FAA Says 78 of United's, 57 of Alaska's 737 MAX 9 Are Inspected and Back in Service

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that 78 out of 79 United Airlines' 737 MAX 9 planes have been inspected and returned to service, along with 57 out of 65 Alaska Airlines' MAX 9 planes. This comes after the FAA lifted its grounding of MAX 9 airplanes on January 24, following a mid-air emergency on Alaska Airlines on January 5, which involved a cabin panel blowout. The FAA required inspections of the planes involve visual inspections of door plugs and specific fittings and components. The authority also stated that it is reimagining its oversight of Boeing, conducting a nose-to-tail inspection of the manufacturer's Renton 737 factory. FAA Deputy Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Jodi Baker stated that the FAA may increase surveillance and could also require more staffing for more effective audits. Boeing is currently producing 737s at a rate of 38 per month, but the FAA has not estimated how long the production limit will last due to "unacceptable" quality issues.

The FAA's recent moves come after last week's calls from lawmakers for FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker to address the FAA's on-site surveillance of Boeing and its suppliers. Baker stated that the FAA intends to increase surveillance and build relationships with employees of manufacturers to gain a better understanding of any systemic challenges. This comes after the FAA barred Boeing from expanding production of the 737 MAX due to these quality issues, with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun stating that the company would maintain its current production rate of 38 per month until the FAA and Boeing are satisfied with its manufacturing processes.

Despite the ongoing investigations and inspections, the FAA has deemed it safe for 94% of the MAX 9 fleet to be back in service, with the remaining inspections to be completed by Tuesday. The authority and Boeing are under scrutiny following the grounding of the MAX fleet in March 2019 following issues with the plane's MCAS software, which was implicated in the crashes of two 737 MAX planes in 2018 and 2019, resulting in a total of 346 deaths.