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FAA Orders Grounding of Certain Boeing 737 MAX 9 Aircraft After ‘Explosive’ Blowout On Alaska Airlines Flight

FAA Orders Grounding of Certain Boeing 737 MAX 9 Aircraft After ‘Explosive’ Blowout On Alaska Airlines Flight

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered the temporary grounding of some Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft after an ‘explosive’ blowout on a brand new Alaska Airlines aircraft on Friday evening.

In response to the accident, the FAA has ordered US carriers operating the variant, as well as some foreign carriers which fly the aircraft in US territory, to ground the planes until urgent inspections are carried out.

The Emergency Airworthiness Directive was made hours after Alaska Airlines elected to voluntarily ground its entire fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft until urgent checks had been carried out.

By Saturday afternoon, Alaska Airlines said it had already inspected around a quarter of its MAX 9 fleet with “no concerning findings”. Inspected aircraft have already returned to service, although the Seattle-based carrier warned that cancellations should be expected over the coming days.

Global attention has yet again focused on the safety of the 737 MAX family after a deactivated emergency exit door on a roughly two-month-old 737-9 suddenly blew out as Alaska Airlines flight 1282 with service from Portland to Ontario, California was climbing out above 16,000 feet shortly after takeoff on Friday evening.

Miraculously, there were no serious injuries, and of the 171 passengers and six crew members onboard, only one flight attendant sustained minor injuries.

“Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB’s investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282,” commented FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker as the agency announced its emergency directive.

“The FAA is requiring immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes before they can return to flight,” Whitaker continued.

Around 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplanes are affected by the grounding order, including around 79 aircraft operated by United Airlines. The carrier said 33 MAX 9 jets had already received the necessary inspection and had been returned to service.

Following the accident, the pilots of the Alaska Airlines aircraft made a successful emergency landing back at Portland, where the NTSB is sending a ‘Go Team’ which includes experts in structures, operations and systems.

In a statement, Boeing said it agreed with and supported the FAA’s decision to order emergency inspections of MAX 9 aircraft that share the same configuration as the Alaska Airlines airplane.

These aircraft have a set of deactivated or ‘plugged’ emergency exits approximately two-thirds of the way down the fuselage. The exits are only necessary when the aircraft is set up in a high-capacity configuration but are otherwise blocked up.

A spokesperson for the embattled aircraft manufacturer said it was supporting the NTSB in its investigation.

Deactivated emergency exits are not unique to the Boeing 737 MAX and are also present on some older 737 models, as well as certain Airbus A321neo variants.

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