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Alaska Airlines Grounding its Fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 9 Aircraft After Rapid Depressurization Accident

Alaska Airlines Grounding its Fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 9 Aircraft After Rapid Depressurization Accident

a man sitting in an airplane

Alaska Airlines has temporarily grounded all 65 of its Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft after a deactivated emergency exit door blew out of a brand new aircraft of the variant during a flight from Portland to Ontario, California on Friday night.

Embattled CEO Ben Minicucci said it would take at least several days to inspect the aircraft as part of an urgent review, which he promised would be conducted “in a timely and transparent way.”

a person standing in the back of an airplane
Alaska flight 1282

Alaska Airlines flight 1282 departed Portland at approximately 5:06 pm on Friday and climbed to around 16,300 feet before the deactivated exit suddenly blew out, and the pilots initiated an emergency descent.

There were 171 passengers and six crew onboard the aircraft. One of the four flight attendants suffered a minor injury during the incident.

The Boeing 737 MAX 9 has a maximum of 10 emergency exits, which comprise two sets of full-sized doors at the front and rear of the aircraft, four window-sized overwing exits, and a set of half-sized emergency exits approximately two-thirds down the aircraft.

a white airplane with a door open
Alaska flight 1282

The half-sized exits are designed for high-capacity configurations of the MAX 9, but in the layout chosen by Alaska, these exits have been permanently deactivated or, in aviation speak ‘plugged’.

From a passenger’s viewpoint, there is no way of knowing that you are sitting at a plugged exit because the cabin looks normal from the inside. From the outside, however, you can see the outline of where an exit could be.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which represents crew members at the Seattle-based airline, welcomed the decision to temporarily ground the 737 MAX 9 fleet, saying it was a “prudent and necessary step toward ensuring the utmost safety of all crewmembers and passengers”.

Alaska Airlines is expected to cancel hundreds of flights in the coming days as a result of its voluntary decision to ground 737 MAX 9 aircraft. The airline is yet to confirm how many flights will be impacted by the inspections.

The damaged aircraft with registration N704A was only delivered to Alaska Airlines in early December 2023. There are reports that there had been pressurization issues with the aircraft in the days leading up to the accident.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the accident, while Boeing says it is supporting Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines plans to add around 15 more Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to its fleet, alongside MAX 8 and MAX 10 variants. In the last few days, the airline had boasted about the “terrific results” it had seen from flying the MAX 9 in terms of passenger satisfaction, economics and fuel efficiency.

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