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The Federal Aviation Administration says it will audit the Boeing 737 Max 9 production line and its suppliers, with a focus on ensuring quality controls.
The announcement, which the FAA called a “significant action,” comes just a week after a dramatic in-flight incident on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, when a part called a door plug flew off the side of the plane.
The audit will also assess “security risks around delegated authority and quality oversight,” a practice that FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement that “is time to re-examine.”
Whittaker also raised the possibility of outsourcing some inspections.
“The FAA is exploring the possibility of using an independent third party to inspect Boeing and monitor its quality systems,” Whittaker said in the statement.
The announcement made no mention of when the 737 Max 9 would return to service. 171 planes are grounded in the United States as airlines Alaska and United await updated emergency inspection guidance from the FAA.
The lack of a timeline from the FAA raises the possibility that the planes could be grounded for some time until the regulator is sure they are safe to fly. Alaska Airlines said said in a statement on Wednesday It canceled all flights on 737-9 Max aircraft through Saturday, January 13 – that’s about 110-150 flights per day. It has not yet made any announcements about future flights. United is also canceling hundreds of flights a day due to the grounding.
Boeing CEO David Calhoun acknowledged at an employee-wide safety meeting Tuesday that the company made a “mistake” related to the Alaska Airlines incident.
“We’re going to reach out to number one acknowledging our mistake,” Calhoun told employees Tuesday. Video of the meeting was provided to CNN by Boeing. “We are going to pursue this with 100% and complete transparency every step of the way.”
On Wednesday, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun acknowledged in an interview with CNBC that the door plug failure was a “terrible lapse” of its manufacturing and quality control processes.
When asked what exactly happened, Calhoun told CNBC, “What happened is exactly what you saw, a fuselage plug burst. This is a mistake, this can never happen.”
In that interview, Calhoun emphasized that he is “confident” in the FAA’s ongoing work to “inspect each airplane” and “make sure they are in conformance with our design, which is a proven Is the design.
NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday that the FAA and Boeing “really need information about how this happened before they take action to ground the planes.” ”
“I would recommend that they not put him back into service until they fully understand how this happened,” Homendy said. “This will let them know what needs to be inspected and what needs to be repaired.”
A Boeing source told CNN that Boeing believes the “fault in question” was introduced into the aircraft’s manufacturing supply chain.
For five years, Boeing has faced repeated quality and safety issues with its planes, leading to long periods of grounding of some jets and halting deliveries of others.
The design of the 737 Max was found to be responsible for two fatal crashes: one in Indonesia in October 2018, and the other in Ethiopia in March 2019. Together, the two crashes killed all 346 people on board the two flights and led to a 20-month disaster. The grounding of the company’s best-selling jets, which cost the company more than $21 billion.
In internal communications released during the 737 Max grounding, an employee described the jet as “designed by clowns who are monitored by monkeys.”
Late last month, Boeing asked airlines to inspect all of its 737 Max jets for possible loose bolts in the rudder system after an airline discovered a potential problem in a main body of two planes.
Its quality and engineering problems extended beyond the 737. Quality concerns cited by the FAA caused Boeing to pause deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner twice, for about a year starting in 2021 and again in 2023. And a 777 jet also suffered a grounding after a United flight suffered engine failure, scattering engine debris onto homes and the ground below.
This story has been updated with additional developments and context.