Gaping Hole in Boeing Planes Grounds Max 9 Fleet

Bradley Caslin /
Bradley Caslin /

On January 6th, Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland International Airport bound for Ontario, California, when the cabin suddenly lost pressure. With a large section of the window and an unoccupied seat ripped from the plane, the oxygen masks deployed, and the pilot made an immediate return to the airport. Ripping the clothing from a child, and a few phones through the new hole, all 174 passengers and six crew members were uninjured.

In response to the new evidence of poor construction by Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was ordering all Max 9 planes grounded. No matter if they were owned by US companies or simply flown in US airspace, they would need a full inspection. All in all, 171 planes are estimated to be grounded, with 65 alone coming from Alaska Airlines. This also serves as just another in-the-line of problems with the line, as two major crashes came shortly after they were first launched.

Later the same day, Alaska Airlines announced that over 25% of their fleet had already been inspected. Proudly, they announced that so far, the reports came back “with no concerning findings. Aircraft will return to service as their inspections are completed with our full confidence.” With the airline using them for over ¼ of their fleet, these inspections sent massive ripples across their flight schedule, resulting in over 100 flights being canceled, or 14% of their schedule.

While the FAA was in charge of ensuring their flights were being grounded, United Airlines refused to discuss their roughly 80 Max 9 planes and the status of their inspections.

Alaska Air is one of the few using the Max 9 with a plug where the gaping hole on the plane opened. With their longer legroom and fewer people on planes, they lack the necessity for the extra exit row, thus potentially creating the weak spot that opened. Because of similar characteristics in the Max 8 that is incredibly popular in India, their version of the FAA ordered all Max 8s in their country to be grounded.

In response to the hole, Boeing only offered a simple and underwhelming statement.

“We are aware of the incident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. We are working to gather more information and are in contact with our airline customer. A Boeing technical team stands ready to support the investigation.”

They also offered a statement concerning the FAA’s grounding of the Max 9 line.

“Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers. We agree with and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane. In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB’s investigation into the Jan. 5 accident. We will remain in close contact with our regulator and customers.”

With only 145 flights since the planes started carrying passengers in November, the Max has been being used very specifically and on assigned routes as they break the planes in. With the 8,9 and 10 editions of the Max line being available, the single-row and dual-engine plane has experienced a solid resurgence, one that this incident is liable to put a hole in.

Boeing and European rival Airbus, with their similar A320 fleet, have been at odds for years. A decision to simply update the 737 led to the Max edition, but it hasn’t translated to increased sales. Especially as the A320 is incredibly fuel efficient, and airlines are looking for every inch of advantage they can get as they face increased scrutiny.

Since 2021, Boeing has paid over $2.5 billion in fines related to the project, yet they have refused to end the line or do anything further to fix the issues. For many, this could serve as the final nail in the coffin as they look to go to other airlines.