The Supply Chain Matters blog provides an additional update on the latest incident involving a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft’s decompression.

As highlighted in our original commentary, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft flying at 16,000 feet experienced a main cabin decompression as a result of a rear exit fuselage door plug blowing out. Fortunately, the aircraft was able to return to its point of departure, Portland, Oregon for an emergency landing. There were no reported fatalities or major injuries, which was very fortunate.

The aircraft itself was newly produced and delivered to the airline in November 2023. The blown out aircraft door panel plug has subsequently been found in a residential backyard on the ground and safety authorities have been inspecting both the door and the aircraft’s rear fuselage door frame to try to assess whether loose or lack of bolts led to the incident.

News of this incident prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to launch immediate investigations.

Latest Developments

Today, the FAA indicated that it would conduct an audit of the 737 MAX 9 production line as well as its suppliers.

Yesterday, the FAA formally notified Boeing that the agency is investigating the fuselage door blowout causing aircraft decompression, and to whether the incident resulted from the plane maker’s failure to ensure its aircraft met government-approved designs and safety requirements. Specifically noted by the agency was: “This incident should have never happened and cannot happen again.”

The above language is being interpreted as indicating that the agency will take the time to thoroughly investigate, and that a timely return to operational service for 737 MAX 9 may take additional time. That has implications for Alaska, United and Copa airlines, the noted operators of this MAX variant.

This week, industry publication Aviation Week indicated in a published report a statement from Boeing that: “Hardware that was installed improperly by supplier Spirit AeroSystems and which Boeing’s quality management system failed to detect is turning up on 737-9’s and may have played a role in the Jan 5 door plug assembly failure on an Alaskan Airlines 737-9, comments from Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun suggest.”

Calhoun in an interview with CNBC indicated a “quality escape” explains the appearance of loose bolts and related issues that are being found on other similar 737 MAX 9 in ongoing inspections. Reportedly, his comments stopped short of making a direct link.

What is most significant in the reporting is that previous incidents of 737 MAX aircraft having evidence of production shortcomings or mis-aligned fuselage bolts have not involved an in-flight incident. The Aviation Week report specifically points out that this plug incident stands out as: “the first production quality shortcoming linked to a safety-of-flight issue.”

Boeing CEO Calhoun reinforced that context in his comment: “We have not safety related non-conformance. This one is and it is very important that we understand that.

As it stands now, all Boeing 737 MAX 9’s remain grounded and await instructions from the FAA and from Boeing as to further instructions and actions to be taken.

Added Note

Supply Chain Matters wanted to also highlight for our readers the significance of the more direct candor being communicated from CEO Calhoun on the part of Boeing.

Such statements indicating that “we own it,” “we’re all in this together” and ‘we will cooperate fully and transparently with the FAA and the NTSB on their investigations” have not necessarily been the stance nor perspective from Boeing senior management during the many past incidents involving the MAX aircraft family.

They are a reflection if the reputational challenges that are increasing and the now closer oversight of government aviation regulators to this company’s continued incidents involving production quality and aircraft design.

After the rather tragic two prior deadly accidents involving this aircraft series, Boeing demonstrated a significant lack of transparency, no doubt to mitigate the impacts of litigation and market reputational risks.  That ultimately led to paying a $2.5 billion settlement to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit and the now increased oversight of the company.

A subsequent internal investigation has led to the formation of a now existing board level safety committee to address the various corporate cultural issues related to strengthening engineering design, production and quality processes. That committee is going to be again under the looking glass.

We close this commentary with a link to an editorial commentary published by The Wall Street Journal (Paid subscription) that sums up Boeing’s latest challenge succinctly in the sentence: “Because learning occurs, Boeing will get its engineering and production snafus straightened out or it won’t survive in present form.”

Need we add any further comment regarding the reputational stakes along with the industry’s supply chain implications.

Bob Ferrari

 

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