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FAA investigating Boeing over Alaska Airlines incident

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating Boeing over last week’s incident involving an Alaska Airlines plane that resulted in a door plug flying off the aircraft mid-flight at 16,000 feet.

“This incident should have never happened and it cannot happen again,” the agency wrote in a written statement.

The aim of the probe is to find out if the aeroplane giant completed products in correlation to its design and that they were in a condition of safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.

The design in question is that of the company’s 737 Max 9 model, which has been grounded worldwide after the federal agency pulled the aircraft out of service.

In a letter sent to Boeing Vice President Carole Murray from John Piccola, aviation safety director for integrated certificate management division at the FAA, the agency said the ongoing events, including the discovery by United Airlines and Alaska Airlines that several of their models of the aeroplane had missing bolts, led it to believe that the company may have deemed their products airworthy without ensuring they met safety standards through quality system inspections and tests procedures.

Alaska Airlines has 65 of the planes, while United Airlines operates 79. Hundreds of flight cancellations have happened as a result of the incident, with several more expected into this weekend.

The agency is giving the company 10 days to respond to the letter with the root causes of the encountered conditions, the extent of any immediate or long-term action taken to correct and preclude the issue, and any mitigating circumstances which it believes might be relevant to the case, among other items.

Last week, the US Department of Justice entered an agreement with Boeing to settle a fraud conspiracy charge to the tune of $2.5bn. The government claims the company defrauded the FAA in connection with the agency’s evaluation of its 737 Max aeroplane.

At that time, the issue was with the manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system, which impacted the plane’s flight control system.

The company began developing its Max line around 2011. The aircraft involved in the Alaska Airlines flight was delivered to the airline in October.

In 2018, a Boeing Max 8 jet used by Indonesia-based Lion Air crashed, resulting in the deaths of 189 people. A year later, the same model was used in a flight that killed 157 people.

Boeing is one of the largest aeroplane manufacturers in the world, with its biggest competitor being Airbus, which also specialises in building commercial planes.

The investigation is the second launched against the company in response to the event. The National Transportation Safety Board initiated a probe immediately after the incident occurred.

During a news conference this week, officials said they are still trying to determine if bolts on the door plug, which can double as an emergency exit, were placed in the correct spots or existed at all. Experts say it’s likely that quality assurance at the company has suffered, resulting in the emergency to take place.

Approximately 171 guests and six crew members were on board the flight when it departed from Portland to California around 5pm. There were four minors and three lap children on the plane. Some of the passengers were left injured by the explosive episode, but were later cleared by medical professionals, Alaska Airlines said in a statement.

Speaking at a town hall on Tuesday. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said the company would move forward with the incident with complete transparency and is “acknowledging our mistake.”

“Everything matters. Every detail matters,” he told employees.