Loose components found on Boeing 737 MAX Planes: United and Alaska Airlines report

In the aftermath of a dramatic mid-flight incident last week, both United and Alaska Airlines have reported the discovery of loose hardware on some of their Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes.

This revelation follows the emergency landing of an Alaska Airlines passenger plane, where a so-called door plug component blew out.

United disclosed on Monday that they had identified instances suggesting installation issues in the door plug, such as bolts requiring additional tightening. Hours later, Alaska Airlines confirmed that their staff had observed visible loose hardware on some of their aircraft.

Boeing shares experienced a decline as investors began assessing the financial implications of the incident. In response, US aviation authorities provided protocols to airlines for inspecting planes with configurations similar to the 737 MAX 9 involved in the incident.

The grounding of a fraction of the MAX fleet has resulted in numerous flight cancellations, impacting various airlines. Boeing assured operators conducting required inspections that they would collaborate closely and address any findings to meet safety and quality standards.

While aviation analysts indicate that the problem seems to be a quality control issue rather than a design flaw, Boeing has faced challenges in supply chain and quality control since the MAX’s return to service.

In December, Boeing advised airlines to conduct additional inspections for loose hardware on the plane’s rudder control system after a missing nut was discovered during routine maintenance.

United, with 79 MAX 9 planes, has the largest fleet of the aircraft in question and aims to return them to service in the coming days. The carrier has canceled numerous flights since the incident and anticipates significant cancellations on Tuesday.

Following the Alaska Airlines incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the grounding of 171 jets with the same configuration involving the door plug. The FAA has approved a roadmap for carriers to complete inspections, covering both left and right door plugs, components, and fasteners.

Alaska Airlines is awaiting final documentation from Boeing and the FAA before commencing the formal inspection process, emphasizing that the safety of the aircraft is a top priority.

The incident adds to Boeing’s challenges, especially concerning the 737 MAX, following the two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun called for a company-wide meeting focusing on safety, acknowledging the need for continual improvement.

Analysts suggest that the issues faced by Alaska Airlines may stem from a manufacturing defect, highlighting a broader cultural challenge at Boeing. Concerns have been raised about potential delays in government approvals for new jets or proposed repairs, with Boeing’s reputation being a significant casualty of the recent commercial jet incident, according to Morningstar.