Boeing's problems with its 737 Max aircraft are far from limited to the recent blowout aboard an Alaska Airlines flight. Here's a rundown of some of those issues.
The recent blowout aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 is just the latest problem Boeing has faced with its 737 Max aircraft. The accident prompted Alaska and United Airlines to cancel hundreds of flights as the Federal Aviation Administration ordered the temporary grounding of certain 737 Maxes so affected carriers could examine them.
But as those inspections have been paused, it’s uncertain when those planes will return to service. So what is the history of the Boeing 737 Max’s problems?
We asked Ask Skift, our artificial intelligence chatbot, that question. Ask Skift used information that appeared in our past news coverage and research. We also conducted further reporting on the subject.
Ask Skift said:
The Boeing 737 Max has had several issues in its history. The most significant of these were two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 in Ethiopia and Indonesia, collectively causing the deaths of 346 people. These crashes were linked to poorly designed cockpit software, resulting in the 737 Max being grounded globally for 20 months. The aircraft was recertified by the FAA for passenger flights in November 2020.
Since its recertification, there have been no notable incidents with the Max for three years and hundreds of planes have been sold to airlines worldwide. However, in late December, Boeing discovered a nut that was not properly tightened in an undelivered aircraft after an international operator discovered a bolt with a missing nut in a rudder-control system. Boeing recommended that airlines inspect their 737 Max airplanes.
In January 2024, a two-month-old 737-9 experienced sudden decompression after a section of the plane’s fuselage blew off shortly after takeoff. The plane was able to land safely and no one was seriously injured. The incident led to the temporary grounding of the 737 Max 9s for inspections by several airlines, including Alaska Airlines. The FAA is closely monitoring the inspections and is prepared to take additional action if more loose or missing hardware is found.
What else you need to know:
The recent blowout is far from the only problem the 737 Maxes have experienced since they returned to service after being grounded globally for 20 months.
More than 100 Boeing 737 Max aircraft were grounded in April 2021 following the discovery of a potential electrical problem, which the FAA said could impact how certain systems operate, including engine ice protection. And in April 2023, Boeing said that it had discovered a manufacturing issue with several 737 Max aircraft, but added that those jets could fly while inspections were taking place.
The planemaker told CNN a supplier used a “non-standard manufacturing process” during the installation of two fittings in the rear fuselage. Boeing didn’t disclose how many many 737 Max planes were affected, aside from describing it as a “significant number.” The company halted deliveries of some 737 Max jets that month due to a problem with supplier Spirit AeroSystems, which caused its shares to fall 7% at the time.
Speaking of delayed deliveries, Boeing said in a July 2023 SEC filing that the first handover of the new 737 Max 7 would be postponed to 2024. The FAA had told Boeing in October 2022 that several key documents submitted as part of the agency’s certification review of the 737 Max 7 hadn’t been completed while others needed to be reassessed by the company.
Boeing then identified another 737 Max quality problem in August 2023 involving Spirit AeroSystems, a defect the planemaker said would delay near-term handovers to customers. Deliveries of the 737 Max fell in September to their lowest level since August 2021, which the company attributed to the work needed to correct improperly drilled holes on the aft pressure bulkhead.
More recently, Boeing asked airlines last month to inspect all of their 737 Max aircraft for a potential loose bolt in the rudder system, which is used to control and stabilize the aircraft during a flight.
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Photo credit: Image from the NTSB investigation of the Jan. 5 accident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on a Boeing 737 Max 9. National Transportation Safety Board / Flickr