Alaska Airlines is again grounding all Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Alaska Airlines and United Airlines grounded all of their Boeing 737 Max 9 planes again Sunday as they waited to be told how to inspect the planes to prevent another blowing in flight like the one that damaged a plane from Alaska.

Alaska Airlines returned 18 of its 65 737 Max 9 planes to service on Saturday, less than 24 hours after part of the fuselage of another plane exploded three miles (4.8 kilometers) over Oregon.

The reprieve was short-lived.

The airline said Sunday it had received notice from the Federal Aviation Administration that additional work may be needed on those 18 planes.

Alaska said it had canceled 170 flights – more than a fifth of its schedule – by mid-afternoon on the West Coast because of the grounding.

“These aircraft have also now been withdrawn from service until details of possible additional maintenance are confirmed by the FAA,” the airline said in a statement. “We are in contact with the FAA to determine what, if any, additional work is needed.”

United Airlines said it scrapped about 180 flights Sunday while saving others by finding other planes not covered by the grounding.

Alaska and United are the only US airlines that fly the Max 9.

United said it was waiting for Boeing to issue what’s called a multi-operator message, which is a service bulletin used when several airlines need to do similar work on a certain type of plane.

Boeing is working on a bulletin but has not yet sent it to the FAA, according to a person familiar with the situation. A detailed technical bulletin often takes several days to produce, the person said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the company and regulators have not publicly discussed the process.

Boeing declined to comment.

A panel used to block an area reserved for Max 9’s exit door exploded Friday night shortly after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland, Oregon. The depressurized plane carrying 171 passengers and six crew members returned safely to Portland International Airport without serious injuries.

Hours after the accident, the FAA ordered the grounding of 171 Max 9s, including all operated by Alaska and United, until they could be inspected. The FAA said the inspections will take four to eight hours.

Boeing has delivered 218 Max 9s worldwide, but not all of them are covered by the FAA order. They are among more than 1,300 Max aircraft – mostly the Max 8 variant – sold by the aircraft manufacturer. The Max 8 and other versions of the Boeing 737 are not affected by the grounding.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said she agreed with the decision to suspend the Max 9s.

“Safety is paramount. Aviation manufacturing must meet a gold standard, including quality control inspections and strong FAA oversight,” she said in a statement.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators searched Sunday for the lined exit door that blew off Flight 1282. They have a good idea of ​​where it landed, near Oregon Route 217 and Barnes Road in the Cedar Hills area west of Portland, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendi said at a press conference late Saturday.

“If you find this, please contact your local law enforcement,” she said.

On an early Sunday afternoon, some locals were searching a patch of land with thick undergrowth sandwiched between busy roads and a light rail station. The area is located opposite an extensive hospital complex.

Searcher Adam Pirkle said he traveled 14 miles (22 kilometers), maneuvering his bike through the brush. “I was looking at the runway, I was looking at the winds,” he said. “I was trying to focus on wooded areas.”

Daniel Feld walked through the same thickets on foot, equipped with binoculars, after descending from the roof of a parking garage next to the light rail station. “I was up in the garage scanning everything. I didn’t see any holes in the bushes that looked obvious where something had fallen,” he said.

Gavin Redshaw even brought his drone in for an aerial look, but he also hadn’t found anything by Sunday afternoon. “Lots of trash, but no door,” he said.

There hasn’t been a fatal crash involving a U.S. passenger carrier in the country since 2009, when a Colgan Air flight crashed near Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground. In 2013, an Asiana Airlines flight arriving from South Korea crashed at San Francisco International Airport, killing three of the 307 people on board.

Flight 1282 departed Portland at 5:07 p.m. Friday for a two-hour flight to Ontario, California. About six minutes later, the fuselage section exploded while the plane was about 16,000 feet (4.8 kilometers). One of the pilots declared a state of emergency and requested permission to descend to 10,000 feet (3 kilometers), the altitude where the air would have enough oxygen for safe breathing.

Videos posted by passengers online showed a gaping hole where the lined exit had been and passengers wearing masks. They cheered when the plane landed safely about 13 minutes after the blast. Firefighters then descended the aisle, asking passengers to remain in their seats while they attended to the injured.

It was very fortunate that the plane had not yet reached cruising altitude, when passengers and flight attendants might be walking around the cabin, Hommendi said.

“No one was seated in 26A and B, where the door plug is, the plane was about 16,000 feet and only 10 minutes from the airport when the door exploded,” she said. The investigation is expected to take months.

The aircraft in question came off the assembly line and was certified two months ago, according to online FAA records. It has been on 145 flights since entering commercial service on Nov. 11, said FlightRadar24, another tracking service. The flight from Portland was the plane’s third of the day.

Aviation experts were amazed that a piece would fly off a new plane. Anthony Brickhouse, professor of aerospace safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said he’s seen fuselage panels detach from planes before, but he couldn’t recall one where passengers were “looking at the lights of the city.”

The Max is the latest version of Boeing’s century-old 737, a twin-engine single-aisle plane often used for domestic flights in the US. The aircraft entered service in May 2017.

Two Max 8 planes crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people. All Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft were grounded worldwide for nearly two years while Boeing made changes to the automated flight control system involved in the crashes.

The Max has been plagued by other problems, including manufacturing defects, overheating concerns that prompted the FAA to tell pilots restriction of use of an anti-ice system and possible loose bolt in the steering system.


Koenig reported from Dallas. Bohrer reported from Juneau, Alaska. Associated Press reporters Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Hawaii, contributed.

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