© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737-9 MAX, which was forced to make an emergency landing with a gap in the fuselage, is seen during its investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Portland,
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will significantly increase oversight of Boeing (NYSE:), the agency said Friday, with the head of the agency saying publicly that they believe there are “other manufacturing problems” at the company.
The FAA will conduct a new audit of the Boeing 737-9 MAX production line and its suppliers, the FAA said in a statement, after a panel broke off an aircraft while in mid-flight, prompting a dramatic emergency landing Friday.
FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker told CNBC the new MAX 9 had “significant problems” and “we believe there are other manufacturing problems.”
The incident was the latest in a series of events that have shaken confidence in the aircraft manufacturer as it tries to recover from a pair of MAX 9 crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed nearly 350 people.
Boeing did not immediately comment.
The announcement of the audit to ensure compliance with approved quality procedures comes a day after the FAA announced a formal investigation into the cabin panel blowout of an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 that led to the agency grounding 171 airplanes last week. The FAA said the results of the audit “will determine whether additional audits are necessary.”
The FAA said it would also reexamine its decision to delegate some responsibilities to Boeing and consider moving some functions under independent, third-party entities.
“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 in a statement.
Whitaker declined to put any timetable on whether the FAA might approve the inspection and maintenance instructions that would allow airlines to begin returning MAX 9 planes to service.
Most of the 200-plus 737 MAX 9 planes used by airlines have a panel in place of an exit door. Of those, 171 have been grounded.
The Alaska Airlines aircraft, which had been in service for just eight weeks, took off from Portland, Oregon last Friday and was flying at 16,000 feet (4,900 m) when the panel tore off the plane. Pilots returned the jet to Portland, with only minor injuries suffered by passengers.
Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, the other major U.S. carrier that operates 737 MAX 9 planes with that configuration, said they have found loose parts on multiple grounded aircraft during preliminary checks, raising new concerns about how Boeing’s best-selling jet family is manufactured.
The two carriers have canceled hundreds of flights since Saturday with the MAX 9 planes grounded.
Delta Air Lines (NYSE:) CEO Ed Bastian said he was confident Boeing would learn from the incident. “Boeing will continue to provide Delta as well as our industry with a great product going forward,” he said. Delta does not have MAX 9 in its fleet.
Boeing shares fell 1.6% in premarket trading.