Federal regulators on Tuesday said they would review procedures for how Boeing inspects its 737 Max 9 after a panel exploded during a flight last weekend, delaying the manufacturer's efforts to get the jet back into the air.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the agency would change the guidelines it released Monday based on feedback, but the agency did not provide additional details. Instructions on how to comply with FAA rules are often prepared and distributed by aircraft manufacturers, with input from airlines and federal agencies to ensure technicians follow them regularly.
“Upon receipt of Boeing's revised instructions, the FAA will conduct a thorough review,” the FAA said in a statement. “Safety of the flying public, not speed, will determine the timeline for the return of the Boeing 737-9 MAX to service.”
The announcement comes after two airlines reported finding loose parts in the cockpit area under inspection.
On Saturday, the FAA said it would inspect the planes after one such group exploded during an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland the previous day. Although no serious injuries were reported, the incident exposed passengers to powerful winds and raised new concerns about Boeing's quality control practices. The incident has forced airlines operating the Max 9 to cancel a large number of flights.
The explosion is the latest in a series of setbacks for Boeing as it struggles to regain public confidence after two crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people.
It was not immediately clear how Boeing's initial plan failed. The company said Monday morning that it had shared instructions with airlines on how to inspect the affected panel, also known as the door plug, which covers where the exit door is installed. Hours later, the FAA said it had “approved a method to comply” with the agency's Saturday order, appearing to confirm Boeing's statement. Tests focus on door inserts, door components and fasteners.
After those announcements, the Max 9's two largest operators, Alaska Airlines and United, said they found loose parts during the crew's preliminary inspections.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday they have recovered a door plug from an Alaska Airlines plane, but they are still searching for some related parts.
Boeing's chief executive, Dave Calhoun, addressed employees at a meeting Tuesday afternoon, promising transparency in the company's response.
“We're going to approach this — No. 1 — admitting our mistake,” he said, speaking from a Seattle-area factory that makes planes, including the Max, according to parts provided by Boeing. “We're going to approach it 100 percent and with full transparency.”
Mr. Calhoun said the agency will work closely with federal investigators. He said he was shocked when he first saw the photo of the incident. A teenage boy and his mother, neither of whom sustained major injuries, were sitting near the blasted panel.
“I have children, I have grandchildren, and so do you,” he said. “This stuff is important. Every detail is important.”
During Friday's flight, 171 passengers and six crew members, pilots and flight attendants struggled to communicate with each other after the group exploded. Crew members were surprised when the door separating the cockpit from the passenger compartment opened, Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homandy said during a press conference Monday night. This exposed pilots to strong winds and cabin noise, making it difficult for them to hear each other and communicate with air traffic control.
Ms Homendi said the cockpit door was designed to open during a rapid decompression event, but the crew had not been made aware of that aspect of the aircraft. Boeing plans to make changes to its handbook to inform employees, he said.
The Alaskan plane was at 16,000 feet when the panel exploded, but had it been at a higher altitude the incident would have been more catastrophic. If the plane had traveled above 30,000 feet, the passengers could have moved around the cabin and had less time to strap themselves in and safely put on their oxygen masks.
As a first step, Boeing will work closely with Boeing to develop a process to ensure all door plugs on 737 Max 9 jets are properly secured, former FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolan said in an interview.
As a result, airlines must have detailed instructions telling them how to properly inspect the doors, complete with diagrams of the pins and bolts that attach the door inserts to the aircraft. The agency said the directive will be reviewed and approved by the FAA.
Mr., who previously headed the FAA's Office of Aviation Safety. Nolan said after Friday's crew explosion, some airlines began preliminary investigations while Boeing was approved by regulators for formal instructions.
“My understanding is that they need the detailed criteria provided by Boeing, approved by the FAA,” he said. “They have to review it and sign off.”
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