What’s Going On with Boeing 737 MAX Airplanes?

What’s Going On with Boeing 737 MAX Airplanes?

After several incidents involving Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplanes in the last six months, many air travelers are now concerned for their safety. Further discoveries of loose bolts in MAX 9s afterward prove even more concerning, as this suggests that the incident of January 5, where a door plug flew off the plane, was not due to bad luck. 

Door plugs—not plug doors, which swing inward for passengers to board the plane—are emergency exit doors that have been closed off and integrated into the plane’s walls. While this may sound dangerous at first, it is permitted on planes that carry fewer than the maximum number of passengers allowed for that particular model. Many higher-priced airlines add fewer seats to increase leg room. Additionally, using door plugs also reduces the plane’s weight and repair costs. They stay in place during takeoff using four bolts and twelve ‘fittings’ for further security. 

After Portland resident Bob Sauer found the door plug from the Alaska Airlines plane in his backyard, National Transportation Safety Board inspectors found that all four bolts were missing. The error was traced to Boeing’s manufacturing partner, Spirit AeroSystems, where factory workers removed the bolts to repair a damaged door frame but never reinstalled them. Fortunately, the plane’s structure itself was not compromised, and no one was severely injured. It was forced to return to the PDX tarmac after just 30 minutes. Following demands for answers from politicians, shareholders, and travelers alike, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said, ​​

“Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened. An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory. We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers. We are implementing a comprehensive plan to strengthen quality and the confidence of our stakeholders. It will take significant, demonstrated action and transparency at every turn – and that is where we are squarely focused.”

United Airlines also discovered loose bolts in its 737 MAX 9s following the Federal Aviation Administration’s audit, which grounded 171 airplanes in total. 144 of these planes belong to United and Alaska Airlines. It is also worth noting that United experienced an engine fire during taxi in June 2023, but it received much less media attention. While it is fortunate that no one was hurt in these incidents, no one should have to fear for their safety during travel for work, vacation, or family visits when government regulations are supposed to prevent them. It is crucial that airlines and aircraft manufacturers are transparent about their practices and prioritize customer safety over saving money.

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