Boeing to add further quality inspections for 737 MAX

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Boeing will add further quality inspections for the 737 MAX after a mid-air blowout of a cabin panel in an Alaska Airlines MAX 9 earlier this month, the head of its commercial airplanes division said on Monday.

The planemaker will also deploy a team to supplier Spirit AeroSystems – which makes and installs the plug door involved in the incident – to check and approve Spirit’s work on the plugs before fuselages are sent to Boeing’s production facilities in Washington state, Stan Deal, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a letter to Boeing employees.

The new actions from Boeing come after the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday extended the grounding of 171 MAX 9 planes indefinitely for new safety checks. Only after 40 planes are inspected will the agency review the results and determine if safety is adequate to allow the MAX 9s to resume flying, the FAA said.

In addition to the door plug inspections, Boeing teams will conduct checks at 50 other points in Spirit’s production process, Deal said. Meanwhile, both Boeing and Spirit will open their 737 production facilities to airline customers for carriers to provide their own inspections.

“We are working seamlessly with Boeing in executing on the FAA’s Quality Management System (QMS) in the production and manufacturing of the 737 MAX 9,” said a Spirit spokesperson in a statement to Reuters.

Boeing will also hold sessions for employees on quality management, and bring in an outside party to conduct an independent assessment of its production process, Deal said.

Alaska Airlines said it had “engaged in a candid conversation” with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and the planemaker’s leadership team on the quality improvement actions.

“We welcome and appreciate Boeing’s specific commitments to bolster quality assurance and controls across their factories and at Spirit AeroSystems,” Alaska Airlines said.

The FAA declined to comment.

Deal said the actions laid out in the letter are separate from the FAA’s ongoing investigation and plans to increase oversight of MAX production.

However, before new MAX 9s are delivered, Boeing “will conduct the same thorough inspections of the mid-exit door plugs as mandated by the FAA,” Deal wrote.

The regulator announced last week it will also audit the Boeing 737 MAX 9 production line and suppliers and consider having an independent entity take over certain aircraft certification responsibilities the FAA previously assigned to the planemaker.

Boeing has boosted its number of a quality inspectors by 20% since 2019 and plans to make additional investments to its quality units, Deal wrote.

“Everything we do must conform to the requirements in our QMS,” Deal wrote. “Anything less is unacceptable. It is through this standard that we must operate to provide our customers and their passengers complete confidence in Boeing airplanes.”

United Airlines and Alaska Airlines have canceled all MAX 9 flights through Tuesday. United Airlines declined to comment on Boeing’s actions on Monday.

(Reporting by Valerie Insinna, David Shepardson and Tanay Dhumal; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Louise Heavens and Andrea Ricci)