FAA to increase oversight of Boeing production and manufacturing following Alaska Airlines emergency landing

The Federal Aviation Administration will increase its oversight of Boeing production and manufacturing, the agency said Friday, one day after announcing it had opened an investigation.

The FAA says it will audit Boeing’s 737 Max 9 production line and its suppliers “to evaluate Boeing’s compliance with its approved quality procedures.”

The results of the initial audit will determine whether additional audits are needed, the agency said.

“It is time to re-examine the delegation of authority and assess any associated safety risks,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement.

“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,” Whitaker said. “The FAA is exploring the use of an independent third party to oversee Boeing’s inspections and its quality system.”

Alaska Air Grounds Boeing 737 Max-9 Fleet After Midair Blowout
Alaska Airlines aircraft grounded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Jan. 6.David Ryder / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FAA said it will also conduct “increased monitoring of Boeing 737-9 MAX in-service events” as well as an “assessment of safety risks around delegated authority and quality oversight, and examination of options to move these functions under independent, third-party entities.”

“We are working to make sure nothing like this happens again,” Whitaker said in another statement earlier Friday.

The move comes one week after an Alaska Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing when a door plug fell off the fuselage midair. The flight had left Portland, Oregon, bound for Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County, California.

Passengers described hearing a “loud bang” shortly after takeoff. A photo from one passenger showed a panel missing from the side of the fuselage.

Alaska Airlines said Friday that its flights on the 737 Max are canceled through Tuesday, amounting to between 110 to 150 flights per day. The airline has 65 of that type of plane in its fleet.

Seven passengers who were onboard the Alaska Airlines flight have sued Boeing.

The class-action lawsuit, filed late Thursday in King County Superior Court in Washington state — where Boeing assembled the plane — contends the company “delivered the subject 737 MAX-9 to Alaska Airlines, Inc. without properly securing the (door) plug to the airframe,” or because the bolts and seals used to install the panel were defective.

A spokesperson for Boeing declined comment on Friday afternoon.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs, among 171 passengers and a 6-member flight crew onboard the flight, contend they were both physically injured and traumatized by the Jan. 5 incident that occurred shortly after the plane departed from Portland International Airport.

After the door plug blew out, the plane depressurized and “ripped the shirt off of a boy and sucked cell phones, other debris and much of the oxygen out of the aircraft” the lawsuit states.

“The violence of the event bruised the bodies of some,” the suit added. “The cockpit door blew open and a flight attendant rushed to try to close it. The pressure change made ears bleed and combined with low oxygen, loud wind noise and traumatic stress made heads ache severely. Passengers were shocked, terrorized and confused, thrust into a waking nightmare, hoping they would live long enough to walk the earth again.”

The flight crew successfully returned and landed the plane at Portland’s airport.

The lawsuit, filed by the Strittmatter Kessler Koehler Moore law firm in Seattle, is the first civil action stemming from the incident filed so far.

Mark Lindquist, who heads another law firm in Washington, told NBC News he represents three more passengers who plan to file a separate lawsuit over the incident.

The FAA has grounded all 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 airplanes from operating in the U.S. amid ongoing investigations by the agency and the National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA has not determined a timeline for returning the aircraft to service, saying the planes will remain grounded “until the FAA finds each can safely return to operation.”

The NTSB said Friday that the door plug that fell out of the Alaska Airlines plane has arrived in Washington as part of the investigation.

The FAA said Thursday that the “incident should have never happened” and it would investigate whether Boeing “failed to ensure completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.”

Shortly after the incident, the FAA had ordered the temporary grounding of some Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft for inspections.

United Airlines announced Friday that it extended its MAX 9 cancellations through Tuesday, and it has also canceled some flights after that date.

“Tech Ops continues to work tirelessly to share information with the FAA and prepare for the inspections that will allow the MAX 9 to return to service,” United said. “As we’ve said before, these aircraft won’t fly until they are approved and we are confident they are 100% safe.”