight hours for each plane.
Alaska and United Airlines are the only two U.S. carriers that operate the 737-9, but the FAA’s directive also affects international carriers that fly the plane into the U.S. Aeromexico and Copa Airlines operate the 737-9 for U.S. flights.
The grounding also forced Alaska and United to cancel hundreds of flights. As of Monday afternoon, Alaska had 141 canceled flights, United had 228, according to FlightAware.
Homendy said during a press conference Saturday night that the NTSB was so far only concerned with the singular Alaska aircraft rather than the whole 737-9 fleet.
“We are not focused on the fleet,” Homendy said. “But nothing is out. We’ll go where the investigation takes us.”
The Alaska accident comes as Boeing now faces renewed scrutiny for the 737 Max. The plane was grounded for nearly two years until November 2020 after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Since then, the 737 Max has become one of Boeing’s best-selling planes, with airlines placing hundreds of orders for the aircraft.
Boeing shares traded down nearly 7% on Monday.
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