Alaska Airlines made the decision to ground all of its Boeing 737-9 aircraft late Friday, following an alarming incident that occurred during one flight. Shortly after takeoff, a window and a piece of fuselage on the plane blew out, causing the cabin to depressurize. The flight data revealed that the plane climbed to an altitude of 16,000 feet before making an emergency landing at Portland International Airport.
Despite the harrowing ordeal, the plane landed safely with all 174 passengers and six crew members unharmed. Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci addressed the situation, stating, “Following tonight’s event on Flight 1282, we have decided to take the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft.” This measure ensures that each aircraft undergoes thorough maintenance and safety inspections before returning to service, a process that is expected to be completed within a few days.
At this time, the airline has not provided any further details regarding injuries or the cause of the incident. According to flight tracking data from the FlightAware website, the plane was diverted approximately six minutes after takeoff at 5:07 p.m. and successfully landed at 5:26 p.m. The pilot communicated to air traffic controllers in Portland that the airplane was in an emergency situation, experiencing depressurization, and needed to return to the airport.
A passenger onboard managed to capture an image of the gaping hole in the side of the plane adjacent to passenger seats, which was later shared with KATU-TV in Portland. Additionally, videos taken by passengers showed the use of oxygen masks and a round of applause as the aircraft safely touched down.
The airline’s swift and proactive response ensures the well-being and tranquility of its passengers during this unsettling incident. Alaska Airlines will continue to prioritise safety as they thoroughly inspect and maintain each aircraft before resuming regular operations.
Investigating a Flight Incident
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating an event on a flight and will provide updates when available. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also stated that they will conduct their own investigation.
Newly Certified Boeing Aircraft
According to online FAA records, the Boeing 737-9 MAX involved in the incident recently received its certification after rolling off the assembly line just two months ago.
FlightRadar24, a tracking service, reported that the aircraft had been in service for 145 flights since its commercial debut on Nov. 11. The flight from Portland was the third of the day for this particular plane.
Boeing, the manufacturer of the Max aircraft, is aware of the incident and is actively gathering more information to support the investigation.
Introduction of the Max Aircraft
The Max is the newest version of Boeing’s well-established 737 model. This twin-engine, single-aisle aircraft is commonly used for domestic flights within the United States and entered service in May 2017.
Previous Accidents and Grounding
Two Max 8 jets crashed in 2018 and 2019, resulting in the tragic loss of 346 lives. Following these incidents, all Max 8 and Max 9 planes worldwide were grounded for nearly two years. Passengers were only able to board these planes again after Boeing made necessary changes to address issues with an automated flight control system that was implicated in the accidents.
Safety Concerns and Maintenance
In response to safety concerns, the FAA advised pilots to limit the use of an anti-ice system on the Max aircraft in dry conditions due to the potential overheating and breakaway of engine inlets, which could pose a risk to the plane. Additionally, manufacturing flaws have occasionally led to interruptions in Max deliveries. In December, airlines were instructed by Boeing to inspect the rudder-control system on these planes for possible loose bolts.
The investigation into the recent flight incident will shed light on any potential issues and contribute to overall aviation safety.