Alaska Airlines has grounded all of its Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft after a section of the fuselage blew out mid-air on a flight from Seattle to Ontario, California on Sunday. The incident, which caused a rapid decompression and forced an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, has raised new safety concerns about the troubled jetliner that was recently cleared to fly again after two fatal crashes.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the blowout occurred near the rear of the plane, where a window panel detached and ripped a hole in the skin of the aircraft. The FAA said that the damage was consistent with a “fatigue crack” that had developed over time and was not detected during routine inspections. The FAA ordered airlines to ground 737 Max 9 planes for inspections after the incident.
Boeing, which has delivered more than 170 737 Max 9 planes to airlines around the world, said it was aware of the incident and was working closely with the FAA and Alaska Airlines to support the investigation.
The incident is the latest setback for the 737 Max program, which was grounded worldwide for 20 months after two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people in 2018 and 2019. The crashes were linked to a faulty flight control system that pushed the nose of the plane down repeatedly, overriding the pilots’ inputs. Boeing has since made changes to the system and provided additional training for pilots, and the FAA approved the plane to resume flights in November 2020.
However, some aviation experts and consumer groups have questioned the adequacy of the fixes and the oversight of the FAA, and some passengers have expressed reluctance to fly on the 737 Max. The incident on Sunday has renewed the scrutiny and criticism of the plane, and some analysts have warned that it could hurt the reputation and sales of Boeing, which is already struggling.