January 11, 2024

Boeing 737 Max

Federal investigators say a door panel slid up before flying off an Alaska Airlines jetliner last week, and they are looking at whether four bolts that were supposed to help hold the panel in place might have been missing when the plane took off. The comments Monday from the National Transportation Safety Board came shortly after Alaska and United Airlines reported separately that they found loose parts in the panels — or door plugs — of some other Boeing 737 Max 9 jets…

“The jet involved in Friday’s blowout is brand-new, having been put in service in November. After a cabin-pressurization system warning light came on during three flights, the airline stopped flying it over the Pacific to Hawaii.” AP News

Both sides are critical of Boeing, noting several recent safety incidents involving its planes:

“Boeing’s failure to maintain basic standards of safety (namely that the plane does not fall apart in flight) puts millions of lives at risk. There have to be consequences because the company’s current modus operandi is poised to have more tragic results. Consumer safety is a legitimate use of government authority, and Congress should not shy away from hauling Boeing executives to Capitol Hill to answer for this disaster

“Congress should be prepared to scrutinize the billions of taxpayer dollars that go to Boeing in the form of government contracts. But the FAA also needs to answer for why these planes have been allowed to continue to fly. In March, acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen stood by the safety of Boeing 737 MAX planes under questioning by Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH). The agency now has a new permanent head in Michael Whitaker, who should be made to answer questions about the aircraft’s safety and whether he believes the planes are safe to fly.”

Jeremiah Poff, Washington Examiner

“In October 2018 and March 2019, two crashes of an earlier version of the Max 737 killed 346 people, and grounded the planes for nearly two years. The disasters were ultimately traced to design failures in the model’s flight control software info that was not conveyed in its guidance to pilots, not to mention the Federal Aviation Administration, even though executives knew about it…

“Yet repercussions were almost nonexistent. A midlevel functionary charged criminally was acquitted by a jury in a matter of hours. It took the better part of a year — and two embarrassing days of congressional testimony — for Boeing to fire then-CEO Dennis Muhlenberg… Given this farcical excuse for accountability, it’s no surprise that the trouble didn’t stop for Boeing and the Max 737’s manufacturer, Spirit AeroSystems.”

Helaine Olen, MSNBC

“Over the holidays Boeing also appealed quietly for a safety exemption for its forthcoming MAX 7. Like some MAX models already in service, its anti-icing system is prone to overheating and breaking apart if left on five minutes too long, posing a small risk of catastrophic damage. Boeing’s proposed temporary fix? Instruct pilots to remember to turn off a system they were long told was OK to leave on…

“Which naturally raises a question: Is something systematically wrong with the way Boeing is organized or led? For finance types, that question has percolated partly because of the two crashes of its then-debuting 737 MAX, but also because of the company’s hesitancy to commit to designing a new ‘clean sheet’ plane, something it hasn’t attempted in 20 years.”

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Wall Street Journal

"Other Max 9 jets haven’t had any problems with their plugs blowing out in flight. That’s good news in one way but bad in another, because it makes it more likely that the problem occurred in manufacturing. A design flaw can be fixed once and for all, but sloppiness in manufacturing — if that is indeed the problem here — tends to be chronic and harder to put right. Come to think of it, one could well argue that any design that’s highly susceptible to being manufactured incorrectly is, by definition, flawed…

“If manufacturing is the problem, it may not be entirely Boeing’s fault. The fuselages for the 737 Max 9 are made by Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, a 2005 spinoff of Boeing… Boeing [has] had other issues with Spirit twice in the past year. One case involved fittings that attach the vertical tail fin to the fuselage. In the other, holes were improperly drilled in the aft pressure bulkhead in some Max 8s. [But] It’s hardly reassuring to know that Boeing might have someone else to blame, because ultimately Boeing is responsible for the safety of the aircraft it delivers. If it can’t catch mistakes, who can?”

Peter Coy, New York Times

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“A [NTSB] investigation report reads like a how-to book for pulling off miracles and achieving seemingly incredible levels of safety. These reports renew one’s faith in what humanity can achieve if we apply our brainpower and resources to it. But they also remind us that, much like liberty, these exceptional levels of commercial airline safety require eternal vigilance against the usual foes: greed, negligence, failure to adapt, complacency, revolving doors at regulatory agencies and so on…

"Year by year, investigation by investigation, incident by incident, commercial flying has become remarkably safe despite the complexity of operation with so many moving parts at a global scale: humans, software, weather and metal objects flying through the sky. Most of the time, it works so well that we don’t notice it — which is perhaps the true miracle of infrastructure that works well: It becomes invisible. Sometimes, it’s good to make visible the invisible many who keep us safe.”

Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times

From the Right

“The fleet of 737s has been grounded at both Alaskan and United and inspections of all the aircraft have begun. Technicians began finding alarming issues almost immediately, with ‘loose parts’ being found in the panels and door plugs of other planes. Making matters worse, it now seems possible that four of the bolts that were supposed to hold the door plug on the Alaskan Airlines flight may have been missing entirely…

“If [maintenance] inspections were not taking place or were being conducted in a sloppy fashion, the airlines have been placing the public in needless danger of injury or death. And Boeing shares a portion of the responsibility. We don’t appear to be dealing with a situation where some technicians need to just go in and tighten up a few bolts and return the 737s to service. All of the airlines’ safety procedures should be reviewed before everything returns to ‘normal.’ Where is our Secretary of Transportation in this whole mess? Shouldn’t he be chiming in?”

Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

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