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Boeing executives to convene all-hands safety meeting at its 737 Max factory after yet another crisis

Jan 9, 2024, 9:55 AM

Investigation involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on a Boeing 737-9 MAX in Portland, Oregon.
Mand...

Investigation involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on a Boeing 737-9 MAX in Portland, Oregon. Mandatory Credit: National Transportation Safety Board

New York (CNN) — Executives at Boeing are hosting an all-hands safety meeting with staffers on Tuesday, just days after a harrowing inflight blowout on a 737 Max 9 jet shortly after takeoff that led to a grounding of certain Boeing aircraft.

The company-wide “Safety Webcast” will be hosted by CEO Dave Calhoun and other Boeing senior leaders from the company’s Renton, Washington, factory, where it produces 737 Max jets.

On Friday, an Alaska Airlines flight carrying 177 people made an emergency landing shortly following takeoff from Portland, Oregon, after part of the wall of a weeks-old 737 Max 9 aircraft detached and left a gaping hole in the side of the plane. On Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered most Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft to be temporarily grounded as regulators and Boeing investigate the cause of the incident. The order applies to some 171 planes around the world.

Remarkably, no one was killed or seriously injured in Friday’s midflight accident, which was partially caught on horrifying video clips by fellow passengers.

Calhoun said the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting will include discussing the company’s response to the accident, according to an internal memo inviting all employees to join that was shared publicly by Boeing.

When it comes to the safety of our products and services, every decision and every action matters,” Calhoun wrote in his memo to employees. “And when serious accidents like this occur, it is critical for us to work transparently with our customers and regulators to understand and address the causes of the event, and to ensure they don’t happen again.”

Calhoun also alluded to mounting safety-related issues that Boeing has been forced to contend with in recent years, following two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019. “While we’ve made progress in strengthening our safety management and quality control systems and processes in the last few years, situations like this are a reminder that we must remain focused on continuing to improve every day,” the chief executive wrote.

The accident, meanwhile, is also garnering the attention of lawmakers. In a statement on Tuesday, Sen. J.D. Vance called for the Senate Commerce Committee to convene a hearing to “evaluate incidents involving the 737 MAX, Boeing’s engineering and safety standards, and the quality of oversight provided by the FAA and other relevant government agencies.”

“I hope such a hearing will occur as soon as possible,” Vance, a Republican from Ohio, added.

The latest on the investigation

Exactly what led to a hole the size of a refrigerator to suddenly blow open on the passenger aircraft on Friday is still being investigated. A preliminary report is expected in three to four weeks, National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Eric Weiss said.

The NTSB said Monday night that it continues to recover objects that blew out of the plane. On Sunday, a Portland schoolteacher found a piece of the aircraft’s fuselage that had landed in his backyard and reached out to the agency. Two cell phones that were likely flung from the hole in the plane were also found in a yard and on the side of the road and turned over to investigators.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy also told reporters over the weekend that Alaska Airlines had previously restricted the aircraft in Friday’s incident from flying over the ocean after the plane’s automatic pressurization warning light came on three times in the past month. Homendy, however, emphasized during a press conference late Monday night that the NTSB has “no indications whatsoever that this correlated in any way” to the incident that led to a piece of the plane from blowing off.

Homendy has said that partly complicating the investigation is the loss of critical cockpit audio recordings, because of a device setting that overrides recordings after collecting two hours of audio. She advocated for the FAA and Congress to require 24-hour recordings of cockpit audio to be retained in all aircraft.

Still, as investigators continue to comb through data, eyewitness accounts and examine the jet itself, the early details from the investigation are harrowing. The damage extended to several rows on the plane. The two seats next to the detached door plug just happened to be empty when the blowout happened, but had their headrests torn off, according to Homendy.

Video from the incident “looks very calm, but I’m sure it was completely chaotic,” Homedy said.

In a company statement on Saturday, Boeing said it agreed with the FAA’s decision to ground most 737 Max 9 planes while they are inspected, emphasizing that “safety is our top priority.” On Monday, Boeing said it sent airlines and maintenance companies instructions on how to inspect the planes.

Also on Monday, United Airlines – which has more Max 9s than any other US carrier – said it found loose door plug bolts on an undisclosed number of its Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft as it was performing the FAA-mandated inspections of the jets. Alaska Airlines also said Monday it found loose hardware on some of its 737 Max 9 planes during inspections.

Boeing’s fall from grace

Friday’s high-profile incident is putting a renewed spotlight on Boeing’s fall from grace in recent years. The company has faced repeated quality and safety issues with its aircraft over the past five years, leading to the long-term grounding of some of its jets and the halt in deliveries of others.

The most glaring quality problems for Boeing came with the 737 Max’s design, which was judged to be responsible for two fatal crashes: one in Indonesia in October 2018 and the other in Ethiopia in March 2019. Together, the two crashes killed all 346 people aboard the two flights and led to a 20-month grounding of the company’s best-selling jets, which cost it more than $21 billion. But the design flaws that caused the crashes brought to light questions about the decision making process at Boeing. Internal communications released during the 737 Max grounding showed one employee describing the jet as “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”

The latest safety saga also puts a spotlight on the fact that Boeing most likely doesn’t have to worry about being forced out of business anytime soon, no matter how extensive its mistakes. Boeing and Airbus are the only two major global aviation companies, neither company could accommodate all commercial aircraft demand alone, and both have a backlog of orders stretching back years.

Boeing’s stock has shed some 8% on Monday as investors grow concerned about more damage to its business.


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Boeing executives to convene all-hands safety meeting at its 737 Max factory after yet another crisis