Boeing says it’s taking a ‘hard look’ at quality control after Alaska Airlines accident

Boeing is planning additional inspections for its 737 Max planes following a terrifying midair incident earlier this month in which a door plug fell off a Max 9, forcing an Alaska Airlines flight to make an emergency landing.

In an email Monday to employees, Stan Deal, CEO of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, pledged to bring in an outside party to assess the manufacturer’s quality management system and to provide more inspections at Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, which installs the door plug that was involved in the incident.

No one was seriously hurt after the door panel detached Jan. 5 aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, which landed safely in Portland, Oregon, shortly afterward. The Federal Aviation Administration has since grounded Boeing 737 Max 9 airplanes equipped with the door plugs for safety inspections.

Boeing has taken steps in recent years to improve its “layers of protection,” Deal wrote in Monday’s email. “But, the AS1282 accident and recent customer findings make clear that we are not where we need to be.”

Boeing’s team has been examining door plugs to ensure they are correctly installed, he said.

“While we complete these tasks to earn Federal Aviation Administration approval to unground the affected 737-9s, our team is also taking a hard look at our quality practices in our factories and across our production system,” he wrote.

In addition to inspecting Spirit AeroSystems’ installation of the door plug before the fuselage section is shipped to Boeing, the company is also “inspecting more than 50 other points in Spirit’s build process and assessing their build plans against engineering specifications,” according to Deal.

Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems will also open their factories to carriers for additional oversight inspections.

“These actions are separate from the FAA’s investigation and the agency’s plan to increase oversight of 737-9 production,” Deal wrote. “We will cooperate fully and transparently with both as we work to restore trust with our regulator and our customers.”

The moves come days after the FAA announced an investigation into Boeing over the door plug mishap, informing the manufacturer that it plans to look into whether Boeing “failed to ensure completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.”

The Alaska Airlines flight had been bound for Ontario International Airport in California but had to reverse course minutes after takeoff when the panel blew out from the side of the aircraft, leaving a gaping hole. Passengers reported hearing a loud bang and the cabin lost pressure, releasing oxygen masks down to the terrified flyers.

The incident is the latest in a string of troubles for the Max, Boeing’s newest 737 model. While air travel is widely considered one of the safest modes of transportation, the Max was previously grounded after deadly crashes months apart in 2018 and 2019, which a U.S. House investigative report blamed on “a horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers.”