FAA is investigating Boeing, but Cantwell wants answers from FAA

Jan 12, 2024, 7:00 AM | Updated: 7:11 am

In this National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handout photo, plastic covers the exterior of t...

In this National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handout photo, plastic covers the exterior of the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737 Max 9 on Jan. 7, 2024 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo: NTSB via Getty Images)

(Photo: NTSB via Getty Images)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Thursday it is investigating Boeing over a midair emergency that left a gaping hole in an Alaska Airlines jet that took from from Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon, last week. But a U.S. senator from Washington is pointing a finger back at federal regulators.

The FAA, which is supposed to enforce standards for airplane manufacturing, operation, and maintenance, wrote a letter that can be accessed from its website and X account. X is formerly known as Twitter.

Boeing said Thursday it would cooperate with the investigation, which is focusing on plugs used to fill spots for extra doors when those exits are not required for safety reasons on Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliners.

One of two plugs on the Alaska Airlines plane blew out shortly after the plane took off from Portland .

“Boeing’s manufacturing practices need to comply with the high safety standards they’re legally accountable to meet,” the FAA said as part of a statement.


The FAA notified Boeing of the investigation in a letter dated Wednesday.

“After the incident, the FAA was notified of additional discrepancies on other Boeing 737-9 airplanes,” an FAA official wrote. Alaska and United Airlines reported finding loose bolts on door plugs that they inspected in some of their other Max 9 jets.

More news: Alaska Airlines cancels flights on certain Boeing planes through Saturday for mandatory inspections

The FAA asked Boeing to respond within 10 business days and tell the agency “the root cause” of the problem with the door plug and steps the company is taking to prevent a recurrence.

“We will cooperate fully and transparently with the FAA and the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) on their investigations,” said Boeing, which is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

Cantwell takes on the FAA after its announcement

The FAA’s move to investigate Boeing comes as the agency is again under scrutiny for its oversight of the aircraft maker. Members of Congress have in the past accused the FAA of being too cozy with Boeing.

In a letter to the agency Thursday, Washington’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell questioned how well the agency is exercising its oversight of not only Boeing but contractor Spirit AeroSystems.

“In short, it appears that FAA’s oversight processes have not been effective in ensuring that Boeing produces airplanes that are in condition for safe operation, as required by law and by FAA regulations,” Cantwell said in her letter.

Witchita-based Spirit made the panel that blew out of a Boeing 737 Max-9 after taking off from Portland last week. Federal safety investigators are looking into whether the panel — used to plug a spot for an optional emergency exit – was properly bolted into place.

Cantwell pointed out that last year, she requested the FAA audit Boeing production systems but was told it was not needed.

“By letter dated Jan. 26, 2023, I requested that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initiate a new Special Technical Audit of 11 areas related to Boeing’s production systems,” Cantwell wrote. “In the Agency’s response dated April 4, 2023, former Acting Administrator Billy Nolen stated that such an audit was not needed because ‘the agency has (already) implemented tools to complete audits (of Boeing) for the bulk of this information at regular intervals.'”

Now, she’s asking the FAA for documentation on how the agency is making sure Boeing and Spirit are complying with quality control standards.

Cantwell, who sits on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, is requesting a written response by Jan. 25.

The FAA’s lack of oversight was cited as a contributing factor in the deadly crashes of two Max jets — Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March 2019 — that killed a total of 346 people.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather X, formerly known as Twitter or email her here.

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