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Alaska Airlines’ COO sits next to door plug on first 737-9 flight

written by Adam Thorn | January 29, 2024

Alaska Airlines staff inspect 737 MAX 9 door plugs after the model’s grounding.

Alaska Airlines’ COO was onboard the first flight of the 737 MAX 9 since it was returned to service – and sat next to the door plug.

Constance von Muehlen told CNN she had full confidence in the aircraft as it departed at 3:51pm on Friday to fly from Seattle to San Diego.

It comes after the FAA approved a new inspection process for each aircraft last week to allow the troubled plane to return to the skies, following a door plug blowing off an Alaska MAX 9 flight in mid-air.

Alaska’s CEO, Ben Minicucci, insisted he was not concerned with passengers avoiding the MAX since the incident.

“Our anticipation is when our Max 9 gets back up that we will fill our airplanes,” he said.


The airline returned the plane to the skies two days before fellow affected carrier United also restarted services, flying between Neward and Vegas on Sunday morning.

“It’s good to see our 737 Max 9s flying again following rigorous inspections by United technicians after weeks of close coordination with the FAA,” said CEO Scott Kirby.

“As we always do, we’ll continue to work closely with Boeing and the FAA to make sure our entire fleet is reliable and, above all, safe. With that in mind, we are sending inspectors to the Boeing facility in Renton, Washington, to provide input on Boeing’s processes.”

No Australian carriers currently operate the MAX 9. Virgin Australia and Bonza, though, both operate the shorter MAX 8 variant, with several MAX 10s on order for Virgin.

None of the MAX 8s are affected by the incident, as the model lacks the emergency exit sealed by the door plug.

The MAX 9s traditionally have an exit door in the affected position, but it is often plugged in to allow for more seats on set-ups with fewer passengers overall.

Later, inspectors examining both Alaska and United 737-9s found loose bolts in the affected area, which was identified as the cause of the problem. It led critics to suggest a poor safety culture at Boeing was behind the issues.

The FAA, meanwhile, only approved the aircraft’s return to service last week after signing off a new procedure that requires an inspection of each plane’s “specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings” and ordering “detailed visual inspections of left and right mid-cabin exit door plugs”.

However, it announced this at the same time it placed new limits on the type’s production.

“We grounded the Boeing 737-9 MAX within hours of the incident over Portland and made clear this aircraft would not go back into service until it was safe,” FAA administrator Mike Whitaker said.

“The exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase.

“However, let me be clear: this won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing.

“We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the 737 MAX until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved.”

It’s the latest issue to damage Boeing’s reputation over the MAX-branded aircraft after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia killed 346 people.

It resulted in the US Department of Justice fining Boeing US$2.5 billion and accusing the planemaker of “fraudulent and deceptive conduct”, “concealing material information” and “engaging in an effort to cover up their deception”.

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Comment (1)

  • It is about time that the FAA enforced proper regulation on Boeing certification processes. An end to self regulation would be highly appropriate. Indeed the grounding of all MAX 8, 9 and possibly 10 aircraft pending elimination of all potential design defects should be rigidly enforced!

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