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

Apr 9, 2021

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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.

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.”

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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