The safety of the traveling public tops all other concerns when it comes to Boeing's 737 Max 9 plane, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said safety will dictate the timeline of returning Boeing’s 737 Max 9 aircraft to service following the sudden loss of a door plug on an Alaska Airlines plane.
“The only consideration for the timeline is safety,” he said at the U.S. Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “Until it is ready, it’s not ready. Nobody can or should be rushed in that process.”
The Federal Aviation Administration paused inspections of the 737-9 on Tuesday as it awaits final instructions from Boeing how to inspect and maintain planes. The agency temporarily grounded all 737-9s with door plugs on Saturday.
Alaska said Wednesday that it has cancelled all 737-9 flights through Saturday. And United Airlines told pilots on Wednesday that it expects “meaningful” cancellations through Thursday as a result of the grounding.
Alaska and United are the only U.S. operators of the 737-9 with 65 and 79 planes, respectively. Aeromexico, Copa Airlines, and Turkish Airlines are among international carriers affected by the grounding order.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun on Wednesday told CNBC that “quality escape” was behind the sudden decompression and loss of the door plug on an Alaska flight on January 5. The plug, which is located partway between the wings and rear of the 737-9, is installed by supplier Spirit AeroSystems and checked by Boeing at its factory before planes are delivered to airlines.
The 737-9 operating the Alaska flight was delivered new on October 31.
Both Alaska and United have found loose hardware related to the door plug in their initial 737-9 inspections.
Asked about the quality of Boeing’s production line, Buttigieg said: “Every plane that they deliver to an airline, every plane that goes into the skies needs to be 100% safe. And they need to be able to demonstrate that.”
Buttigieg said he has spoken to Calhoun about the accident, as well as the leaders of both Alaska and United.
The FAA approves each new aircraft delivery. However, Buttigieg noted that the regulator does not inspect every aircraft that rolls out of Boeing’s factories.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Alaska accident.
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