Airline Passengers now doing preflight aircraft inspections -- safety first!



They need to invent aircraft mechanics. I know novel revolutionary concepts. You are welcome.

Then uninvent the newspaper reporter.

From the article:
{{ Footage shot by Hardy showed one of the engineers climbing onto the plane's wing before using a screwdriver to tinker with some of the fasteners 5

Footage shot by Hardy shows one of the engineers climbing onto the plane’s wing and using a screwdriver to tinker with some of the fasteners. }}

Note: The maintenence crew isn’t “tinkering with some of the fasteners”. They’re replacing missing fasteners with new ones. If the fasteners weren’t necessary, aircraft designers wouldn’t have put them there in the first place.





As is common, Forbes is stretching the truth here. The FAA has NOT found any faults with the 737-900ER. Because it shares the same door plug with the 737 MAX9, they have ordered inspections.

The 900ER went out of production several years ago, when the MAX series started production. Virtually all of the 900ER planes have been through a complete maintenance cycle or two at this point, which includes inspecting the door plug.

I suspect that because the doors are the same, the FAA is looking to see if there is some systemic failure of maintenance, or if it’s an assembly problem at Boeing. I’d also guess the FAA will want to see the maintenance history on these older planes to learn what problems have been found and corrected during maintenance. That will help them determine if these doors have a design problem. Frankly, I doubt they will find one. That will leave assembly as the most likely source of the recent inspection findings on the MAX9.



Some of those maintenance reports may not be all that reliable either. Wasn’t it Southwest that was caught pencil whipping maintenance, because labor is a “cost to be minimized”?


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First - pencil whipping maintenance eventually catches up to you in headline-making ways. So yes, there might be some airlines with that problem. On the other hand, there are many who take maintenance seriously and who will have reliable maintenance reports.

Second - Southwest won’t be a problem here since they never flew the 900-ER, at least not with the door plug in question. Southwest doesn’t have separate classes. Everyone is in the cattle class. In that configuration, the 900-ER would need an actual emergency exit in that location and not a door plug because of the passenger count.

Third - No 900-ER has had a door plug fall out in flight. They first went into service in 2007, with the last delivered in 2019. That’s 14 years of service with no door problems. Compare this to the MAX9 which went into service in 2018 and was grounded for over a year and a half for it’s earlier design problem. In that shortened time, a door has fallen out and inspections have revealed multiple instances of loose bolts in recently delivered airplanes. Keep in mind that not all 900ER planes have a door plug. Most do not, with operators opting for the extra seating capacity instead. This is similar to the MAX 9, where most purchasers are looking for the seating capacity and therefore have an emergency exit rather than a door plug.

So while maintenance records are not perfect, they should still be a useful tool for the FAA to examine.


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In the mean time, a lot of money is not spent on parts and labor, so it can be used to fluff up profits and line the CEO’s pocket. The parts and labor savings can be easily calculated. The cost of a negative headline is only a possibility, so cannot be calculated. The beancounter will always go with the certain and measurable.

I have maintained, for decades, that, in a corporate profit push, the first things to be cut are quality and customer service, because the consequences are only a possibility, while the short terms savings can be easily measured. I was in a Wendy’s yesterday, which has the do-it-yourself order entry kiosks. Because they have the kiosks, they do not staff the counter anymore. I used the kiosk. As I waited another man walked up to the counter to order. He was told he can’t order at the counter, he can’t use cash, he has to use the kiosk and a credit card. He walked out, empty handed. Management will never count that lost business, but they can count their savings from not staffing the counter.

Snip from an article about Southwest’s lack of maintenance.

“Southwest’s management is very skilled in what they have to do," the report quoted another FAA employee. "If it costs money, they won’t do it.”


From NPR:

The FAA’s safety alert says some airlines have “noted findings with bolts during the maintenance inspections” of their 737-900ER planes, but it doesn’t elaborate on what the findings were.

Right. They haven’t found faults, not formally. Forbes is embellishing things in their headlines. The FAA is only recommending the inspection, not requiring it. If there were an actual fault, the FAA would ground the planes until they are inspected. They haven’t done that.

Let’s do a little background. The 900ER and MAX 9 share this door plug design. After the failure on the Alaska Airlines plane, some operators of the 900ER decided to check their doors on their own. After all, they really don’t want door plugs falling off their planes. Apparently, they reported the results of those inspections to the FAA. And now the FAA is making those voluntary inspections slightly more formal by putting the inspection into a safety alert.

Rather than deal with news headlines, let’s just go to the source. Here’s the press release:

And the Safety Alert for Operators (aka SAFO):

A SAFO contains important safety information and may include recommended action. Besides the specific action recommended in a SAFO, an alternative action may be as effective in addressing the safety issue named in the SAFO. The contents of this document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way.

Recommended Action: Operators are encouraged to conduct a visual inspection to ensure the door plug is restrained from any movements through the two (2) upper guide track bolts and two (2) lower arrestor bolts. … As Operators conduct the visual inspections, they are also encouraged to report findings to their certificate management office.

Nothing required or demanded. Just the sharing of safety related information.

I’m going to cut to the chase here. I’m fairly certain the FAA is going to find two things at the end of all of this.

  1. The retaining bolts in the incident aircraft were not installed. Those bolts are not under any tension. They don’t hold two parts together. They prevent the door plug from moving upward. Any one of them should be adequate for the job, but as in most things airline related, redundancy and large margins of safety are the norm. A failure of the retaining bolts would also leave indications of stress on the parts they are retaining. Those signs of stress aren’t there.

  2. Boeing has some kind of problem with inspections during assembly. There are multiple planes with loose bolts in the door plug area other than the retaining bolts. One loose bolt in one plane is an error. Multiple loose bolts in multiple planes in the same general area is a systemic problem. There is a necessary inspection that is either missing completely or is among the inspections to be done but was not done.

These 900ER inspections are basically out of a desire to err on the side of caution. Because the door plugs are the same, let’s make sure these slightly different planes are OK to continue flying. Everyone is pretty sure they are, but a bit of maintenance time at a time convenient to the airlines is a small price to pay to make sure.



The FAA talks about actual findings, even though we don’t know yet what they are. From your link:

Discussion: The Boeing 737-900ER mid-exit door plugs have an identical door plug design to the 737-9 MAX. As part of their Safety Management Systems, some operators have conducted additional inspections on the 737-900ER mid-exit door plugs and have noted findings with bolts during the maintenance inspections.

The findings could be that there were no problems. A finding isn’t necessarily negative.

My point still stands. Forbes is engaging in sensational journalism. The FAA has not found a fault with the 900ER planes. They’re merely suggesting (not even requiring) inspections.

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I love it. I thought I was the only one that used the term ‘cattle class’.

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I think the idea goes way back. In 1989 at the old Denver Airport I was amongst a crowd of exhausted exasperated flyers awaiting a multiply postponed boarding being maltreated by an almost as exhausted United Airlines staff.

An especially obnoxious officious condescending young staffer got on the sound system to berate us (first and foremost) and then direct us to a faraway gate. As we started moving a child in front of me, absurdly/mischieveously, started bawling mooing & shuffling. I jokingly joined in. The extreme discontent was immediately picked up by almost all of the mob. We were a walking protest.

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