Boeing’s rough January 2024 was marked by the blowout aboard an Alaska Airlines flight, but that’s far from its only major problem.
The January blowout on a Boeing Max 9 on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 was just the latest in the series of issues Boeing has had with its Max aircraft.
That incident drove the Federal Aviation Administration to order the temporary grounding of certain Boeing 737 Maxes and increase oversight of the planemaker. The FAA said on January 24 that it’s halting any production expansion of the 737 Max.
Alaska and United, which fly the Max 9 in the U.S., are now back to flying the jet after canceling thousands of flights throughout January. But that won’t be the end of the story: Investigations are ongoing, as is the political fallout.
Here’s a timeline from Skift news coverage of how we got here.
October 2018: Boeing 737 Max 8 Crashes in Indonesia
Lion Air flight JT610, a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, crashed into the sea off Jakarta shortly after departing on a domestic flight, killing all 189 passengers. Investigators said automated systems probably believed erroneously that the aircraft had stalled and needed to descend to increase airspeed.
Skift reported the following month that Boeing and FAA asked airlines, including United, to better prepare crews to understand the 737 Max’s automated system. The 737 Max 8 jet had only been launched globally the previous year.
March 2019: Boeing 737 Max 8 Crashes in Ethiopia
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed minutes after taking from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board and representing the second fatal plash in five months involving a a 737 Max 8 jet.
The FAA then ordered U.S. airlines to ground all 737 Max aircraft, following in the footsteps of regulators from China, Europe and Canada. Although the FAA didn’t say when it would lift the ban, Skift reported it could last at least until investigators review the flight data recorder and cockpit voice reporter from the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Boeing said it agreed with the FAA’s decision.
“Boeing has determined — out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety — to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of the operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 Max aircraft,” the company said.
The 737 Max didn’t return to passenger service worldwide until a Gol flight from São Paulo to Porto Alegre in December 2020.
April 2023: Boeing Halts Deliveries of Some 737 Max Jets
Boeing paused deliveries of some 737 Max jets due to quality-related problems with certain components made by one of its main suppliers. That came after the planemaker haltered deliveries of its 767F frieghter and KC-tanker earlier in the year after the company discovered center fuel tanks made by a supplier were not properly sealed.
August 2023: 737 Max Supplier Defect Delays Deliveries
Boeing said it identified a 737 Max quality problem involving supplier Spirit AeroSystems that resulted in improperly drilled holes on the aft pressure bulkhead. The planemaker said the defect would delay near-term deliveries, including the first Max 8 delivery to Malaysia Airlines, which had been scheduled for August 28.
January 2024: The Fallout of the Alaska Airlines Blowout and Further Issues
January 5: Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 suffered a blowout shortly after its departure from Portland, Oregon for Ontario, California. Flightradar24 and safety analysts said exterior photos of the aircraft appeared to show a panel that can be used for a rear mid-cabin exit door had separated from the plane.
Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci said the airline would temporarily ground its fleet of 65 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft. At the time, he expected inspections to be completed in the “next few days.”
January 6: The FAA said it would temporarily ground certain Boeing 737 Max aircraft and require immediate inspections, which take between four and eight hours per aircraft. United Airlines also grounded Max 9 jets.
January 8: The FAA said airlines could begin inspecting more than 100 737 Max 9 planes. United found loose door plugs on at least five of its 737 Max 9 jets, with Skift reporting that the loose bolts were found during initial inspections of the “mid-cabin door plug” partway down the fuselage of the Max 9.
According to flight tracking site FlightAware, Alaska had canceled 139 flights and United 204 as of that morning.
January 13: Alaska said it would extend its cancellation of Max 9 flights through January 16. Reuters reported the company had been cancelling roughly 20% of daily flights since January 6.
January 21: The FAA issued a safety alert, asking airlines to visually inspect the door plugs on the Boeing 737-900ER, which the agency said has an “identical door plug design” to that of the Boeing 737 Max 9. Alaska, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines all operate the 737-900ER, which is not a part of the Boeing 737 Max family.
January 23: Alaska CEO Minicucci said the company found “many” loose bolts during its internal inspections of the Max 9, adding he believed Boeing sent the carrier a plane with a faulty door. Minicucci also said he was angry at Boeing for the blowout.
January 24: The FAA cleared the way for airlines to return the Max 9 to service. The agency also said it would pause the production expansion of the 737 Max to investigate the quality and production processes at Boeing.
January 25: Southwest Airlines said it was removing the Boeing 737 Max 7 from its 2024 fleet plans due to certification delays. Skift reported the certification timeline is uncertain after the FAA halted production expansion of the 737 Max. Alaska said it expected to take a $150 million hit from the Max 9 grounding and that Boeing should reimburse it for the loss.
January 26: The Max 9 officially returns to service in the U.S., with the Alaska operating the first flight from Seattle. But the fallout isn’t over for Boeing, which reports fourth-quarter earnings January 31. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. have expressed interest in investigating the company and the NTSB investigation into the Alaska incident is ongoing.
Reporting by Gordon Smith and Meghna Maharishi.