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In this photo released by the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB Investigator-in-Charge John Lovell examines the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on Sunday, January 7, 2024, in Portland, Ore. Photo National Transportation Safety Board via AP

Boeing jetliner that suffered inflight blowout was restricted because of concern over warning light

PORTLAND, Ore (AP) -- The Boeing jetliner that suffered an inflight blowout over Oregon was not being used for flights to Hawaii after a warning light that could have indicated a pressurisation problem lit up on three different flights, a federal official said Sunday.
Alaska Airlines decided to restrict the aircraft from long flights over water so the plane “could return very quickly to an airport” if the warning light reappeared, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference Sunday night.
Homendy cautioned that the pressurisation light might be unrelated to Friday’s incident in which a plug covering an unused exit door blew off the Boeing 737 Max 9 as it cruised about 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) over Oregon.
The NTSB said the lost door plug was located Sunday near Portland, Oregon by a school teacher who found it in his backyard, she noted.
Homendy also provided new details about the chaotic scene that unfolded in the aircraft and the cockpit when the plug blew away, leaving a gap in the side of the plane. No one was injured and the plane carrying 171 passengers and six flight crew landed safely back in Portland.
The cockpit door flew open and the depressurisation ripped the headset off the co-pilot and the captain lost part of her headset. A quick reference checklist kept within easy reach of the flight crew also flew out the door, Homendy said.
“It was described as chaos and very loud between the air and everything going on around them and it was very violent,” she said.
Hours after the incident, the FAA ordered the grounding of 171 Max 9s, including all those operated by Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, until they could be inspected. The FAA said inspections of each plane will take four to eight hours.
Alaska Airlines and United are the only US airlines that fly the Max 9.
Alaska Airlines and United grounded all of their Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliners again on Sunday while waiting to be told how to inspect the planes to prevent another inflight blowout like the one that damaged the Alaska Airlnes jet.
Alaska Airlines had returned 18 of its 65 737 Max 9 aircraft to service Saturday, but the airline said Sunday that it received a notice from the Federal Aviation Administration that additional work might be needed on those 18 planes.
Alaska said the carrier had canceled 170 flights — more than one-fifth of its schedule — by mid-afternoon on the West Coast because of the groundings and was awaiting further instruction from the FAA. United said it scrapped about 180 flights Sunday while salvaging others by finding other planes not covered by the grounding.
United said it was waiting for Boeing to issue a multi-operator message, which is a service bulletin used when multiple airlines need to perform similar work on a particular type of plane.
Boeing was working on a bulletin, which the company had not yet submitted to the FAA, but producing a detailed, technical bulletin frequently takes a couple days, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the company and regulators have not publicly discussed the process.
Boeing declined to comment.
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 jetliners, mostly the Max 8 variant, sold by the aircraft maker. The Max 8 and other versions of the Boeing 737 are not affected by the grounding.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, chair of the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said she agreed with the decision to ground the Max 9s.
“Aviation production has to meet a gold standard, including quality control inspections and strong FAA oversight,” she said in a statement.

(Latest Update January 9, 2024)

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