Alaska Airlines panel blowout: Boeing CEO acknowledges ‘mistake’

An accident like the midair Alaska Airlines panel blowout “can never happen again,” Boeing’s president and CEO said Tuesday, as he acknowledged a “mistake” had been made before the plane was forced to make an emergency landing. 

Dave Calhoun said the company was working to assure airline customers that its planes are safe and assist the National Transportation Safety Board in figuring out the cause of the mishap, which snapped off a panel of the fuselage of an almost full 737 MAX 9 on Friday, leaving a large hole.

“We’re going to approach this, No. 1, acknowledging our mistake. We’re going to approach it with 100% and complete transparency every step of the way,” he told a town hall staff meeting at the factory that makes 737 planes in Renton, Washington. Boeing was going to work with the NTSB “to find out what the root cause is,” he said.

Calhoun added that the company will “get to a conclusion” on the cause of the accident and work with investigators and the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure it “can never happen again.”

“I got kids, I got grandkids and so do you. This stuff matters. Everything matters, every detail. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, this isn’t a lecture, not by any stretch. It’s nothing more than a reminder of the seriousness with which we have to approach our work,” he said.

Boeing CEO admits 'mistake' over Alaska Airlines door plug accident.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun addresses safety issues during a town hall staff meeting at the company’s Renton, Washington, 737 factory. Boeing

Boeing was thrown into crisis after a panel known as a door plug became detached from Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario International Airport in southern California on Friday, six minutes after takeoff when it was already 14,800 feet in the air.

To the horror of the passengers, the cabin rapidly depressurized and the plane swiftly turned back to Portland; there were only minor injuries to the 171 passengers and six crew members.

The FAA ordered the grounding of the country’s entire fleet of 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes Saturday; the following day, a high school teacher, Bob Sauer, found the missing door panel in the backyard of his Portland home.

The NTSB said in a news conference Monday that an initial examination of the panel showed that it had signs of fractured guides and missing bolts — although it remains possible that fasteners were lost during the accident.

Calhoun thanked the pilots and crew “who got that airplane back on the ground in a very tumultuous moment, in very scary circumstances.”

“They train [all] their lives to do that, but you don’t know until you know. I hope most never know,” he said.

A diagram released by Boeing detailing airplane specifications on the 737 passenger jet.
A diagram released by Boeing detailing airplane specifications on the 737 passenger jet.Boeing

Calhoun spoke of how hard it must have been for Alaska Airlines’ leadership to ground an entire fleet of aircraft. “They did it quickly and that prevented — potentially — another accident or another moment,” he said.

He also admitted that Boeing is facing a “communications task” in rebuilding trust with its airline customers.

“Moments like this shake them to the bone, just like they shake me to my bones. They have confidence in all of us, they do, but we’re going to have to demonstrate by our actions, our willingness to work directly and transparently with them, and to make sure they understand that every airplane that Boeing has its name on that’s in the sky is, in fact, safe,” Calhoun said.

“We will see our way through to that, but we need to know we’re starting from a very anxious moment for our customers,” he added.