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Australia’s 737 MAX fleet cleared despite Alaska mid-air blowout

written by Jake Nelson | January 8, 2024

An Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9, N963AK. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Bonza and Virgin Australia’s 737 MAX 8 fleets are reportedly in the clear after last Friday’s Alaska Airlines incident temporarily grounded more than 170 larger MAX 9s.

Alaska Airlines flight 1282 to Ontario was forced to return to Portland after a plug door blew out at 16,000 feet, causing depressurisation as well as minor injuries to passengers. The plane, N704AL (similar aircraft pictured), was brand new, having only been delivered on 31 October.

@strawberr.vy

Girls’ trip turned into emergency landing trip… #alaska #alaskaair

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♬ original sound – vy 🍓

Following the incident, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the grounding of 171 MAX 9s operated by US airlines or in US territory so that safety inspections could be carried out.

“Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB’s investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282,” said FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker.

While no Australian carriers currently operate the MAX 9, Bonza has a fleet of four smaller MAX 8s, plus two operated under wet-lease from Canadian carrier Flair, while Virgin Australia has three MAX 8s operating, with 11 more – as well as 25 MAX 10s – on order. All of Bonza and Virgin’s MAX 8s have been cleared to continue flying.

“Bonza doesn’t operate any of the 737 MAX 9 aircraft that have been temporarily grounded for inspection,” a Bonza spokesperson said.

“We have received assurance from Boeing that there is no impact to our fleet.”

The Alaska Airlines incident is another in a long string of problems for Boeing’s 737 MAX family, many of which can be traced back to supplier Spirit AeroSystems, which installed the plug door that failed on Friday.

In April last year, Virgin’s already-delayed 737 MAX 8 order was further set back by an issue with a “nonstandard manufacturing process” used by Spirit for fittings in the 737 MAX’s aft fuselage that could result in noncompliance with required specifications.

The 737 MAX 8 had previously been grounded for more than 18 months from March 2019 to December 2020 following two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed 346 people.

The US Department of Justice subsequently fined Boeing US$2.5 billion for deceiving FAA safety officials who initially cleared it to fly.

In a scathing statement, a series of senior figures accused Boeing of “fraudulent and deceptive conduct”, “concealing material information”, and “engaging in an effort to cover up their deception”.

Boeing chief executive David Calhoun said then the huge penalty “appropriately acknowledges how we fell short of our values and expectations”.

Qantas in late 2021 opted not to place an order for the 737 MAX, instead going with rival Airbus for new A220 and A320 aircraft.

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Comment (1)

  • Of course the 737 MAX here in Australia have been cleared because we have the MAX 8 & it is the MAX 9 a different model.
    The MAX 9 recall also only affects those that have the extra door plugged at the rear of the fuselage. MAX 9 with an operational door are not affected .

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