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What first looked like it could be a swift response-and-recovery
effort for the Boeing Max 737-9, which the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
grounded on January 6 after a door plug flew off during takeoff of a flight
from Portland, Ore to Ontario, Calif., has turned into a prolonged investigation
and deeper questioning of Boeing’s manufacturing and quality assurance processes,
including appointing a special advisor to Boeing CEO David Calhoun. 

The fallout from the grounding for the U.S. air carriers—of which
both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have the Max 9 in heavy rotation—and
the flying public has been the cancellation of thousands of flights since the
first week of January. Alaska Airlines said yesterday it would continue to
cancel approximately 150 flights daily while the Max 9 remained grounded. Alaska
confirmed that duration of Max 9-related cancellations would be at least
through Monday, January 21.  

In the meantime, a bitter winter storm has impacted all U.S.
airlines, complicating the reduced fleet situation for both United and Alaska. Data
from FlightAware showed Alaska has cancelled 148 flights today and United has
cancelled 191. The following is a timeline covering the latest Max 9-related developments
first. BTN will add to this story as more information becomes available on how and
when the Max 9 may return to the skies, and how Alaska and United are
mitigating the impact to flight schedules.

Jan. 18: Alaska completed preliminary inspections on
a group of Boeing Max 737-9 aircraft. It shared the data with Boeing and is
waiting for next steps based on the data provided. Given the continued
grounding order, the carrier extended its cancellation of flights using that
aircraft through Sun., Jan. 21. Sister carrier Horizon Air is flying some
routes that Alaska would normally fly with Max 737-9 planes.

Jan. 16: Boeing named U.S. Navy Retired Admiral
Kirkland H. Donald as a special advisor to CEO Dave Calhoun effective
immediately. Donald and a team of outside experts will conduct an assessment of
Boeing’s quality management system for commercial airplanes, including quality
programs and practices in Boeing manufacturing facilities and its oversight of
commercial supplier quality. In addition, United said cancellations of Max
737-9 flights would continue through Tuesday.

Jan. 13: Alaska said it will initiate and enhance its
layers of quality control to the production of its Boeing airplanes. The
carrier’s quality and audit team began a review of Boeing’s production quality
and control systems and will partner with Alaska’s maintenance team on the
design of enhanced processes for its own quality control. It also starting this
week will enhance its quality control of Alaska aircraft on the Boeing
production line, expanding the team to validate the work on the 737 line.

Jan. 12: The FAA announced new actions to immediately
increase oversight of Boeing production and manufacturing, including considering
independent third-party entities to oversee those functions. The FAA also asked
Boeing for additional data before the agency would approve the inspection and
maintenance process for returning the Max 737-9 aircraft to service. In
addition, Alaska and United announced plans to continue to cancel flights
originally scheduled on Boeing Max 737-9 aircraft through at least Tues., Jan.
16. 

Jan. 11: The FAA sent a letter to Boeing announcing
it had launched an investigation to determine if Boeing failed to ensure
completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for
safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.

Jan. 10: Operators continued to wait for
documentation from Boeing and the FAA to begin inspections. Alaska canceled
flights scheduled on Max 737-9 aircraft through Sat., Jan. 13. The carrier
noted that affected between 110 to 150 flights per day.

Jan. 9: The Boeing instructions from the day before were
being revised because of feedback received in response to the prior method, and
the Max 737-9 planes remained grounded awaiting inspections. In the meantime,
preliminary inspections by Alaska found “loose hardware” and United
found “loose bolts.” Alaska canceled 109 flights for the day.
Further, during a company meeting, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun acknowledged the
manufacturer’s mistake.

Jan. 8: The FAA approved a method for operators to
comply with its emergency airworthiness directive as provided by Boeing in a
multi-operator message. While waiting, Alaska and United canceled Max 737-9
flights—as of Mon., Jan. 8 United had canceled about 200 of its related flights
with more to come on Tuesday, while preserving about 30 flights for each day by
switching to other aircraft types. Alaska had canceled about 140 flights that Monday.

Jan. 6: United Airlines also suspended service on its
79 Boeing Max 737-9 aircraft. The same day, the U.S. Federal Aviation
Administration issued an “Emergency Airworthiness Directive” ordering
a temporary grounding of the aircraft type operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S.
territory, and the National Transportation Safety Board began an investigation
into the incident. Additional airlines affected by the grounding included Copa
Airlines and Turkish Airlines.

Jan. 5, 2024: A door plug flew off Alaska Airlines’
Flight 1282 shortly after takeoff from Portland, Ore., en route to Ontario,
Calif. The Boeing Max 737-9 aircraft landed safely back at Portland with 171
passengers and six crew members. As a precautionary measure, Alaska grounded
its fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 planes.