After a cabin section including a window was torn off on a domestic flight in the USA, the American aviation authority FAA has ordered a temporary flight ban for more than 170 Boeing 737-9 Max aircraft. The authority announced on Saturday that immediate inspections of certain aircraft of this model were necessary, which would take around four to eight hours per aircraft. Only then could the affected aircraft go back into operation. This applies to aircraft operated by US airlines or traveling on American territory – 171 aircraft worldwide.
The Alaska Airlines line was affected, and now other airlines are withdrawing aircraft from service. Turkish Airlines said on Sunday that five Boeing 737 MAX 9s had been recalled for inspections "as a safety precaution." They would initially stay on the ground where they land.
Aeromexico and Panamanian airline Copa Airlines also said they would ground Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, which has the world's largest fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 9s, have also withdrawn the series from service for inspection. Icelandair, meanwhile, said none of its Boeing 737 MAX 9s had the aircraft configuration specified in the FAA order.
The incident with the window occurred on Friday on a US airline Alaska Airlines flight en route from Portland in the state of Oregon to Ontario Airport, which is located east of Los Angeles in the state of California. According to media reports, shortly after takeoff, a part of the window suddenly came loose and flew away. There was a big bang and then air rushed in through the hole, passengers told The Oregonian newspaper. The seat directly next to the window was unoccupied, but a teenager in the middle seat suffered injuries from the sudden drop in pressure. There were therefore no reports of serious injuries.
In photos shared online by passengers, a large hole can be seen gaping in the side of the affected row of seats in the plane's wall. The large hole could also be seen in passenger videos published by the BBC. “That wasn’t even the emergency exit,” a woman said in the video. "It was just part of the plane."
The airline said in a statement that shortly after takeoff, the plane returned to Portland airport with 171 passengers and six crew members on board and landed there safely. Company boss Ben Minicucci said: "My condolences go out to those who were on that flight - I'm so sorry for what you experienced."
Shortly after the incident, the airline announced that it would initially ground all of its Boeing 737-9 Max aircraft and subject the 65 aircraft to thorough maintenance and safety checks. Each aircraft will only be put back into operation after an inspection has been completed. On Saturday, the airline announced that a quarter of the affected aircraft had already been serviced without any abnormalities being encountered. According to the FAA order, planes from other airlines must now be checked more closely before they are allowed to take to the air again.
The incident is likely to alarm airlines and the manufacturer Boeing. The NTSB accident investigation agency is investigating the case. In contrast to the benign outcome on Friday, two emergencies in 2018 and 2019 ended catastrophically and led to the 737 Max series being grounded. There were a total of 346 deaths in the two crashes. The main cause is believed to be a faulty control program that caused the machines to crash to the ground.
Boeing then revised the type and gradually obtained re-certifications. However, the medium-haul jet continued to make headlines with production defects and put a strain on the manufacturer's balance sheets.
Alaska Airlines has also increased its fleet in recent years with an improved version of the 737-9 Max. In total, the airline has around 300 aircraft, most of them from Boeing.
Note: This article has been updated with new information