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FAA releases instructions for airlines to begin inspecting Boeing 737 Max 9 planes

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(NEW YORK) — The Federal Aviation Administration released final instructions to airlines to begin conducting inspections of their 737 Max 9 planes Wednesday — a move that will eventually allow them to fly again.

The agency had grounded nearly 200 of the planes after an Alaska Airlines flight lost one of its door plugs mid-flight earlier this month.

Alaska Airlines released a statement Wednesday evening confirming its plans to return some of its 737 MAX aircraft back to the skies on Friday following thorough inspection.

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday, Jan. 24, approved a thorough inspection and maintenance process for the 737-9 MAX aircraft. Alaska Airlines is ready to perform these detailed inspections of our planes,” the statement read.

“Each of our aircraft will only return to service once the rigorous inspections are completed and each aircraft is deemed airworthy according to the FAA requirements. We have 65 737-9 MAX in our fleet. The inspections are expected to take up to 12 hours for each plane,” the airline said.

The statement continued, confirming Jan. 26 would be the date that select aircraft would return to operation: “Following these inspections by our skilled Alaska Maintenance technicians, we expect to bring our first few planes back into scheduled commercial service on Friday, Jan. 26.”

On Jan. 5, the door plug fell out of the Alaska Airlines plane after it took off for Ontario, California, from Portland, Oregon. Six crew members and 171 passengers were on board Flight 1282, the airline previously said.

“We grounded the Boeing 737-9 MAX within hours of the incident over Portland and made clear this aircraft would not go back into service until it was safe,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement Wednesday. “The exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase.”

With this development, airlines could have Max planes back in the air as early as this weekend, however, Whitaker cautions that this does not mean Boeing can return to “business as usual.”

“However, let me be clear: This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing. We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the 737 MAX until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved,” Whitaker said.

Boeing said in a statement Wednesday that they would continue to fully cooperate with the FAA and “will continue to cooperate fully and transparently with the FAA and follow their direction as we take action to strengthen safety and quality at Boeing. We will also work closely with our airline customers as they complete the required inspection procedures to safely return their 737-9 airplanes to service.”

In a note to employees, United COO Toby Enqvist signaled the company intends to have the Max back in the air on Sunday.

According to Wednesday’s press release, the FAA approved its detailed set of inspection and maintenance instructions after a thorough review of data from 40 inspections of grounded planes. The FAA also convened a Corrective Action Review Board. The CARB, made up of safety experts, scrutinized and approved the inspection and maintenance process.

The enhanced maintenance process includes an inspection of specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings, detailed visual inspections of left and right mid-cabin exit door plugs and dozens of associated components, retorquing fasteners and correcting any damage or abnormal conditions.

The news comes on the heels of another airline incident. On Tuesday, the FAA announced it would investigate after a tire under the front nose of a Delta Boeing 757 fell off one of the wheels and rolled down a nearby embankment.

The incident occurred on Saturday around 11:15 a.m. local time at Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport while Delta Flight 982 was taxiing before takeoff to Bogota, Colombia.

No injuries were reported in the incident, the FAA said.

In a statement Tuesday, Delta offered an apology “to our customers for the inconvenience.”

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