The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Saturday ordered the immediate inspection of 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft suspended from flight until then, after an incident that occurred Friday during a flight near Portland, Oregon.
The FAA directive “requires operators [compagnies aériennes] to inspect the aircraft before a new flight,” the agency said in a press release, estimating that this operation required between 4 and 8 hours per plane.
According to data communicated by Boeing to AFP, some 218 copies of the 737 MAX 9 have been delivered to date.
Before the FAA’s announcement, the American airline Alaska had already neutralized all of its 65 planes of this model.
The decision followed an incident that occurred Friday shortly after an Alaska Airlines flight took off from Portland International Airport around 5 p.m. local time bound for Ontario, California in the greater Los Angeles suburbs.
According to images posted on social networks, a door opened and detached from the cabin in mid-flight.
The aircraft, which was carrying 171 passengers and 6 crew members, was then at an altitude of nearly 5,000 m, according to flight data from the FlightAware website.
According to several specialists, notably the head of the specialized site The Air Current, Jon Ostrower, it seems that it is a door that is blocked and hidden by a partition which only reveals a porthole.
The FAA directive also concerns models “with the middle door blocked”, according to the document published on its site.
After turning around, the plane returned to land at its original airport, the incident causing only a few minor injuries.
“The aircraft returned to land safely at Portland International Airport with all 171 passengers and six crew members,” according to a statement from Alaska Airlines.
“It was really brutal. Barely at altitude, the front of the window just came off and I only noticed it when the oxygen masks came down,” a passenger on the flight, Kyle Rinker, told the American channel CNN.
According to the Portland daily, The Oregonianciting passengers, no one was in the place immediately next to the blown-off bulkhead.
But the teenager who was sitting in the middle seat saw his shirt torn off by the decompression, causing minor injuries, according to the daily.
“The first thing that came to my mind was ‘I’m going to die,'” Vi Nguyen told New York Times.
“A terrifying incident”
The American Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, spoke on X of “a terrifying incident” and said he was in contact with the FAA.
On Saturday, Alaska Airlines indicated, on the social network , “element of concern”.
The American transportation safety agency, the NTSB, announced that it had sent a team to Portland to investigate the reasons for this malfunction.
The incriminated device was certified in November, according to the FAA registry available online.
The manufacturer of the aircraft, the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing, said it was gathering more information and had a technical team available to investigators.
“We agree with the FAA and support its decision to request an immediate inspection of 737-9s of the same configuration as the incriminated aircraft,” Boeing responded in a statement sent to AFP.
United, which has the largest fleet of 737-9s in the world, announced to AFP that it was leaving 46 aircraft on the ground awaiting inspection, 33 having already been examined, a decision which, according to the company, should cause the cancellation of 60 flights on Saturday.
Its competitor Aeromexico has decided to ground all its 737 MAX 9s until the checks have been carried out.
For its part, the European carrier Icelandair clarified that none of its 737-9s corresponded to the configuration affected by the FAA directive.
The incident comes after the 737 MAX suffered a series of technical problems and two crashes in recent years.
These two accidents, which caused the death of 346 people in October 2018 and March 2019, resulted in the 737 MAX being kept on the ground for 20 months, before it was re-authorized to fly.
The FAA had only authorized return to service after changes to the flight control system.
More recently, Boeing had to slow down deliveries due to problems with the fuselage, particularly with the aircraft’s rear bulkhead.
At the end of December, Boeing had delivered a total of more than 1,370 copies of the 737 MAX and its order book reached more than 4,000 units.
Suspended by China since the crashes, deliveries of 737 MAX to the country’s companies have still not resumed.