Boeing 737 MAX 9 Fleet Grounded Indefinitely by US Regulator Amid Safety Concerns

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced an indefinite extension of the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes, following a mid-flight incident where a cabin panel broke off. This decision comes as United Airlines and Alaska Airlines continue to cancel flights through Tuesday, with the FAA implementing additional inspections before considering the aircraft's return to service.

In response to the safety concerns, the FAA will intensify oversight of Boeing, conducting audits on the Boeing 737 MAX 9 production line and suppliers. Furthermore, the regulator is exploring the possibility of an independent entity assuming certain aspects of certifying new aircraft safety, a role previously assigned to Boeing.

The FAA clarified that the continued grounding of 171 planes with a similar configuration to the incident is prioritized "for the safety of American travelers." While initial reports suggested a potential lifting of the grounding after inspections, the FAA has now mandated reinspection of 40 planes, followed by a thorough review of results before considering the resumption of MAX 9 flights.

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, the primary users of the affected aircraft, have faced significant disruptions, with hundreds of flights canceled. The incident has contributed to a nearly 12% decline in Boeing shares since January 5.

Confidence in Boeing has been rattled since the fatal crashes of the MAX 9 in 2018 and 2019, leading to extensive reforms in the certification process. A formal investigation into the MAX 9 was recently launched by the FAA, citing "significant problems" and highlighting Boeing's history of production issues.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker views the MAX 9 issues as a manufacturing concern, signaling a need for an extensive review of Boeing's production processes. Whitaker expressed a growing focus on the manufacturing process and suggested a reevaluation of the FAA's delegation of critical safety tasks to Boeing.

Boeing has pledged full cooperation with regulators, supporting actions that enhance quality and safety. Whitaker advocates exploring third-party options for critical safety inspections, emphasizing the need for increased oversight and independence from the manufacturer.

The incident involving the Alaska Airlines aircraft has prompted calls for tighter control by the FAA, marking a shift in public perception of Boeing's brand. Critics argue that strained budgets at the FAA may have led to excessive delegation to the planemaker, a concern the agency has sought to address by increasing regulatory oversight.

The FAA's decision to indefinitely ground the MAX 9 fleet underscores the significance of ongoing safety concerns and the need for thorough investigations before considering the aircraft's return to service.

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