Boeing reinstalls panel that later flew off 737 Max jet

Boeing reinstalls panel that later flew off 737 Max jet

Nearly three weeks after a hole appeared in a Boeing 737 Max 9 during an Alaska Airlines flight, scaring passengers, new details about the jet’s production are intensifying scrutiny of Boeing’s quality-control practices.

About a month before the Max 9 was delivered to Alaska Airlines in October, workers at Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington, blew panels off the plane’s structure and later reinstalled them, according to a person familiar with the matter. Did.

Workers opened the panel, known as a door plug, because they needed to work on its rivets — which are often used to connect and secure parts on planes — said the person, who declined to be named. Requested to be printed because the person is not authorized to speak publicly when the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation.

The request to open the plug came from employees at Spirit AeroSystems, a supplier that makes bodies for the 737 Max in Wichita, Kan. After Boeing employees complied, Spirit workers located at Boeing’s Renton factory repaired the rivets. After this, Boeing employees reinstalled the door.

An internal system that tracks maintenance work at the facility that assembles 737s shows requests for maintenance but does not contain information about whether the door plugs were inspected after they were replaced, the person said. Had gone or not.

Details may begin to answer the key question of why the door plug from Flight 1282 separated at 16,000 feet, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing at Oregon’s Portland International Airport just minutes after takeoff on Jan. 5 . The door is plugged where the emergency exit door would be if the jet had more seats. To stay in place, the plug relies primarily on a pair of bolts at the top and another pair at the bottom, as well as metal pins and pads on the sides.

seattle times informed of Earlier on Wednesday, Boeing had removed and reinstalled the door plug.

The FAA on Wednesday approved detailed instructions on how airlines should inspect door plugs on about 170 grounded planes. The instructions tell airlines to reinstall the fasteners on the door plugs, check the plugs’ bolts and fittings, and repair any damage they find. Airlines can start flying the jets again after completing the inspection.

Also on Wednesday, Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun met privately with lawmakers in Congress. It was the second time in recent years that the company and its leaders had to answer for serious problems with its planes. In 2018 and 2019, two crashes of the 737 Max 8 killed 346 people.

“The American flying public and Boeing Line employees deserve a culture of leadership at Boeing that puts safety before profits,” Washington state Senator Maria Cantwell, the Democratic chair of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said Wednesday. She said she would hold hearings “to investigate the root causes of these security lapses.”

How the panels were installed at Boeing’s factory will almost certainly be the focus of a federal investigation. In addition to the NTSB, the FAA is investigating the incident and manufacturing practices at Boeing and Spirit.

Citing the open NTSB investigation, Boeing referred questions to the agency, which declined to comment. The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Boeing’s handling of the door plug. A spokesperson for Spirit AeroSystems said the company is “focused on the quality of every aircraft structure coming out of our facilities.”

John Cox, a former airline pilot who runs a safety consulting firm, said the new information about the door plug, if true, would indicate a “process failure” and call into question Boeing’s entire manufacturing operation.

“Are there similar issues in other areas besides the door?” He said. “You have to see the entire assembly process.”

The FAA said Wednesday it will not allow Boeing to expand production of any new planes in the 737 Max series, the mainstay of the company’s commercial aircraft business, until the agency is confident that quality control is in place. have improved.

Mr Calhoun suggested this month that a manufacturing error was to blame for the burst door plug. But it was not clear whether the lapse, which Mr. Calhoun called a “quality escape,” occurred at Boeing’s factory in Renton or at the Spirit facility in Wichita, where the door plug was first installed.

The incident has raised new concerns about Boeing’s quality controls among investors, airline executives, pilots, passengers and others in addition to regulators. Boeing’s stock price has fallen 14 percent since the explosion.

In recent days, many airline executives have been sharply critical of the company, a major supplier about which they rarely complain publicly.

“I’m angry,” said Ben Minicucci, chief executive of Alaska Airlines. told NBC News on Tuesday, saying the airline found “several” bolts loose on its Max 9. “My demand from Boeing is what are they going to do to improve the quality of their domestic programs.”

Scott Kirby, chief executive of United Airlines, told cnbc On Tuesday that “the Max 9 grounding may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for us.” He also said he was concerned that Boeing would not be able to deliver another 737 Max aircraft, the Max 10, ordered by the airline soon. That model has not yet been certified by the FAA

“We’re at least going to have a plan that doesn’t have a Max 10,” Mr. Kirby said.

For now, Boeing is in damage-control mode. Mr. Calhoun last week toured the Spirit AeroSystems factory – a plant that the aircraft maker sold in 2005. And Boeing said this week that it was planning to hold a “quality stand-down” on Thursday, during which production, delivery and support teams would stop work to participate in teaching sessions on quality.

The company said it intended to impose similar restrictions at all of its commercial airplane factories and construction sites in the coming weeks.

James Glanz, santul nerkar And Bernhard Warner Contributed to the reporting.

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