Nearly all of Alaska’s and United Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max 9s have returned to service a month after the rapid de-pressurisation of Alaska Airlines flight 1282 grounded most of that type of aircraft in the USA.

All but one of United’s 79 Max 9s have resumed scheduled passenger flying, compared with 57 of Alaska’s 65 next-generation narrowbody Boeing jets, the US Federal Aviation Administration said during a 5 February update on its oversight of Boeing’s beleaguered Max programme. 

United Max 9

Source: Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock

United’s 79-strong fleet of Boeing 737 Max 9s makes it the world’s largest operator of the narrowbody jets 

Meanwhile, about 95% of the Max 9s in the USA have completed inspections and are “eligible to return to service”, said Jodi Baker, the FAA’s deputy associate administrator for aviation safety. 

Oversight of Boeing’s production facility in Renton, Washington has increased in response to a mid-flight door-plug blowout involving during a 5 January flight on an Alaska Max 9.

For example, the FAA is stepping up “surveillance” of Boeing’s production facilities to complement its ongoing audits of the company. Audits involve providing Boeing with advanced notice of inspections.

”These would be in addition to the existing audits… and be more informal,” Baker says. ”We wouldn’t necessarily have to provide notice. One advantage of this is we get a better sense of the safety culture because we can actually talk to employees and figure what’s motivating them and what they’re concerned about.” 

“It’s about being able to build relationships so you can understand the challenges they’re having day in and day out, and help us see if there’s systemic challenges with the manufacturer,” she adds. 

The FAA held the press briefing after Boeing warned on 4 February that near-term 737 Max deliveries will likely be delayed due to mis-drilled holes in the fuselage of some 50 undelivered jets. The issue was flagged by a supplier on 1 February, alerting Boeing that holes in the fuselage “may not have been drilled exactly to our requirements”. 

”While this issue could delay some near-term 737 deliveries, this is the only course of action given our commitment to deliver perfect airplanes every time,” Boeing Commercial Airlines chief Stan Deal said in a 4 February memo to employees. 

The FAA is handling Boeing’s latest quality issue through its “continued operational safety process”, Baker says, adding that the civil aviation regulator will “ensure that those airplanes meet all safety standards before we can approve them for safety”.