Could Boeing 737 MAX be grounded again after mid-air window blowout?

Dramatic footage shows the moments after a window and chunk of fuselage blew out of a passenger plane in mid-air, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the Boeing 737-9 MAX. 
One Alaska Airlines passenger on the affected flight said a boy and his mother were sitting in the same row as the damage and the boy’s shirt was torn off him and sucked out of the plane.

While only minor injuries were reported, the situation could have been “very dangerous,” according to David Learmount, consulting editor at Flightglobal. “If there were people near it who were not wearing the seatbelts they would have disappeared,” he told Sky News.
Alaska Airlines grounded all of its Boeing 737-9 MAX planes in response to the incident, which caused the cabin to depressurise and resulted in the plane making an emergency landing in the US state of Oregon.
It is the latest issue for Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, after its 737 MAX aircraft were grounded for a year and a half following two crashes in 2018 and 2019.

Image: A gaping hole could be seen in the side of the aircraft. Pic: Kyle Rinker
Could the Boeing 737 MAX be grounded again?
Aviation experts said the incident involving the Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX is “extremely unlikely” to lead to more planes being grounded.
“The issue with grounding aeroplanes is not the problem, the issue is ungrounding them,” Tim Atkinson, a pilot and aviation consultant, told Sky News. “Once you ground an aeroplane how you unground it is the really difficult piece. For that reason, groundings are vanishingly rare and they are always for something way more significant than this.”
He added: “Aviation safety works by statistics, what I call rolling the sky dice. So far nobody has been killed, remember it took the second MAX crash before the planes were grounded [in 2019].”


Image: Exterior photos suggest the rear mid-cabin exit door came off during the flight. Pic: KGW
The MAX, the latest version of Boeing’s 737, is a twin-engine single-aisle plane which went into service in May 2017.
Mr Learmount said airlines running the planes would likely react by launching inspections of their fleets.
“The MAX is getting a bit of a caning. Just when you thought everything is fine,” he said. “If I was in charge of an airline with any MAXs in it I would be inspecting the area where this happened.”
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration have announced they will investigate the event, while the British Civil Aviation Authority is monitoring the situation.
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Airline and Boeing will investigate problem
Mr Learmount said Alaska Airlines and Boeing would be looking to find out “exactly what the problem was”, adding: “Is this a design or a manufacturing fault or has the aircraft suffered damage which has shown itself later?”
He said he doubted the incident would dent passenger confidence in Boeing 737 MAX planes, but added: “There may be some nervous fliers who will shy away from flying on MAXs.”
Mr Atkinson said it is unlikely the issue with the Alaska Airlines flight could have been catastrophic for an entire aircraft – but that it could still have been deadly.
He said: “This is the kind of thing that might cause at worse one or two fatalities from people being sucked out of the aeroplane. It’s never going to be worse than that.”
He added the board of Alaska Airlines may be “kicking themselves all the way down the yard” for grounding its fleet.
“I think largely this is about a minor technical problem on a plane and a significant overreaction,” he said.
After the Alaska Airlines incident, a Boeing spokesperson said: “We are aware of the incident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. We are working to gather more information and are in contact with our airline customer.
“A Boeing technical team stands ready to support the investigation.”

Image: Boeing 737 MAX planes were stored during the previous grounding
Why were Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft grounded in 2019?
All of Boeing’s MAX passenger jets were grounded in March 2019 for 20 months after two crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia which killed 346 people between them.
Both disasters were caused by an automated flight-control system that pushed the aircraft’s nose down based on faulty sensor readings, with the pilots unable to regain control.

Image: Wreckage from the Ethiopia Airlines crash in 2019. Pic: AP
After its planes were grounded Boeing worked on software upgrades and new safety precautions to the flight control system linked to both crashes and the jets returned to service in December 2020.
The company also implemented flight control updates, maintenance work, fresh pilot training and meetings with flight crews to explain its changes and address concerns.
Mr Learmount said Boeing “worked very hard” to fix problems with the 737 MAX.
The company “went back to square one”, he said, adding: “The MAX has made them completely start again from the ground up with their whole philosophy about what it is to be a world-class designer and manufacturer of aeroplanes.”

Image: Wreckage from the Lion Air crash in Indonesia in 2018. Pic: AP
What other problems have there been with the Boeing 737 MAX?
Boeing has had to work to fix other manufacturing flaws with its 737 MAXs which have interrupted deliveries of the planes.
Last year the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told pilots flying the MAX 8 and MAX 9 to limit the use of an anti-ice system in dry conditions over concerns inlets around the engine could overheat and break away, possibly striking the plane and causing rapid decompression.
An engine fan blade broke off an older 737 during a Southwest Airlines flight in 2018, striking and shattering a window, and killing a woman.
Last month Boeing told airlines to inspect the planes for a possible loose bolt in the rudder-control system.

Source : Sky News