US aviation regulators imposed additional requirements on Boeing Co. before its 737 Max 9 jets return to service, a sign of a hardening government stance toward the aerospace giant after an accident last week.
The US Federal Aviation Administration is requiring Boeing to provide additional data before the agency approves inspection and maintenance procedures that airlines must complete in order to resume flights, it said in a statement late Friday. The agency said it wants to review data from an initial round of checks of the plug doors on 40 planes using Boeing’s instructions before determining whether the steps are appropriate for the entire fleet of grounded jets.
“We are working to make sure nothing like this happens again,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in the statement. “Our only concern is the safety of American travelers and the Boeing 737-9 MAX will not return to the skies until we are entirely satisfied it is safe.”
Boeing declined to comment on the FAA’s additional requirements.
The move underscores the mounting crisis of confidence that’s embroiled Boeing since the fuselage panel blew off a Max 9 operated by Alaska Airlines shortly after takeoff from Portland, Oregon. Although there were no serious injuries, the mishap capped a series of embarrassing quality lapses for the company that have fueled scrutiny of its manufacturing process.
The extra review also risks prolonging the plane’s nearly week-long grounding.
Preliminary inspections by United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Alaska Air Group Inc. since the accident have found loose bolts on some of their Max 9 aircraft. The FAA on Thursday launched a formal probe of the company’s manufacturing operations. It separately announced steps to toughen oversight of the planemaker earlier Friday.
Airlines that fly the Max 9 meanwhile are still awaiting the FAA’s go-ahead before they can begin the inspections needed to fly the jets again.
Carriers including United, the biggest Max 9 operator in the US, have canceled hundreds of flights this week with the planes unavailable. Alaska Airlines earlier on Friday said it would scrub all scheduled flights on the aircraft through Jan. 14.
Separately, United said late Friday it’s extending cancellations for Max 9 flights through Jan. 16, while also removing some flights in the days after that.