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Most Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft are back in service, but how safe are they?

Way.com explores the recent issues the Boeing 737 Max 9 has been having and what the impact on the aviation industry will be now that most are back in service.

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2023 Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 shown on final approach to Los Angeles International Airport.

Angel DiBilio // Shutterstock

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on February 5 that 94% of Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft in the Alaskan and United Airlines fleets previously in temporarily suspended service had been inspected and cleared to return to active service. This represents a remarkably accelerated inspection timeframe following the mid-air emergency event aboard an Alaskan Airlines flight on January 5. The FAA immediately grounded 171 737-9 MAX airplanes operated by Alaska and United Airlines in the wake of the event, though the agency lifted its grounding on Jan. 24. Alaska Airlines resumed its flight operations with the MAX 9 airliner on January 26 and United did so on January 27. But despite the FAA's seeming clearance of the aircraft and airlines' continued use of it, travelers are now left with a question: Is it safe to travel on this narrow-body airliner? 

Way.com explores the recent issues the Boeing 737-9 MAX has been having and what the impact on the aviation industry will be now that most are back in service.

What actually happened with Alaska Airlines Flight 1282?

After taking off from Portland, an emergency door plug located in the back half of the cabin blew off at around 16,000 ft. Fortunately, the two seats nearest to the panel that blew off were empty. Moreover, as the flight as still ascending and had not leveled to its cruising altitude, passengers and flight attendants remained belted in their seats, avoiding a catastrophe.  

All flights with this narrow-body airliner were immediately grounded under the authority of the FAA.  

How many Boeing 737-9 MAX jets were grounded? 

In total, 171 Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft were grounded due to the Alaska Flight 1282 issue. 

Why was the MAX 9 allowed to return to service?

According to FAA Administrator Whitaker, if an aircraft is ungrounded, it indicates their confidence in its airworthiness. So, as long as the aircraft is airworthy, it can be considered safe. According to Whitaker, they won't allow the aircraft to be back in the air until the issue gets resolved to their satisfaction.  

However, the FAA has halted production of 737-0 MAX aircraft until it is sure that the quality control issues identified at Boeing's manufacturing facilities are resolved. 

Which airlines use the Boeing 737-9 MAX? 

According to figures sent to Way by Cirium, there are 217 737-9 MAX aircraft in operation. United Airlines has 79 of these narrow-body airliners, the most by any carrier. Alaska Airlines has 65. The list following shows the number of aircraft used by the various carriers based on Cirium's data.

Airline / Number of MAX 9 aircraft in fleet

  • Aeromexico: 19
  • Air Tanzania: 1
  • Alaska Airlines: 65
  • Copa Airlines: 29
  • Corendon Dutch Airlines: 2
  • Flydubai: 3
  • Icelandair: 4
  • Lion Air: 3
  • Reliance Industries: 1
  • SCAT: 5
  • Thai Lion Air: 1
  • Turkish Airlines: 5
  • United Airlines: 79

Grand Total: 217

How do I know if I am on a Boeing 737-9 MAX?

When booking flights online, travelers can usually find details about the plane type assigned to each flight. The information is typically available during the seat-selection process or on the airline's website. Passengers might also find the aircraft type or reservation details on an airline's mobile app once booked. 

What if I don't want to fly on a Boeing 737-9 MAX? 

So, you booked and found that you're flying on this aircraft, and you really don't want to. What can you do? 

United discloses the aircraft model type of each of its flights during the flight booking process, which can be done online via United's site or its mobile app. If you see that a flight you are interested in is on a MAX 9 aircraft, you can always find another flight before booking. Or even afterwards—after all, according to the airline's recent Super Bowl commercial, there are never any fees associated with changing flights on United.  

Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines' Flexible Travel Policy ran out on February 9, and now that all of Alaskan's MAX9's are back in service, you'll have to be aware of the aircraft type when booking your flight to avoid a change fee. 

What makes the Boeing 737-9 MAX so popular with airlines? 

With modern technology winglets and streamlined engines, this aircraft delivers outstanding fuel efficiency, cutting fuel usage and emissions by 20% while producing a 50% smaller noise footprint than the jets it replaced (737-900). 

What Is the lifespan of a Boeing 737? 

According to Boeing, the aircraft in the 737 series have a lifespan of around 55,000 flight hours or 90,000 flight cycles, whichever comes first. 

How long have Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft been in service on Alaska Airlines? 

Their first flight flew from Seattle to Los Angeles on March 1, 2021.  

So, are they safe to fly? 

Technically, yes. If the FAA confirms an aircraft is airworthy, normally, it's considered safe to travel. 

This story was produced by Way.com and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.