US grounds some Boeing 737 Max 9 planes after Alaska Airlines blowout

All 174 passengers and six crew are safe after a window and fuselage blew out midair, forcing an emergency landing.

Boeing Max 9
Boeing's 737 Max 9 at a production facility in Renton, Washington, United States [File: Jason Redmond/ Reuters]

Federal officials in the United States have ordered the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliners until they are inspected, after an Alaska Airlines plane suffered a blowout that left a gaping hole in the side of the fuselage.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Mike Whitaker said on Saturday that the agency is requiring immediate inspections of certain planes before they can return to flight. The order impacts 171 aeroplanes worldwide. Required inspections will take around four to eight hours per aircraft.

In a statement on Saturday, Boeing said it fully supports the FAA decision.

Earlier on Saturday, Alaska Airlines said it was grounding its fleet of 737-9 aircraft after an incident the previous day saw a plane window and piece of fuselage blow out midair, forcing an emergency landing in Portland, in the US state of Oregon.

The incident took place shortly after takeoff and the hole caused the cabin to depressurise. Flight data showed the plane climbed to 16,000 feet (4,876 metres) before returning to Portland International Airport.

The airline said Flight 1282 – which was bound for Ontario, California – landed safely with 174 passengers and six crew members.

CEO Ben Minicucci said in a statement that the airline had “decided to take the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft”.

As of Saturday morning, inspections on more than a quarter of the fleet were complete “with no concerning findings,” Alaska Airlines said.

Each jet will be returned to service after full maintenance and safety inspections, which Minicucci said the airline anticipated completing within days.

Alaska Airlines has not provided further information about the possible cause, but the United States National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA have said they would investigate the incident.

The new Boeing 737 Max 9 involved in the incident was delivered in late October to Alaska Airlines and certified in early November, according to FAA data.

US aircraft manufacturer Boeing said it was aware of the emergency landing, working to gather more information and ready to support the investigation.

The Max is the newest version of Boeing’s 737 and went into service in May 2017.

All Boeing 737 Max jets were grounded worldwide for nearly two years after two crashes: the first in Indonesia in October 2018 killed 189 people, and the second plane crashed five months later in Ethiopia, killing 157 people.

The aircraft were cleared to fly again after Boeing overhauled an automated flight-control system that activated erroneously in both crashes.

Boeing is awaiting certification of its smaller 737 Max-7 and larger Max-10 jets.

The FAA has carefully scrutinised the Max for years. In 2021, it said that it was tracking all 737 Max aeroplanes using satellite data.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies