More than 170 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft grounded after Alaska Airlines mid-air blowout

Plane involved in incident had received certification two months ago, according to online FAA records

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it will order the temporary grounding and inspections of some Boeing Co 737 Max 9 aircraft operated by US carriers, a day after a fuselage section on a brand-new Alaska Airlines jet blew out shortly after take-off.

The move affects about 171 planes worldwide, according to a statement by the FAA, the US’s aviation regulator. Alaska Airlines, the world’s second biggest operator of the type, already grounded its Max 9 fleet in the wake of Friday’s incident after take-off from Portland, Oregon. United Airlines Holdings Inc., the model’s top operator, also took some of the jets out of service for inspections.

The forced grounding marks the most severe response to an incident since Boeing’s entire fleet of Max aircraft was temporarily taken out of service in 2019 following two deadly crashes. The 737 Max is by far Boeing’s most popular aircraft and its biggest source of revenue.

Only two US airlines operate the 737 Max 9 variant: United, with 78, and Alaska with 65, based on data from FlightRadar24. Alaska Airlines said in an update that it had completed inspection on “more than a quarter” of its 737-9 fleet, without making any concerning findings. The carrier will begin returning the jets to service once the “inspections are completed with our full confidence”, it added.


Alaska Airlines had grounded all its Boeing 737-9 aircraft hours after a window and a piece of fuselage on one plane blew out in mid-air, forcing an emergency landing in Oregon.

The incident occurred shortly after take-off from Portland and the gaping hole caused the cabin to depressurise.

Flight data showed the plane climbed to 16,000ft before returning to Portland International Airport. The airline said the aircraft landed safely with 174 passengers and six crew members.

“Following tonight’s event on Flight 1282, we have decided to take the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft,” Alaska Airlines chief executive Ben Minicucci said in a statement.

“My heart goes out to those who were on this flight – I am so sorry for what you experienced.”

The airline said the aircraft will be returned to service after full maintenance and safety inspections, which Mr Minicucci said the airline expected to be completed within days.

“We are working with Boeing and regulators to understand what occurred tonight, and will share updates as more information is available,” he said.

The temporary grounding, which will impact tens of thousands of Alaska Airlines customers with cancelled flights, involves almost 30 per cent of the airline’s 227 Boeing 737 family aircraft.

KPTV reported that according to the Port of Portland, the fire department responded to Friday’s incident and treated minor injuries at the scene. One person was taken for more treatment but was not seriously hurt.

The plane was diverted about six minutes after taking off, according to flight tracking data from the FlightAware website.

The pilot told Portland air traffic controllers the aircraft had an emergency, was depressurised and needed to return to the airport, according to a recording by the website

A passenger sent KATU-TV in Portland a photo showing the hole in the side of the plane next to passenger seats. Video shared with the station showed people wearing oxygen masks and passengers clapping as the plane landed.

Passenger Evan Smith was on the flight and described the moment the blowout occurred, saying: “You heard a big loud bang to the left rear. A whooshing sound, and all the oxygen masks deployed instantly, and everyone got those on.”

He said a boy and his mother were sitting in the row where the window blew out, adding that the boy’s shirt was sucked off him and out of the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating an event on the flight and would post updates when they are available.

The Boeing 737-9 Max involved in the incident had received its certification just two months ago, according to online FAA records.

The plane had been on 145 flights since entering commercial service on November 11th, said FlightRadar24. The flight from Portland was the aircraft’s third of the day.

Boeing said it was aware of the incident, was working to gather more information and ready to support the investigation.

The Max is the newest version of Boeing’s 737. The model went into service in May 2017.

Two Max 8 jets crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people and leading to a near two-year worldwide grounding of all Max 8 and Max 9 planes. They returned to service only after Boeing made changes to an automated flight control system implicated in the crashes.

Last year, the FAA told pilots to limit use of an anti-ice system on the Max in dry conditions because of concern that inlets around the engines could overheat and break away, possibly striking the plane.

Max deliveries have been interrupted at times to fix manufacturing flaws. The company told airlines in December to inspect the planes for a possible loose bolt in the rudder-control system. – AP/Bloomberg