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FAA Grounds Boeing 737-9 Fleet Following Alaska Airlines Incident

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the temporary grounding of certain Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft following an incident on an Alaska Airlines flight. The grounding affects 171 aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory.

“The FAA is requiring immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes before they can return to flight,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said. “Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB’s investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282.”
 
The FAA will issue an Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD) shortly, requiring Boeing 737-9 MAX operators to inspect aircraft not meeting the inspection cycles specified in the EAD before further flight. The required inspections will take around four to eight hours per aircraft.

Boeing issued the following statement on the FAA’s EAD:

“Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers. We agree with and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane. In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB’s investigation into last night’s event. We will remain in close contact with our regulator and customers.”

Alaska Airlines said it would re-inspect the aircraft it had previously cleared for operation, complying with the new EAD. As the airline stated:

“Eighteen of Alaska’s 737-9 MAX aircraft received in-depth inspections as part of heavy maintenance checks and continued in service today until we received the FAA’s EAD. These aircraft have now also been pulled from service until details about possible additional maintenance work are confirmed with the FAA. We are in touch with the FAA to determine what, if any, further work is required before these aircraft are returned to service.”  

EASA Adopts FAA EAD on 737-9, No European Carriers Affected

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has recently adopted an Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding a specific setup of the Boeing 737-9 (MAX). This directive, accessible at this link, mandates grounding aircraft with this setup until the aircraft undergoes a thorough inspection. The decision comes in the wake of an incident on an Alaska Airlines flight, where an exit panel detached mid-flight, causing rapid cabin decompression.

Notably, EASA’s adoption of the FAA EAD is independent of the fact that, to the Agency’s knowledge and FAA and Boeing statements, no airline in an EASA Member State currently operates an aircraft in the relevant configuration. Specifically, the EAD pertains to a setup on certain B737-9 aircraft where a plug-in panel replaces the mid-cabin exit. Airlines commonly use this setup on aircraft with lower passenger capacity. In this case, they don’t require the additional exit to meet evacuation safety requirements.

Importantly, the 737-9 aircraft in operation in Europe do not feature this setup. Therefore, the EAD does not affect these European airlines and they can continue normal operations. EASA remains in communication with the FAA regarding this matter and will closely monitor the investigation into the Alaska Airlines incident.

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