Edited by: Katie Seemann
Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, F...
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Boeing is making headlines for the wrong reasons yet again.
2018 and 2019 saw the fatal crashes of 2 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, which killed all 346 onboard the ill-fated jets.
Fast forward to 2024, and a Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft narrowly escapes a fatal incident when part of the plane blows out in-flight.
Suffice it to say, even the most confident and frequent of flyers are doubting whether they’d feel safe on a flight operated by a Boeing 737 MAX — no matter which variant.
Has the age-old narrative that flying is the safest way to travel been thrown into question once and for all?
Let’s take a look in more detail at the issues surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX 9 and the implications it has over the safety of the aircraft type in general.
After Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft were grounded for 2 years following the fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, we’d have hoped that MAX-related drama would have been a thing of the past.
Fast forward to January 5, 2024, and the MAX aircraft suffers a serious incident once again — this time affecting a MAX 9 variant.
Shortly after Alaska Airlines flight 1282 departed Portland (PDX) bound for Ontario, California (ONT), a loud boom preceded the appearance of a gaping hole in the fuselage of the aircraft.
How there were no casualties in the incident is somewhat of a miracle.
While mobile phones that were sucked out of the aircraft and plunged 19,000 feet to the ground have been found intact, the same would not have been said had a passenger been seated by the window at the spot where the piece of the aircraft blew out.
All 171 passengers and 6 crew were unscathed, at least physically.
So, how on earth does a hole appear in the side of a plane mid-flight?
Post-incidence inspections show that loose bolts were to blame for the window panel tearing off the side of the plane.
What’s interesting about the piece in question is that the hole was an emergency exit door-shaped hole, even though there was no door there.
That’s because Boeing manufactures its Boeing 737 MAX 9s as standard but gives airlines the option to modify. Alaska Airlines decided it didn’t need the door there, so the plane was fitted with a mid-cabin door plug instead.
It’s already been confirmed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSF) — one of the bodies involved in the investigation of the accident — that the issue is very unlikely to be a design flaw. Rather, it’s more likely a fault with this aircraft part itself and whether it was fitted correctly.
When all’s said and done, the answer to the question on everyone’s lips is no — it’s not safe to fly a Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft. At least until all the relevant checks have been completed and the issue is cleared by the FAA.
Since the incident, Alaska Airlines grounded its entire fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft.
United Airlines — the only other U.S. airline to operate the aircraft type — did the same thing after inspecting its aircraft and finding similar issues with loose bolts.
Thankfully, this has resulted in the FAA grounding all of the 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes that are operated by airlines in the U.S.
However, FlightRadar24 shows that at least 5 airlines around the world, such as Copa Airlines, Corendon, Fly Dubai, IcelandAir, and (the unfortunately named) SCAT Airlines, are still operating their MAX 9s despite the safety fears.
In the case of FlyDubai, the airline confirmed to Gulf News that its MAX 9 aircraft do not feature the mid-cabin door plug — the part of the aircraft that blew off the Alaska flight.
When all’s said and done, many of you are probably wondering if there’s anything you can do if you happen to find yourself booked on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft — or any other MAX for that matter.
As it stands, you won’t be scheduled on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft if you’re based in the U.S., as Alaska and United have grounded their fleets of the beleaguered jet until further notice.
However, should you find yourself booked on a Copa Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to Central or South America or any other MAX 9 around the world, then we recommend getting in touch with the airline in question to see what your options are.
Let’s call a spade a spade: the common denominator in both the MAX 8 and MAX 9 issues is Boeing.
But why Boeing? And how can a series of events have unfolded?
Dave Calhoun, CEO at Boeing, has himself apologized for this latest incident, calling out the manufacturer’s error, “We’re going to want to know what broke down in our gauntlet of inspections, what broke down in the original work that allowed for that escape to happen.”
Following the events of 2018 and 2019’s fatalities, Boeing’s prioritization of finances over safety was highlighted in Rory Kennedy’s Netflix “Downfall, The Case Against Boeing.”
“The McDonnell Douglas merger is a seminal moment in Boeing’s history when they really start to prioritize profits over safety,” explained Kennedy in a recent interview on BBC Radio 4.
Even penny-pinching Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, a huge customer of Boeing 737 aircraft due to their price competitivity compared to Airbus, was quoted by Reuters as saying, “We ourselves have found minor issues on aircraft deliveries that shouldn’t be occurring in a world-class manufacturer like Boeing, and I think Boeing have more to do on the quality control side.”
Boeing plans to make sure there is never a repeat of the Alaska Airlines incident.
“All of the work that we have to do in the background in the quality systems to ensure that on an ongoing basis that never happens again, that work is ahead of us, but we are committed to doing it,” said Calhoun.
However, given the same fatal incident occurred twice with the MAX 8, can we really trust Boeing’s word? The safety record of Boeing is certainly hanging in the balance, at least for its MAX 9 aircraft.
Hopefully, the troubled manufacturer learns some serious lessons before the Boeing 777X with its folding wingtips eventually comes into commercial service.
The term coined in the industry of “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going” should now be changed to “If it’s Boeing, it’s not going.”
While several questions surrounding the January 5 incident remain unanswered, one thing for sure is that there has been a clear oversight by Boeing regarding its MAX 9 aircraft.
Here’s hoping we never witness an incident of this kind again and that Boeing finally learns from its mistakes: Safety in aviation should always be the number 1 priority.
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