FAA announces increase in oversight on Boeing production following Alaska Airlines incident

The FAA will be auditing the 737 Max 9 production lines.

January 12, 2024, 7:43 PM

The Federal Aviation Administration announced it will take the significant step of increasing its oversight over Boeing and begin an immediate audit of Boeing's production and manufacturing in the wake of the door plug blowing out of an Alaska Airlines flight last week.

The audit will "evaluate Boeing's compliance with its approved quality procedures," the agency said Friday.

The FAA said it will also assess the safety risks around delegated authority and quality oversight -- specifically the Organization Designation Authorization program. Under ODA, certain aircraft certification process is delegated to manufacturers like Boeing.

The door plug for the fuselage of a Boeing 737 Max 9 fell off a few minutes after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland International Airport on Jan. 5, depressurizing the cabin and exposing passengers to open air thousands of feet above ground. No one was seriously injured and the plane landed safely.

FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker said the agency is "exploring" the use of an independent third party to oversee Boeing's inspections and quality system.

PHOTO: The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 13, 2021.
The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 13, 2021.
Richard Drew/AP, FILE

"It is time to re-examine the delegation of authority and assess any associated safety risks," Whitaker said. "The grounding of the 737-9 and the multiple production-related issues identified in recent years require us to look at every option to reduce risk."

The FAA outlined three points of increased oversight Friday: an audit involving the Boeing 737 Max 9 production line and its suppliers; increased monitoring of Boeing 737 Max in-service events; and an assessment of safety risks around "delegated authority and quality oversight and examination of options to move these functions under independent, third-party entities."

The announcement came one day after the FAA said it would investigate Boeing after the door plug incident.

Boeing said in a statement Thursday about the investigation, "We will cooperate fully and transparently with the FAA and the NTSB on their investigations."

Spirit Aerosystems, Boeing's parts supplier, said of the increased FAA scrutiny, "Spirit AeroSystems is committed to supporting the FAA's audit of production and manufacturing processes to ensure compliance with the FAA Quality Management System. As a trusted partner to our customers, Spirit's top priorities are quality, product integrity and compliance."

Boeing said it "welcome[s]" the FAA's increased oversight and will "cooperate fully and transparently with" the agency.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident. The door plug arrived at its lab in Washington, D.C., on Friday, where it will undergo further testing to figure out why it was expelled mid-flight.

The FAA grounded approximately 171 Boeing 737-9 Max planes following the door plug incident.

On Friday, the agency said Boeing needs to provide additional data before the agency approves the instructions for inspections needed to bring the grounded planes back to the sky.

The FAA said Boeing needs to conduct plug-door inspections of 40 aircraft -- data from those tests will then be passed onto the FAA which will make a final determination if the inspections are sufficient for airlines to begin their reviews of impacted planes.

"We are working to make sure nothing like this happens again," FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement. "Our only concern is the safety of American travelers and the Boeing 737-9 MAX will not return to the skies until we are entirely satisfied it is safe."

Boeing did not immediately respond to request for comment.

United announced Friday it has canceled all Boeing 737 Max 9 flights through Jan. 16.

"By cancelling this far in advance, we're trying to create more certainty for our customers and more flexibility for our frontline teams to do their work," the airline said in a statement. "Those things will be especially important as we also manage disruptive winter weather throughout much of the country."

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