US aviation regulator calls for checks on older Boeing 737 jets

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The US aviation regulator has recommended that airlines check an older version of Boeing’s 737 jet that has the same kind of door plug as that which blew out on an Alaska Airlines aircraft earlier this month.

The Federal Aviation Administration said late on Sunday that as an “added layer of safety” it was recommending operators of Boeing 737-900ER aircraft “visually inspect mid-exit door plugs to ensure the door is properly secured”. 

The 737-900ER is an earlier version of the 737 Max 9 aircraft which is at the centre of an investigation following the accident on January 5.

The FAA said that following additional maintenance inspections by some 737-900ER operators of the door plugs on their aircraft after the Alaska accident they had “noted findings with bolts”. 

It recommended that operators perform “key portions” of the maintenance inspection procedure related to the four locations where a “bolt/nut/pin installation is used to secure the door to the airframe, as soon as possible”.

The agency grounded 171 of Boeing’s 737 Max 9 aircraft while investigations continue into what went wrong, but the incident has already raised questions over Boeing’s quality controls and that at supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, which built the fuselage.

It has also refocused scrutiny of the 737 Max, Boeing’s most popular plane, whose smaller model, the Max 8, was involved in two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019. 

Boeing has been scrambling to contain the fallout from the Alaska incident. It has brought in a retired Navy admiral, Kirkland H Donald, to review its quality management systems. Key customers, including Ryanair and aircraft lessor AerCap, have in recent weeks warned that the company needs to focus on safety and quality control. 

According to Boeing data, more than 500 of the 737-900ER models have been delivered to airlines globally. Major operators include United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines. 

The door plugs replace mid-cabin emergency exit doors and are installed depending on the configuration used by the respective airline operator. They are common features and have been used on both Boeing and Airbus aircraft for decades.  

Boeing said it fully supported the FAA and its customers “in this action”.

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