United, Alaska also reports loose ‘hardware’ on Boeings

Henry

United Airlines and Alaska Airlines reported Monday that “loose hardware” was found on some of their Boeing 737 Max 9 jets during preliminary inspections.

These inspections follow a dramatic incident last week when a panel of one of these types of Alaska Airlines aircraft tore loose while the aircraft was in the air. The plane had to make an emergency landing.

The airlines’ statements come amid an investigation into the incident by federal transport inspectors.

United said on Monday it had found incidents of installation problems with a door on one of its planes, for example bolts and screws that needed to be tightened.

Hours later, Alaska Airlines also reported that its staff had found “loose hardware” on some of the airline’s planes.

Boeing shares tumbled on Monday as investors began to consider the financial implications of Friday’s incident, while US aviation authorities provided airlines with protocols to check those planes.

Inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said late Monday that they found no screws from the panel that tore off the Boeing in question. However, they could not confirm if there were ever any screws, or if they may have gone with the panel.

Jennifer Homendy, chairman of NTSB, says only when the equipment is tested further, they will be able to determine whether there were screws or not.

However, Homendy did not comment on United and Alaska’s latest mentions, simply saying their focus was on Friday’s incident for now. The council will however issue an urgent safety proposal if necessary.

Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci decided shortly after the incident to temporarily ground the airline’s fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9s from takeoff as a precautionary measure.

Some Boeing 737-9s have also been barred from takeoff by the Federal Aviation Administration so the planes can be checked first. More than 170 of these jets are affected worldwide.

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have the largest fleet of Boeing 737-9s, followed by Turkish Airlines, which has a much smaller fleet. All three airlines have grounded their planes so that inspections can be carried out. Each inspection can take up to eight hours to complete.

Boeing says it is in continuous communication with operators and will assist them with any findings.

“We are committed to ensuring that every Boeing aircraft meets design specifications and the highest safety standards.”

Several aviation analysts say the problem appears to lie with quality control and not necessarily a design flaw as in the case of two fatal Max jet crashes in 2018 and 2019.

Boeing has been experiencing problems with its supply chain and quality control for some time, limiting its output.

Already in December, Boeing encouraged airlines to carry out additional inspections on their planes and, among other things, be on the lookout for loose parts. The recommendation followed after an international operator detected a screw without a nut during a routine inspection.