The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday laid out the process to return the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft to service after they were grounded earlier this month following a midair blowout during an Alaska Airlines flight.
The FAA announced Wednesday it approved a “thorough inspection and maintenance process” that will be performed on each of the 171 grounded Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft. Once this process is complete, the planes will be returned to service, the agency said.
“The exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement. “However, let me be clear: This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing.”
Whitaker explained the FAA will not agree to any further requests for expanded production of the 737 Max aircraft until it is “satisfied” that the quality control issues with the aircraft company are resolved.
The maintenance process will include an inspection of “specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings,” along with the left and right midcabin exit door plugs and other parts. It will also include retorquing fasteners and correcting any damage or abnormal conditions, the FAA stated.
The FAA statement comes weeks after a door plug on a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane blew off while the flight was 16,000 feet above Oregon, leaving a gaping hole on the side of the aircraft.
The plane made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport, and FAA grounded the estimated 171 aircraft models the following day.
The FAA is leading a probe into whether Boeing failed to ensure its planes complied with the agency’s safety regulations, along with an audit into Boeing’s Max 9 production line and suppliers.
Boeing is also conducting its own inspections, which include requiring approval of the installation of the door plug before they are sent to the Washington-based factory.
Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci told NBC News the new in-house inspections of the 737 Max 9 planes found “some loose bolts on many” of the aircraft.
Asked when the airline might be able to fly those planes again, Minicucci said the inspections take “about 10 hours per door.”
Minicucci said it will take “several days” to complete once they receive the FAA’s directive.