Boeing
In Renton, Wash., September 2015, Boeing started final assembly of the first 737 MAX 8.

FAA Increasing Production Oversight at Boeing

Jan. 14, 2024
Federal regulators are enhancing scrutiny of 737 MAX-9 production to determine whether Boeing and its suppliers have complied with approved quality standards, indicating the authority delegated to Boeing to supervise compliance may be rescinded.

The Federal Aviation Administration is taking “significant actions” to increase its oversight of Boeing Co. aircraft production and manufacturing in the aftermath of the in-flight failure of a fuselage plug on an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX-9 on January 5. The aircraft returned to Portland, Ore., after just a few minutes of flight, with all the 177 passengers and crew members.

All 171 Boeing 737 MAX-9 jets in commercial aircraft fleets have been grounded by FAA order since January 6.

“We welcome the FAA’s announcement and will cooperate fully and transparently with our regulator,” Boeing responded. “We support all actions that strengthen quality and safety and we are taking actions across our production system.”

The issue is one of concern for the manufacturer because of delays in its effort to increase 737 MAX production rates to 50 jets/month, in line with a heavy backlog of orders. It also matters because FAA has yet to grant airworthiness certification to the forthcoming 737 MAX-7.

FAA announced the new oversight one day after notifying Boeing that the agency has launched an investigation of the company.

Specifically, FAA will audit the 737 MAX-9 production line and its suppliers to determine whether Boeing and its suppliers have complied with approved quality procedures. That audit will determine whether further or additional investigation is necessary, FAA stated.

Also, FAA plans to increase its monitoring of Boeing 737 MAX-9 in-service events. The agency’s top administrator Mike Whitaker reportedly believes the problem with the MAX-9 fuselage plug – a section of the airframe that replaces an exit door on most 737 MAX-9 jets – is a manufacturing issue, not a design defect.

The agency further stated that it will assess the safety risk of the practice of delegating authority for compliance and quality oversight to Boeing – an issue that emerged in the 2020 Congressional inquiry of the agency following the two fatal crashes of 737 MAX jets, in 2018 and 2019.

FAA now states it will evaluate options to re-delegate those functions to “independent, third-party entities.”

"It is time to re-examine the delegation of authority and assess any associated safety risks," Whitaker stated. "The grounding of the 737-9 and the multiple production-related issues identified in recent years require us to look at every option to reduce risk. The FAA is exploring the use of an independent third party to oversee Boeing’s inspections and its quality system."

Boeing CEO David Calhoun has continued to offer assurance to airlines and passengers that the manufacturing and safety issues with the 737 MAX series will be identified and resolved.

“We’re going to have to demonstrate it by our actions, by our willingness to work directly and transparently with them (customers),” Calhoun has said, “and to make sure they understand that every airplane that Boeing has its name on that’s in the sky is in fact safe.”

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