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Home / fleet grounded

FAA grounds Boeing 737-9 aircraft after harrowing incident

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded about 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes Saturday after a section of fuselage blew out after takeoff Friday on an Alaska Airlines flight bound for Ontario International Airport.

The order came after Alaska Airlines had grounded all its 737 Max 9 planes Friday pending inspections, with plans to resume flights once the planes were deemed safe.

“The FAA will order the temporary grounding of certain Boeing 737-9 Max aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory,” the agency said Saturday. “The Emergency Airworthiness Directive that will be issued shortly will require operators to inspect aircraft before further flight that do not meet the inspection cycles specified in the EAD. The required inspections will take around four to eight hours per aircraft.

“The EAD will affect approximately 171 airplanes worldwide.”

No serious injuries were reported aboard the Ontario-bound flight, which took off from Portland International Airport.

“Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 from Portland, Oregon to Ontario, California, experienced an incident this evening soon after departure,” the airline said in a statement Friday. “The aircraft landed safely back at Portland International Airport with 171 guests and 6 crew members. The safety of our guests and employees is always our primary priority, so while this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to safely manage the situation. We are investigating what happened and will share more information as it becomes available.”

A video apparently shot by a passenger and shared on TikTok shows a hole in the plane where a window would normally be.

“It was really abrupt. Just got to altitude, and the window/wall just popped off and didn’t notice it until the oxygen masks came off,” passenger Kyle Rinker told CNN.

Fox12 in Oregon reported that fire department personnel responded to the airport and treated some people for minor injuries. The station also spoke to witnesses who said some cell phones were sucked out of the hole during the flight.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the seat closest to the hole was unoccupied. The Times also cited Sara Nelson, president of the Flight Association of Flight Attendants, in saying that a flight attendant sustained minor injuries following an “explosive decompression at a window/plugged door.”

The airline said Saturday that so far, inspections had not turned up any further problems.

“As of this morning, inspections on more than a quarter of our 737-9 fleet are complete with no concerning findings,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement Saturday. “Aircraft will return to service as their inspections are completed with our full confidence.”

Seattle-based Boeing issued the following statement: “We are aware of the incident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. We are working to gather more information and are in contact with our airline customer. A Boeing technical team stands ready to support the investigation.”

Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci apologized to the passengers aboard the Ontario-bound flight.

“My heart goes out to those who were on this flight. I am so sorry for what you experienced. I am so grateful for the response of our pilots and flight attendants,” Minicucci’s statement said. “We have teams on the ground in Portland assisting passengers and are working to support guests who are traveling in the days ahead.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how many Southland flights would be affected by the FAA order.

Lauren Alba, spokesperson for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, told City News Service that Alaska Flight 813, a Boeing 737-9 bound for Maui, was cleared for takeoff after passing a ground inspection Saturday morning and was in the air after a delay of approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes.

United Airlines announced that it would ground dozens of its 737-9 planes until they could be inspected.

Representatives for American Airlines and Southwest Airlines told CNS that their companies do not use 737-9 planes and their operations would not be affected.

Meanwhile, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Ontario, sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker demanding answers about how the agency and Boeing will address any safety issues brought to light by Friday’s occurrence.

“This incident endangered the lives of 177 souls on board Alaska Airlines flight 1282 and the thousands of others who may be in harm’s way on similar planes or by whose travel plans were disrupted by the precautionary groundings that Alaska Airlines has taken,” Torres wrote. “America has long held the record of having the safest airspace and flight protocols in the world. That said, Boeing’s track record, along with the FAA’s safety oversight in recent years, has raised serious, warranted concerns for the flying public.”

Torres is a senior member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, which oversees government funding for federal transportation programs.

Updated Jan. 6, 2023, 12:40 p.m.

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