Alaska launches temporary grounding of 737 Max 9 fleet

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Alaska Airlines is grounding its 65 737 Max 9 aircraft following a serious incident aboard a brand new Boeing 737 Max 9 that suffered a rapid decompression and an apparent in-flight loss of a mid-aft door and interior sidewall, according to an internal message sent to the airline’s pilots. The NTSB and FAA have launched an investigation into the incident.

“Each aircraft will be returned to service only after completion of full maintenance and safety inspections. We anticipate all inspections will be completed in the next few days,” according to the message reviewed by The Air Current sent by Ben Minicucci, Alaska’s CEO. The airline has now issued the same notification publicly.

No one was hurt in the incident that occurred around 5 pm PT while the aircraft was climbing out of Portland International Airport on its way to Ontario, California as flight 1282, but the incident sparks fresh concerns about the Boeing single-aisle following a string of manufacturing quality issues that hit the plane maker in 2023 and the 2019 and 2020 grounding of the jet worldwide.

Alaska 737 Max 9 that lost deactivated exit had recent pressurization issues

Preliminary information about the accident remains scarce, though two people familiar with the aircraft tell The Air Current that the aircraft in question, N704AL, had presented spurious indications of pressurization issues during two instances on January 4. The first intermittent warning light appeared during taxi-in following a previous flight, which prompted the airline to remove the aircraft from extended range operations (ETOPS) per maintenance rules. The light appeared again later the same day in flight, the people said.

A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the prior pressurization issues.

According to an earlier statement from Alaska released shortly after the aircraft safely landed back in Portland, the aircraft was carrying 174 passengers and 6 crew members. “The safety of our guests and employees is always our primary priority, so while this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to safely manage the situation. We are investigating what happened and will share more information as it becomes available,” a spokeswoman for the airline said in a statement to The Air Current.

Boeing said a technical support team is standing by should Alaska require assistance.

Related: Alaska Airlines, finally all-Boeing, ventures beyond the recovery

The 737-9 Max was delivered to Alaska on October 31, 2023, according to ch-aviation, making it one of the newest aircraft in the carrier’s fleet. The airline has since inducted seven more Max aircraft, including its first Max 8 just days ago. The aircraft has completed 145 flights since its entry into service on November 11, according to FlightRadar24.

Alaska is the second largest 737 Max 9 operator with 65 of the 221 flying at the Seattle-based carrier’s fleet.

The significance of the rear-aft door is considerable given that it is required to be completely deactivated by Boeing before delivery in order to cap the available seating count. With its activation, used by low cost airlines like Lion Air, for example, the Max 9 is able to seat up to 220 passengers. From inside the cabin, this deactivated door appears as just a normal window and sidewall and is not accessed from the outside in normal operation.

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