Boeing Responds to Missing Bolts

The Boeing CEO says the aircraft manufacturing giant is accountable.

The door plug on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 blew off as the aircraft climbed through 16,000 feet. [Courtesy: NTSB]

“Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened," said Boeing president and CEO Dave Calhoun in response to National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report on the investigation into the blowout of the mid-exit door plug on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 in January.

The 19-page report, released Tuesday by the NTSB, noted the four bolts that are supposed to hold the door plug in place were removed for maintenance at the factory before delivery of the jet but never reinstalled. The aircraft had flown 510 hours without having the door plug properly secured.

The Details

On January 5 shortly after takeoff from Portland International Airport (KPDX) in Oregon, Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 lost the mid-exit door (MED) plug as the aircraft climbed through 16,000 feet. The loss of the door plug resulted in violent decompression, but no serious injuries to the 177 persons on board. The flight crew declared an emergency and returned to Portland with a refrigerator-sized hole in the side of the aircraft.

"An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory,” Calhoun said. “We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers. We are implementing a comprehensive plan to strengthen quality and the confidence of our stakeholders. It will take significant, demonstrated action and transparency at every turn—and that is where we are squarely focused.”

In a statement to the media, Boeing outlined immediate action items it is undertaking to strengthen quality.

“First and foremost, the company has implemented a control plan to ensure all 737-9 mid-exit door plugs are installed according to specifications by instituting new inspections of the door plug assembly and similar structures at our supplier’s factory and on Boeing’s production line, and adding signage and protocol to fully document when the door plug is opened or removed in our factory, ensuring it is reinstalled and inspected prior to delivery,” the statement said.

“Boeing is also taking steps to improve overall quality and stability across the 737 production system. These steps include layering additional inspections into the Boeing supply chain,  more communication and collaboration with suppliers on production enhancements, performing more work on the aircraft at their assigned positions, setting aside multiple days for 737 teams to focus on implement quality improvements, adding independent assessment to bolster the quality management system at Boeing Commercial Airplanes by a highly experienced safety expert.

"In addition to these Boeing actions, we are opening our factory to 737 customers to conduct their own additional reviews and will fully and transparently support the FAA’s investigation, audit, and oversight actions."

Said Calhoun: “This added scrutiny—from ourselves, from our regulator, and from our customers—will make us better. It’s that simple.”  

The NTSB is continuing its investigation.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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