By David Shepardson
(Reuters) – United Airlines said it had resumed use of its Boeing 737 MAX 9 jets Saturday for passenger flights after U.S. regulators gave the green light following a mid-air cabin blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this month.
United said the first MAX 9 flight with passengers on board since Jan. 6 departed from Newark bound for Las Vegas around 10:30 a.m. ET (1530 GMT) with 175 passengers and six crew. The Chicago-based carrier expects a few passenger flights to operate on MAX 9s Saturday.
The blowout of a cabin panel on Jan. 5 on an eight-week-old MAX 9 operated by Alaska Airlines led the Federal Aviation Administration to ground 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 jets, which resulted in the cancellation of thousands of flights by Alaska Airlines and United.
The FAA on Wednesday lifted its grounding order as it approved new inspection and maintenance checks and said Boeing could not expand 737 MAX production or add new 737 production lines pending quality improvements.
The 737 MAX 9 enhanced maintenance process requires inspection of specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings along with detailed visual inspections of mid-cabin exit door plugs and dozens of related components.
Alaska Airlines resumed MAX 9 service on Friday. CBS News reported the airline’s Chief Operating Officer Constance von Muehlen was on the first MAX 9 flight and sat next to the window in the same row where the blowout occurred on the earlier flight.
Alaska Airlines said Friday it expects inspections on its MAX 9 to be completed by the end of next week, allowing the airline to operate its full flight schedule. The grounding impacted about 20% of its fleet.
Boeing Commercial Airlines President Stan Deal told employees late Friday the company had “worked diligently” to create inspection criteria that would allow aircraft to be put back in service, and Boeing is now in the process of evaluating “hundreds” of ideas submitted by employees for quality improvements.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft)