Boeing Retracts Safety Exemption Request Amidst Intensified Scrutiny


In the wake of intense scrutiny following an incident where a door plug blew out on a 737 Max over Oregon, Boeing announced on Monday that it is retracting its request for a safety exemption required to certify a new model of the plane.

Last year, the company requested permission from federal regulators to commence deliveries of its 737 Max 7 airliner to customers, despite not meeting a safety standard that aims to prevent overheating and breakage of the engine housing during flight.

However, following an incident where a door panel blew out on a different version of the plane, specifically a Max 9, causing a significant hole in the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines flight departing from Portland, Oregon on Jan. 5, concerns have been raised regarding the company’s quality control and dedication to safety.

Last week, Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell and Tammy Duckworth expressed their concerns to the Federal Aviation Administration, urging them to deny the request. Boeing announced on Monday that it would be retracting its statement.

“Although Boeing’s decision to withdraw the petition is a step in the right direction, it is important to acknowledge that they should not have sought this exemption in the first place. I am grateful that they are now prioritizing the safety of the flying public,” Duckworth, a representative from Illinois, stated in an email. “I am optimistic that this decision will signal a positive shift in Boeing’s approach to safety.”

In its announcement, the company emphasized its dedication to transparency, attentiveness to all stakeholders, and efforts to enhance safety and quality at Boeing.

The safety standard is related to an anti-icing system, and it has implications for other models of the 737 Max that are currently in operation.

Last year, federal officials announced that Boeing was addressing the issue with the hazard on current Max planes. In the meantime, regulators advised pilots to exercise caution when using the de-icing system in dry conditions. This was due to the concern that excessive heat around the engines could cause parts of the housing to break away and potentially damage the plane, including the windows, leading to rapid decompression.

The problem specifically impacts the Max model due to its engine inlets being constructed from carbon composite materials instead of metal.

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Navigating Certification Challenges

The company had anticipated the successful delivery of its new, smaller Max 7 to customers, allowing pilots to operate the model with the same guidance provided to Max 8 and Max 9 pilots. The request was made for an extension until May 2026 as they focused on finding a permanent solution.

Boeing stated that it had confidence in the exemption request, which it believed adhered to established FAA processes for ensuring safety. However, the company has decided to implement an engineering solution as part of the certification process instead.

“This is positive news,” Cantwell expressed in an emailed statement on Monday night. “It is encouraging to see the potential for a swift development of a design that meets all compliance requirements for other MAX planes.”

All Max 9s in the U.S. were grounded by the FAA the day after the blowout. Last week, the agency gave its approval for the inspection and maintenance process to bring the planes back into operation. Alaska and United Airlines, the only two U.S. airlines that fly Max 9s, have recently started reintroducing some of these planes into service.

Last week, Southwest Airlines announced that it had decided to remove the Max 7 model from its fleet plans for 2024. This decision comes as Boeing collaborates with the FAA to ensure its certification.

Last year, the FAA stated that no reports of the overheating issue occurring on Max flights had been received. However, they did issue a warning to pilots due to the significant risk associated with the problem, which was discovered during a test flight.

The 737 Max was introduced into service in May 2017. Tragically, 346 lives were lost in the crashes of two planes in 2018 and 2019. Max jets were grounded globally for nearly two years as the company addressed issues with an automated flight-control system that caused the nose to pitch down due to inaccurate sensor readings.

In recent times, there have been interruptions in Max deliveries to address manufacturing flaws. Additionally, last month, the company advised airlines to conduct inspections on the planes for a potential loose bolt in the rudder-control system.

In a message to Boeing employees on Friday, Stan Deal, the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, emphasized the company’s top priority of assisting airlines in restoring their operations.

“To be honest, we have let them down and disappointed,” he wrote. “We sincerely apologize for the extensive inconvenience and dissatisfaction experienced by our customers, including those who have faced unwarranted public criticism.”


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