A recent incident involving an Alaska Airlines plane has raised concerns about the safety of Boeing’s 737 Max 9 aircraft. Accident investigators have discovered that bolts crucial for securing a panel to the plane’s frame were missing before the panel blew off during a flight on January 5th.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report released on Tuesday, a photo provided by Boeing, who worked on the panel known as a door plug, revealed that three out of the four bolts that prevent the panel from moving upward were missing. The location of the fourth bolt remains unknown.
The investigators have determined that the lack of specific damage near the panel suggests that all four bolts were missing even before the plane took off from Portland, Oregon. As a result, pilots were forced to make a challenging emergency landing with a hole in the side of the aircraft.
The absence of these bolts meant that there was nothing to prevent the panel from sliding upward and becoming detached from the “stop pads” that were intended to keep it securely in place on the airframe.
In their preliminary report, investigators noted that the door plug, supplied by Spirit AeroSystems, arrived at Boeing’s factory near Seattle with five damaged rivets surrounding it. To rectify this issue, a Boeing crew had to replace these damaged rivets, which required removing the four bolts securing the plug.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting a separate investigation into whether Boeing and its suppliers followed proper safety procedures during the manufacturing of Max parts. In response to concerns about quality control, the FAA has issued an order prohibiting Boeing from increasing production of 737s until they are satisfied with the resolution of these issues.
FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker revealed that his agency is currently halfway through a six-week audit of Boeing’s manufacturing processes and its primary supplier for the Max, Spirit AeroSystems. Whitaker emphasized that the agency needs answers regarding both the problems with the Max 9 aircraft and the production practices at Boeing.