US FAA says first 40 inspections of Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplanes complete

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday that inspections of an initial group of 40 Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplanes have been completed, a key hurdle to eventually ungrounding the planes after a Jan. 5 cabin panel broke off in mid-flight.

On Friday, the FAA had said 40 out of 171 grounded planes needed to be reinspected before the agency would review the results and determine if it is safe to allow the Boeing MAX 9s to resume flying.

The FAA said on Wednesday that it will “thoroughly review the data” from the inspections before deciding if the planes can resume flights.

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, the two U.S. airlines that use the aircraft and completed the inspections, have had to cancel hundreds of flights since last week and have canceled all MAX 9 flights through Wednesday. United declined to comment. Alaska and Boeing did not immediately comment.

Boeing on Tuesday named retired U.S. Navy admiral Kirkland H. Donald to advise the planemaker’s CEO on improving quality control.

Boeing’s production processes have been under scrutiny since a panel tore off the Alaska Airlines jet while in flight this month, leaving a hole on the side of the plane. The incident rekindled worries about Boeing’s jets a few years after a pair of crashes killed 346 people. Investors are also worried about potential delays to aircraft deliveries.

The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FAA safety chief are briefing senators on the investigation on Wednesday. Kirkland Donald will lead a team of outside experts in evaluating quality practices at Boeing Commercial Airplanes and its supply chain and provide recommendations to Boeing CEO David Calhoun and the board of directors.

Calhoun will visit Spirit AeroSystems’ production facilities in Wichita, Kansas, on Wednesday to speak with employees alongside that company’s CEO, Pat Shanahan.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jason Neely, Elaine Hardcastle)