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Boeing faces criminal probe into Alaska MAX 9 blowout

written by Jake Nelson | March 11, 2024

Investigator-in-Charge John Lovell examines the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737-9 MAX. (Image: NTSB)

Boeing is facing a criminal investigation in the US over the mid-air blowout on an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 in January.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the Department of Justice is contacting passengers and crew who were on board the flight as part of its probe, with the airline reportedly unable to find documentation about the door plug and saying the records likely do not exist.

Boeing has been under renewed scrutiny over the safety of its 737 MAX line following the incident on board Alaska Airlines flight 1282 from Portland to Ontario in January, which saw an emergency exit door plug blow out at 16,000 feet, causing minor injuries to passengers and depressurisation of the cabin.

The investigation will look into whether Boeing is continuing to comply with a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement following the crash of two MAX 8s.

In a statement, Alaska Airlines said it is normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation “in an event like this”.


“We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation,” the statement said.

In a letter to Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, Ziad Ojakli, Boeing’s executive vice president of government operations, said the airline had been unable to find documents regarding the “opening and closing of the door plug” despite “extensive” searches, and that the working hypothesis is “the documents required by our processes were not created when the door plug was opened”.

A preliminary NTSB report last month said the door plug had been missing four key bolts meant to hold it in place, while the FAA’s six-week audit of Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems has found “multiple instances where the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements”.

“The FAA identified non-compliance issues in Boeing’s manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control,” the agency said in a statement last week.

“To hold Boeing accountable for its production quality issues, the FAA has halted production expansion of the Boeing 737 MAX, is exploring the use of a third party to conduct independent reviews of quality systems, and will continue its increased onsite presence at Boeing’s facility in Renton, Washington, and Spirit AeroSystems’ facility in Wichita, Kansas.”

The 737 MAX family is currently operated by two Australian carriers, Virgin and Bonza, both of which operate the smaller MAX 8 model that does not include the emergency exit at fault on the MAX 9. Virgin has a number of MAX 10s on order.

Boeing last month sacked the head of the 737 MAX program amid the continuing fallout from the incident.

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