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No Bolts: Door Blowout Caused By Boeing Error

No Bolts: Door Blowout Caused By Boeing Error
February 05
09:48 2024

Four bolts used to secure the panel that ultimately blew off an Alaska Airlines plane during a January 5 flight were removed and not replaced at Boeing’s factory in Washington, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“The panel, known as a door plug, was opened to repair damaged rivets on the plane’s body, known as the fuselage,” the New York Times reports. “The report did not say who removed the bolts keeping the door plug in place. But the safety board said it appeared that not all the bolts were put back once the door was reinstalled on the plane after the rivets had been repaired.”

As evidence, the NTSB provided a photograph of the door plug after it was reinstalled but before the plane’s interior was restored. Three of the four bolts appear to be missing, while the location of the fourth bolt is covered with insulation.

The investigation also found that the lack of certain “contact damage or deformation” to hinge guide fittings recovered from the door “indicate(s) that the four bolts that prevent upward movement” of the plug were missing before the door separated.

Following the report’s release, Boeing issued a statement.

“Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened,” CEO Dave Calhoun stated. “An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory. We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers.”

Boeing is taking immediate action to strengthen quality, Calhoun said.

The company has implemented a control plan to ensure all 737-9 mid-exit door plugs are installed according to specifications:

  • Instituted new inspections of the door plug assembly and similar structures at our supplier’s factory and on Boeing’s production line.
  • Added signage and protocol to fully document when the door plug is opened or removed in our factory, ensuring it is reinstalled and inspected prior to delivery.

Also, Boeing is implementing plans to improve overall quality and stability across the 737 production system, including:

  • Layering additional inspections further into the supply chain and collaborating with suppliers on production enhancements.
  • Performing more work on airplanes at their assigned positions.
  • Dedicating multiple days for our 737 teams to focus on and implement quality improvements.
  • Launching an independent assessment to bolster the quality management system at Boeing Commercial Airplanes by a highly experienced safety expert.

In addition, Boeing will open its factory to 737 customers to conduct their own additional reviews.

That’s not the only quality issue Boeing is dealing with.

Recently, Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the fuselages of the 737 Max jets, notified the plane maker that two holes on 50 undelivered airplanes may not have been drilled exactly to Boeing’s requirements.

The news comes one month after a catastrophic failure occurred when a door plug blew off a new Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 at 16,000 feet, imperiling 171 passengers and 6 crew members.

The accident caused the Federal Aviation Administration to increase oversight of Boeing and audit production of the 737 Max 9 jetliner. The agency also said it’s reconsidering its longstanding practice of relying on aircraft manufacturer employees to perform some safety analysis of planes.

Boeing has dealt with misdrilled holes before.

In August 2023, Boeing found fastener holes on some 737s in the aft pressure bulkhead — the heavy metal dome capping the back end of the passenger cabin that is essential to maintaining cabin pressure — had been improperly drilled by fuselage manufacturer Spirit Aerosystems.

Called “snowmen” due to their elongated shape of two overlapping holes of differing size, these holes were filled with fasteners and passed quality inspections at Spirit before being shipped by rail to Boeing.

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