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Issue with select new 737 Max planes forces airlines to ground parts of their fleets

April 09, 2021
3 min read
Issue with select new 737 Max planes forces airlines to ground parts of their fleets
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Just months after global aviation regulators lifted the nearly two-year-long grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, the plane is back in the spotlight.

Boeing said on Friday that it had notified 16 customers of a potential electrical issue in certain delivered 737 Max aircraft, saying that it recommended that the aircraft be grounded and inspected in order to verify "that a sufficient ground path exists for a component of the electrical power system."

In a memo to employees seen by TPG, American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour wrote that the issue had been traced to "a production change made in the installation process that occurred after our last aircraft was delivered before the fleet grounding in March 2019."

Notably, the potential issue does not affect the entire Max fleet, just some specific units. Boeing said it was in contact with the operators of the planes in question, as well as the FAA.

The problem was unrelated to the issues that led to two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, which killed a combined 346 people. The global 737 Max fleet was grounded for nearly 20 months as Boeing and regulators reexamined the plane and redesigned several flight control systems.

Southwest Airlines, the largest 737 Max customer, said that 30 of its 58 Max planes were affected. Brandy King, a spokesperson for the airline, said it had removed the jets from service pending inspections, and none of the planes had experienced any problems related to the electrical issue. King said the airline expected minimal disruption to the airline's operations.

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At American Airlines, 17 of 41 Max aircraft were covered by Boeing's notice. Only recently-delivered planes were impacted by the production issue, a spokesperson said — the 24 Max jets remaining in service for the airline were produced and delivered before the ungrounding.

United Airlines, which currently has a total of 30 Max aircraft, said through a spokesperson that it was pulling 16 of them from service pending inspection.

The airlines all said that they do not have an estimated timeline for a return to service, but were working with Boeing and the FAA to determine required next steps.

Alaska Airlines, which began flying the Max in March, said that it had pulled all four of its recently delivered planes from service.

It was not immediately clear which other customers were affected, nor how many jets globally had the production problem.

Speaking at an unrelated White House briefing, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed that the issue was unrelated to the past problems, which regulators say have been resolved.

"My understanding is this is different than any of those other issues," Buttigieg said, "and obviously we need to make sure there’s full confidence before these specific aircraft return to the air and that’s what the FAA will be closely monitoring."

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023