The speedy return of the Max 9 comes as the FAA said it plans to increase its oversight of Boeing’s production and quality control processes.
The vast majority of Boeing 737 Max 9s are back in service.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday nearly 94% — or 135 of 144 — of the affected aircraft have been inspected and have been returned to service following a blowout incident on an Alaska Airlines jet.
United Airlines and Alaska Airlines are the only two U.S. carriers that operate the Max 9. The FAA-mandated grounding forced the two airlines to cancel thousands of flights during January, and Alaska said it expects to take a $150 million hit for the grounding.
The Max 9 returned to service in the U.S. on January 26, with an Alaska flight from Seattle to San Francisco. United has 78 of its 79 Max 9s back in service, while Alaska is now operating 57 of its 65 Max 9s, according to the latest figures from the FAA.
The Max 9’s speedy return comes as the FAA said it plans to ramp up its oversight of Boeing. The Boeing 737 Max family has a history of issues, including two fatal crashes with the Max 8 that prompted the FAA to ground the plane for nearly two years.
Jodi Baker, the FAA Deputy Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, said Monday that the federal agency plans to enhance its “surveillance” of Boeing’s production lines.
Baker described surveillance as more active day-to-day interactions with Boeing employees.
“It’s being able to build relationships with employees so you can understand the challenges that they’re having day in and day out and help us see if there’s systemic challenges then with the manufacturer as well,” Baker said during a press briefing.
No Good News for Boeing
Boeing has dealt with a slew of headaches since the grounding. CEO Dave Calhoun has issued multiple apologies for the incident, and said “we caused the problem” in a call with analysts January 31.
The planemaker said it couldn’t issue 2024 financial targets as it focuses on ensuring the safety of its aircraft.
“Now is not the time for that. We won’t predict timing,” Calhoun said on the call. “We won’t get ahead of our regulator. We will go slow to go fast.”
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. have also expressed interest in investigating Boeing. FAA chief Michael Whitaker is expected to testify before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Tuesday — the Max 9 is almost certain to be a focus of the hearing.
The FAA said it was only three weeks into its increased oversight of Boeing, adding that it was “too early to draw any specific conclusions” on the planemaker’s production and quality control processes.
“This is not new work, understanding how aircraft are manufactured,” Baker said. “And we have expertise to do that.”