While Boeing continues to lose credibility, this time via a damning report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the news could have been much worse. Indeed, quality control issues are much easier to overcome than structural engineering deficiencies.
NTSB 737 MAX 9 Preliminary Report: Installation Error Rather Than Structural Deficiency
The NTSB just published its preliminary report concerning the Boeing 737 MAX 9 incident on Alaska Airlines 1282 on January 5, 2024. There was some concern that the plugged emergency exit door suddenly detached from the aircraft in-flight due to a structural engineering defect of the aircraft.
It appears that is not the case. Instead, the NTSB outlined the following timeline:
- March 24, 2023 – Spirit AeroSystems manufactures the door plug of the 737 MAX 9 in Malaysia
- May 10, 2023 – Door plug sent to Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas
- August 20, 2023 – Door plug installed on fuselage, shipped to Boeing
- September 1, 2023 – Rivet damage discovered on the edge frame around left door plug, leading to the removal of bolts for repairs
The paper trail stops there, but it was determined that the bolts were never re-installed before the aircraft was sent to Alaska Airlines.
That is a damning lack of oversight and quality control. But it is not like the bolts just popped off midair because of the aircraft design. Instead, they were simply not installed…and that sort of issue is much easier to correct than any structural issue.
As Emirates’ President Sir Tim Clark warned, Boeing has virtually no more room for error. Not only is this a humbling and teaching moment, but Boeing must institute redundant quality control checks throughout the supply chain process if it hopes to maintain what little trust is left.
But this is possible: this is doable. And for that, I can only imagine that Boeing is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
There is no excuse for failing to re-install bolts on an aircraft and for others to fail to notice this. But Boeing can be happy that the NTSB found human error in installation rather than a structural defect that could have grounded the entire program once again.
While this does not mean the 737 MAX 7 or MAX 10 will be certified, I think this report makes such certification more likely. The only unanswered question is why United Airlines and Alaska found loose bolts on some aircraft: was this also a sloppy installation job as well or is there something else going on?