Alaska CEO Says ‘Many’ Loose Bolts Found In MAX 9 Door Plugs


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minucci told NBC News Tuesday technicians have found “many” loose bolts on door plugs in Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft since the planes were grounded more than two weeks ago. The NBC interview was scheduled to run on the NBC Evening News. The FAA ordered the grounding of 171 MAX 9s after a door plug separated from an Alaska flight on Jan. 5. The grounding affected only MAX 9s equipped with panels filling an opening in the fuselage where an emergency exit would be if the plane had more seats. Minucci did not say exactly how many bolts on how many aircraft were insecure, but he clearly wasn’t happy about it.

“I’m angry. I’m more than frustrated and disappointed. I am angry,” the WSJ quoted him as saying. “This happened to Alaska Airlines. It happened to our guests and happened to our people.” So far only 40 MAX 9s have been inspected, according to the WSJ. The FAA hasn’t yet released the remaining aircraft to be inspected, and it’s not clear when that will happen. The agency also recommended airlines operating some 737-900ER aircraft with the same door plugs check them but didn’t ground those airplanes. Minucci said Alaska representatives will be on the factory floor from now on overseeing construction of planes his airline has ordered.

Earlier in the day, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said the carrier has removed a huge order for up to 477 MAX 10s from its operational plan because it’s afraid Boeing won’t be able to certify them on schedule. Boeing needs an exemption on re-engineering the de-icing systems on the engine inlets on the MAX 10 and 7 to get the planes into production in the next year and given the most recent issues that timeline is in question. Kirby hasn’t said it will be going elsewhere for the planes it needs but said the airline will be talking with Boeing about the order.

Also on Tuesday, Boeing announced it will have a one-day safety standdown at the MAX plant in Renton, Washington. In a note to all commercial aircraft employees the company said the MAX workers will spend Thursday in sessions on “hands-on learning, reflection and collaboration.” Stan Deal, who heads up the division said the day will allow “all teammates who touch the airplane to pause, evaluate what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and make recommendations for improvement.” 

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


    • Perhaps the organization failed because the big chiefs are all in Washington DC area barking orders out to the west coast with no situational awareness. There’s an organizational cancer.

      737 Max SAS debacle

      Air Force Tanker debacle (20 years later the tankers are not functional )

      Max 9 quality control issues including the latest failures

  1. Makes you wonder where else on these jets there are problems lurking that have not yet reared their head.

      • That’s very generous to Boeing. Are you suggesting the work group responsible for the MAX 9 airframe is also responsible for the MAX 8 MCAS, or 787 tail, or the Starliner flight software? That one working group spans a range of disciplines, aircraft, and even a spacecraft.

  2. United President is now saying the 277 MAX 10 on order are no longer in the airline’s fleet plan. Meanwhile more spin from Calhoon but no acknowledgment that Boeing is broken and decisive action is needed.

    Reminds me of the Hemingway line on how you go broke slowly, then very quickly….

    • I think what he said is United will formulate an alternative fleet plan because they don’t know when they will get the 10’s. No orders have been canceled.

  3. IMHO, Boeing needs to do two things.

    1. The CEO needs to be a person with an engineering background, not another finance guy.

    2. It’s time to reconnect the HQ with airplanes and move the headquarters back to Seattle.

    • Yes, both points. Unfortunately, there is a longstanding compromise in American industry to promote persons more loyal to the banking/finance field rather than to core operations of the company. The US auto industry is typical example.

      • I absolutely agree with you! I was a technical principal in a large firm and I fired myself (quit) for the very same reason – the firm was more interested in profit than technical excellence and paid it’s personnel accordingly.

  4. Boeing is a mess particularly on this aircraft. As a retired A&P I find it incredible that QA/QC at this company is so abysmal regard the MAX which then has me wondering if there are more shoes to drop on other aircraft from these guys.

  5. It’s amazing that Boeing can get to this point and nobody gets fires. The CEO and BOD should be gone. More than likely the cultural rot extends well into the management ranks at Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems. This lack of accountability is everywhere in our society. From university presidents to corporate boards to the legal system the utter breakdown in our system of governance is destroying our country.

    • Yes I agree. It makes you wonder if we aren’t starting to see the results of our “everyone’s a winner” mentality where poor job performance is more acceptable than it should be. I’m guessing the labor issues of the last several years also play a part in the sub standard quality. Regardless, it’s nothing to mess around with in the aerospace industry.

    • Fired now that’s a novel idea kinda like wishing in one hand and doing something else in the other hand and waiting to see which hand fills up first. I’d wager that the CEO and Board of directors and everyone else who has their dirty little fingers on this fiasco will get big fat raises/severance packages when they jump ship and retire early.

  6. I can’t believe that Boeing’s responses are limited to hand-wringing, safety seminars and “sensitization sessions” kind of general BS.

    With the extremely detailed tracking processes normally implemented in the aviation industry, the installation of a single bolt should be able to be traced back to the individual worker, team and team management who were responsible for installing it. This is what needs to be fixed, specifically, and then perhaps generally if it’s a company-wide practices or oversight problem.

    Why don’t we hear any of that, and just generalities ? I don’t get it.

  7. “Loose bolts” may not be as horrible as it sounds. Some of the bolts in question may not need to be tight, only secured with a castellated nut and safety wire/cotter key to keep the assembly from moving in the guides. They could turn by hand and be okay, I would think. But the nut/safety wire/cotter key must absolutely be there. I wonder what the suit from United really meant and whether the WSJ is engaging in “journalistic” exaggeration.

    • It still hasn’t been made clear whether this is a production error or maintenance error. I’ve heard speculation that this door plug is removed to install satellite communication equipment used for in-flight internet. Everyone is so quick to jump on the Bash Boeing Bandwagon these days…

      • I know it seems like a bandwagon, but there are reasons behind the frustration many of us feel with Boeing. I would suggest the book Flying Blind by Peter Robison to anyone interested in the company. It gives an excellent recounting of how this once illustrious company was transformed by corporate greed into a shadow of its former self. It’s really sad, as I have long been a fan of Boeing, and had a brother who worked there for years.

      • You could be right, but I believe the Alaska Airlines Max only had a few hundred hours on it. So I’m guessing it would not have been put through a C or D check.

      • Yeah, the email subject sent out to everyone said “MISSING” bolts, whereas Russ’ (the author) title said “loose”. I wouldn’t blame Russ for that, but rather it’s AVWEB trying to boost ad revenue with a little misleading yellow journalism, first made famous by William Randolf Hearst during the gilded age. As some astute readers have pointed out, a loose bolt, but with it’s cotter pin in place, is not really a failure path. A missing bolt in this context is huge. Everyone is focusing on these four locking bolts, yet loose examples of the bolts that hold the lower hinge bracket to both the airframe and the plug rib have been found. These being loose is a direct failure mode because there’s no castle nut and pin. Also, photos of the outside of the failure aircraft show a lower spring assembly still hanging out the door. That would HAVE to involve a missing lower spring locking bolt, because it’s otherwise intact. The aft spring hinge is all ripped apart. The probable cause usually involves the fewest number of omissions that create a failure path. The design of the plug screams for two things to be omitted to fail. Not just one. This begs a question for anyone interested in this sort of thing whether a missing upper locking bolt and a missing lower spring locking bolt on the same side could allow enough angularity in the fit to allow the stop pads to become disengaged. The people who found the plug are being REALLY quiet about whether the upper locking bolts were even there (or not). Has anyone heard? Photos? I’ve seen two photo of the plug lying in the bushes, but the camera view only shows the lower horizontal aft plug rib is deformed outward, and the paint is chipped. The upper aft roller channels are blocked by branches, but the aft one looks damaged. On the airframe doorway, the upper stop pad fittings have paint chipped away on top. Yet, this could come from assembly, not just a rapid unschedule disassembly. Tolerance could play a part too. The upper locking bolts are round, and could only be partially engaging the super short roller pins. I guess I’d have called for double-wide rollers there. 🙁

          • And yet, maybe you didn’t good. I just found this photo I’d not see before. Link below. It’s a clear view of the side of the door plug in the teacher’s yard. I wish I could post photos here because one needs to increase the contrast to see the upper aft roller channel is missing it’s locking bolt. And the front one shows part of a bolt backed out, sticking up.

          • Sorry, corrections: And yet, maybe you didn’t GOOF. I just found this photo I’d not see before. Link below. It’s a clear view of the side of the door plug in the teacher’s yard. I wish I could post photos here because one needs to increase the contrast to see the upper front roller channel is missing it’s locking bolt. And the aft one shows part of a bolt backed out, sticking up.

  8. Would like to find the cause of the loose bolts, if it matters if they are loose. Are they being used in shear, basically pins or are they in tension and true fasteners. Lot’s of questions still to be answered.

  9. “It’s time to reconnect the HQ with airplanes and move the headquarters back to Seattle.”

    But they no longer build the airplanes in Seattle. Subcontractors make the parts in South Carolina and other distant locations, right?

  10. A point to be made here since Journalistic sensationalizing is discussed appropriately in this thread, the email heading on the AVweb flash was: “‘Many’ MAX Bolts Missing,…”

    I have not (yet) heard that the bolts were missing, but the email headline certainly made me click the email (I would have anyway later today). I came to find the same story heard over the past few days of loose bolts.

    So I think AVweb needs to be more careful here as a loose but the cotter-pinned nut is a different story entirely than missing bolts, and it is not new news to this publication.

    Please don’t fall into the same journalistic sensationalizing trap as the WSJ and others.

    • Unless Russ Niles made an edit to the title, I see no statement of missing bolts. All I have seen is “loose bolts” from the Alaska CEO.

      OTOH of course the bolts were missing on the incident 737 because that is the only way the door/plug could leave the plane without other major damage on the door or the fuselage.

    • You’re right but it was just an error. No evil plot here. Just a mistake that was noticed by lots of readers.

  11. My honest opinion, as an infrequent airline traveler, I enjoy and have found the airbus 320/321’s are a tad wider and more comfortable. On a side note, The 787 is wonderful. I just wish Boeing had thought the 737 design through before the Max – we don’t get wedged in like sardines!! My Skylane has so much more room for me and my passengers!!

  12. I have been a BA stockholder for 50 years, but this morning I
    I sold all of it. Tired of the poor management and their lousy decisions. When the CEO and CFO are WFHers according to the WSJ-that’s it.

    Sad to see this fine company go down the tubes. The present CEO is a dud and the BoD needs to replaced, bar a few. So
    many programs have been failures-what a shame.

    • There have been problems at Boeing for more than two decades

      Felony pleas by top execs on theft of trade secrets

      Felony pleas by top execs on Replacement Tanker bribery

      Felony plea by DOD top procurement officer , bribery Tanker

      Inability to deliver fully functioning tanker to the USAF for 20 years. One of the justifications (required assumptions ) for retiring rather than remanufacturing the F-14s was that USAF tankers would always be available to support the Navy missions flown by the short legged F-18s

  13. I found the diagram displayed with this article interesting. It appears that the plug is held in place by two latches at the top and two hinge bolts at the bottom. The latch seems to consist of a roller on the frame that engages a fitting on the door. It’s not clear how that would work unless the fitting has an angled pocket that captures the roller, then pulls the door inward as it is pulled down by the hinge bolts at the bottom. The only other hardware seems to be twelve pins on the door which engage twelve pads around the frame. They do not seem to be for securing the door, but only to establish fuselage alignment. It is not clear if the pins are drilled for cotter keys.

    There seems to be only one bolt per plug hinge, attaching the plug to the fuselage. If so, those bolts, in order to pull the plug inboard and downward, must be torqued. This does not seem to be an attachment where loose castellated-nut bolts would be appropriate. Fortunately, it appears that torquing those bolts would be fairly easy, as would be checking the torque.

    I welcome a more expert description of this latching mechanism.

    • One set of guide pins is secured directly with drilled bolts with castellated nuts and safeties. These should not be able to move at all. The other pair of guide pins are kept from moving in their curved tracks by a stop bolt, again with a castellated nut and safety. This arrangement could allow some small amount of motion until the pin hits the stop bolt, but I would hope not much motion.

  14. Hey Russ, speaking of journalistic integrity, why does the header for this article in the AvWeb e-mail I received say “many Max bolts missing”, when there is not one mention of missing bolts?

    • Actually editorial dumb-assedness. Just a goof, Mark. I meant to say “loose.” The subject line for the newsletter is one of the last things I do and I just mixed it up. I think my integrity is still intact:) I’m amazed at how mean readers noticed that.

      • Hey Russ, didn’t mean to be a “mean” reader, or did you mean how “many” readers noticed that! 😄

  15. 1. Much luck and serendipity that the departing door plug didn’t strike the horizontal or vertical stabilizers and the fuselage structure withstood the significant hole size at the lower than cruise altitude that the plug departed.

    2. Given the two fatal MAX accidents and this fuselage plug departure it remains to be seen if Boeing as TC and PC holder, and FAA as regulator, make a long-term commitment to improving type and production certification procedures and oversight (inhouse and over suppliers). Clearly Boeing and FAA need to do more than just manage optics or perceptions until the public’s attention wanes.

    3. In 1985 Boeing and a number of airlines asked the FAA to approve deletion or deactivation of the pair of overwing Type A exits on their Boeing 747’s. Each pair of Type A exits received evacuation credit for 110 passengers, and with five such exit pairs the B-747 was certified to carry as many as 550 passengers. Since very few operators ever configured their 747’s to carry more than 400 passengers, they sought to deactivate or delete the overwing pair to save weight, inspections and maintenance of the emergency exits and their slide rafts. After much public input and internal discussion, Administrator Donald Engen decided to deny the exit door deletion/deactivation. Based on many of the reasons discussed at the time, and mindful that FAA’s airworthiness standards are “minimum standards”, it’s still fair to ask if the design of any fuselage plug in place, because the passenger configuration does not require that emergency exit, compromises the integrity of the fuselage.

  16. When the finance guys run a manufacturing company, expect a long term decline. Finance people are needed, but not as a CEO. They are detached from reality.

  17. It’s beyond time for the Boeing CEO to first be an Engineer/Pilot rather than just another MBA who only cares about squeezing extra $$ out of each sale rather than caring about quality & safety. The B737-Max program has had more than its share of anomalies. I’m not advocating shutting down the Max Program, but I am advocating a complete change of focus by Boeing from pure profit first to pure quality & safety first. And that w/b for ALL of their products!

  18. A memo from FAA Adminstrator Mike Whittaker to Boeing:

    My staff has been reviewing the data and we have come to the conclusion that it IS righty-tighty.

    Continue the superlative job you’ve done and making our job at the FAA effortless.


  19. The problems at Boeing are systemic. As a retired A&P I can honestly say that the real problem at Boeing is in the boardroom and the corporate offices. These are staffed by people who are not aviation/aerospace people. They are corporate bean counters. And with bean counters, comes another systemic problem. That of outsourcing. That is what is wrong at Boeing. To be fair Boeing isn’t the only company with this problem. So, the problem with this issue at hand regarding loose bolts, is due to outsourcing where obviously there was a failure to follow proper QC procedures. The outsourcing is due to the bean counters who want to save a buck.

  20. Doubtful it has anything to do with “everyone’s a winner” or participation trophies. Rather this is exactly the sort of thing that happens when quarterly goals and ROI is more important than quality and safety. It is very similar to the space shuttle disasters in that there were sharp people saying there were problems and they were overridden by someone focused on meeting timelines and willing to roll the dice on everything turning out OK. Same with the botched implementation of the MCAS system. Failure to communicate what the system was really up to, likely in an effort to make pilot transition as inexpensive as possible.

    • Or when the maintenance/inspection tracking software used by Spirit doesn’t talk to the maintenance/inspection software used by Boeing. As seems to be the case here. This door had been removed for repair of its rubber edge seals. Spirit’s tracking system noted the removal, which should have generated an inspection by Boeing. Boeing’s system only noted the repair to the rubber seals and was not smart enough to realize that to get to the seals you have to at least operate if not remove the door. At that point Boeing would “normally” inspect the condition (or presence) of bolts, nuts and cotter pins. But that did not happen. Edge seal fixed. Done.

  21. “reflection and collaboration”, sounds like they’re going to sit in a circle holding hands and singing “We are the World”, I mean please, can we stop with touchy-feely-good BS. Financial people have a hard time putting children’s toys together, let alone understanding aircraft engineering and manufacturing. The Boeing Board has turned into a disaster obsessed with ex-GE executives. McNerny was a clown, and Cahoun is a bank teller, and another GE stooge. These people never learn, a few years ago they laid off a lot, and I mean a lot of mid-level and senior engineers (buyouts etc also) which is absolute proof they don’t know what they’re doing. They keep Level 1s and 2s who by their nature and age are still in the “Toga” party mindset, most could tell you what the Wright Brothers did let alone when. The engineers of the 60s aerospace age are laughing their butts off in there retirement.

  22. W. Edwards Deming, the American credited with teaching the Japanese how to build top quality automobiles and other consumer goods after WWII, taught that quality cannot be inspected in at the end of the production line. It has to be built in starting with the first steps in the design and production process. He taught that each engineer and assembly line worker is their own QC inspector. Sounds like Boeing and their subcontractors need to study up on his teachings. Sadly, moving the Boeing headquarters back to Seattle is not going to solve their problems. After all, they have major production facilities in places like Wichita and Charleston, SC. What is needed is that the CEO needs to visit each location on a regular basis and actually visit with the design and production staff. He needs to deliver the message that quality and design integrity are their ONLY priority. He needs to appoint a Chief Quality Officer answering directly to him. If the employees have problems that can’t be resolved locally, they contact the CQO, who will update him on a weekly basis. Subcontractors get the same treatment. As Toyota and Honda demonstrated, build quality in at the beginning and sales and profits will take care of themselves.

  23. So about 15 years ago, at the demand of the IAM, Boeing removed the independent Quality Inspectors so the union employees could self-inspect their work. Doesn’t matter how good the engineering is if the assemblers don’t follow the drawing, and someone verifies that it’s done per print. Instead of clamoring for a top-down management change, in this case someone ought to be starting from the bottom and working up. There should be easily obtained records to determine who performed the work, and the person who signed it off as inspected.

  24. I’ve been retired a few years. My experience in the aircraft industry is limited to electronic technician on the factory floor. I have 35 years experience in manufacturing. My sense from the comments is that most are made by engineering people. As an engineer in the construction equipment business I spent a lot of time on the shop floor. Quality was our priority, but for shop workers it varies a lot. One day I was passing a machine on the assembly line and noticed a wheel bolt that didn’t look right. I stopped and examined it. Short story: The worker was paid to start the bolt by hand, and then put the impact wrench on it to drive it home. He was actually putting the bolt in the impact tool, and using it to start the bolt and drive it to torque. This one I saw was cross threaded, which damaged the threads in the wheel flange. I discussed the problem with the supervisor, but aside from a sharp talking to, nothing happened to the worker. So based on most of the comments here the CEO and the BOD all should be fired. Believe me, it would be easier to fire them than that union worker who didn’t follow instructions. The company I worked for had a strong quality culture, but sometimes you just don’t reach everyone.
    I know that aircraft is this nation’s largest revenue exporter, and sometimes I wonder if there is something going on to change that?

  25. Last week, an anonymous whistleblower who appears to have access to Boeing’s manufacturing records of the work done assembling the specific Alaska Airlines jet that suffered the blowout — on an aviation website separately provided many additional details about how the door plug came to be removed and then mis-installed.

    “The reason the door blew off is stated in black and white in Boeing’s own records,” the whistleblower wrote. “It is also very, very stupid and speaks volumes about the quality culture at certain portions of the business.”

    The self-described Boeing insider said company records show four bolts that prevent the door plug from sliding up off the door frame stop pads that take the pressurization loads in flight, “were not installed when Boeing delivered the airplane.” the whistleblower stated. “Our own records reflect this.”
    The Seattle Times confirmed with a Renton mechanic and a former 737 MAX production line manager that the whistleblower’s description of how this kind of rework is performed and by whom is accurate.

    The Times also confirmed that the whistleblower accurately described the computer systems Boeing uses to record and track 737 assembly work, systems that mechanics and engineers sign into every day when they begin work.

    The whistleblower outlines how, because of a mistake, the removal and re-installation of the door plug in Renton was never entered in the computer system where every detail of the build process on each individual aircraft is recorded. As a result, no quality inspection was triggered.

    Ed Pierson, a former manager of the MAX production line and himself a whistleblower who raised concerns about quality control in Renton before the first MAX crash in Indonesia in 2018, said in an interview Monday on January 22nd that the new account of the door plugs mis-installation and the error in the recording of the work “is very consistent with what I saw in the factory personally.”

    After reading the whistleblower account, he said “I think there is a very high probability this is accurate.”

    “People, when they’re pressured and rushed, they think, well, I’ll catch up on the paperwork later,” Pierson said. “Then it goes from shift to shift and you don’t know if the next shift got it or not.”

    • I considered not allowing this comment but the “whistleblower” comment is in the public domain and being used as the basis for news stories. You folks might as well read it for yourselves. It’s interesting.

  26. This is a no brainer. Boeing is at fault! Those fuselages were shipped by train from Kansas to Renton. The vibration and rough rid they had encountered would have surely caused at least one door to fall off enroute. Since you don’t see the area next to the tracks littered with door plugs it has to be Boeing! Mic drop. Sorry Boeing, your responsible again!

  27. Seems like there is plenty of blame to go around. While Minucci is justifiably angry at Boeing, he also needs to review the behavior of his own maintenance staff. Newspaper reports assert the subject aircraft had pressurization issues which caused it to be removed from long haul flights over the Pacific. Really that’s all? If the media accounts are accurate the A/C should have been pulled from service until the ‘issues’ were identified.