NTSB to Hold Hearings on Boeing 737 Max Safety Issues in August

Several Boeing executives, including the company's CEO, are expected to step down this year, amid ongoing criticism of Boeing's safety practices.

Federal transportation experts will hold a public hearing to investigate how the door plug blew out of a Boeing 737-9 MAX plane during an Alaskan Airlines flight earlier this year, as the aircraft maker continues to face harsh criticism for ongoing safety issues.

In a press release issued last month, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it will hold an investigative hearing on August 6 and 7, to evaluate the facts, circumstances, and probable cause of the door plug blowout accident that occurred mid-flight.

The NTSB conducts investigative hearings in conjunction with ongoing transportation safety investigations, which allows the NTSB to gather sworn witness testimonies on issues the investigative team identified. While the hearing will not identify the responsible party, the sworn testimonies will become part of the public record for the investigation, and will likely assist officials in gathering information to determine how the accident happened and what can be done to improve aviation safety.

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Boeing 737-9 MAX Door Plug Accident

The investigation stems from an incident that occurred on January 5, when the left mid exit door (MED) plug blew out of a Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft, while carrying nearly 200 passengers at about 16,000 feet in the air. The incident occurred shortly after takeoff and left a gaping hole in the side of the aircraft, which resulted in a rapid decompression event that forced the plane to make an emergency landing.

While the plane landed safely without further incident, at least eight individuals suffered minor injuries, and the accident has raised serious safety concerns about the entire Boeing 737-9 MAX fleet.

In response to the incident, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD) on January 6, grounding more than 170 planes and requiring them to undergo additional inspections before they could return to service.

Subsequent inspections of the aircraft revealed the door plug was missing four critical bolts that secure it in place. NTSB investigators found the bolts that keep the door plug from moving were not reinstalled correctly after repairs were made to the aircraft during production.

The FAA Organization Designations Authorization (ODA) Expert Review Panel reviewed Boeing safety policies and procedures in February, and criticized Boeing’s safety culture, after identifying a number of concerning safety behavior issues among staff. The review panel found gaps in Boeing’s safety management processes, constant changes to safety procedures, gaps in employee safety and reporting communications, and failures to monitor the number of experienced staff.

In a press release issued on the same day, the FAA indicated it would review the report findings and determine the appropriate next steps in holding Boeing to the highest safety standards and ensuring the company addresses the issues.

Boeing Safety Concerns

Boeing has been under scrutiny over the last several years due to ongoing safety concerns with its redesigned 737 Max airplane introduced in 2016. In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to the U.S. Department of Justice, to resolve criminal charges that alleged it conspired to defraud the U.S. government. The lawsuit followed two fatal 737 Max accidents, which killed 346 individuals combined.

The first fatal accident occurred in October 2018, when a Boeing 737-8 Max airplane crashed 13 minutes after takeoff, killing all passengers and crew onboard. An investigation found the pilots fought to keep the plane in the air for 11 minutes, while the aircraft’s “Angle of Attack” sensor continued to push the plane nose down, with pilots unable to shut it off.

A second fatal crash involving another Boeing 737-8 Max occurred just months later in March 2019. Similar to the first accident, the crash occurred just minutes after takeoff, killing all passengers and crew. The FAA grounded the entire 737 Max fleet worldwide in response, and investigators also attributed the accident to the plane’s “Angle of Attack” system.

In response to the two fatal crashes that occurred shortly after the introduction of the redesigned aircraft, the FAA imposed new safety management rules for airplanes. The measures improved pilot training and implemented a more stringent final review process for new plane designs.

Various media reports published on March 25 indicate Boeing’s CEO, Dave Calhoun, will step down by the end of the year and Boeing’s chairman, Larry Kellner, will not stand for re-election as a board director due to the ongoing safety concerns.  The company also announced that the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Stan Deal, is retiring.

Boeing 737-9 MAX Investigative Hearing

In response to the latest Boeing 737-9 MAX incident, the NTSB hearing in August will assist the Board in obtaining information on how and why the door plug blew out of the plane, and in determining what steps can be taken to improve transportation safety.

The public is invited to attend the hearing in person, however, only NTSB board members, investigators, scheduled witnesses and designated parties to the hearing are allowed to participate. The hearing will be recorded live and livestreamed for the public to view virtually.

The NTSB will announce further details about the hearing, including the location, in the coming weeks.

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