Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci on Tuesday revealed his frustrations with Boeing, saying he is “angry” with the aircraft company and is demanding improvements to its quality programs following the recent midair blowout.
Minicucci, during an interview with NBC News, said the new in-house inspections of Boeing’s 737 Max 9 planes found “some loose bolts on many” of the aircraft. The inspections follow a recent incident on an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this month during which a door plug on a Boeing 737 Max 9 model blew off while the flight was 16,000 feet above Oregon.
With a gaping hole left on the side of the plane, the pilots were forced to make an emergency landing at Portland International Airport. The incident prompted a deeper investigation into Boeing, Alaska Airlines and Spirit AeroSystems, the manufacturer that made the fuselage and door plug that flew off.
“I’m more than frustrated and disappointed,” Minicucci told NBC News. “I am angry. This happened to Alaska Airlines. It happened to our guests and happened to our people. And — my demand on Boeing is what are they going to do to improve their quality programs in-house.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) quickly grounded the estimated 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft and said the “safety of the flying public” will determine when the aircraft will return to service. The agency is also spearheading a probe into whether Boeing failed to ensure its planes complied with the agency’s safety regulations and an audit into Boeing’s Max 9 production line and suppliers.
Asked when the airline might be able to fly those planes again, Minicucci said the inspections take “about 10 hours per door.”
“And once the FAA issues its directive — and that has not come through yet — but once we get the FAA directive, it’ll take us several days to complete all the inspections and get the aircraft back in service,” he added.
Boeing’s CEO called the incident a “mistake” and announced additional inspections for the production of the 737 Max 9 model earlier this month. The company said it will also require approval of Spirit’s installation of the door plug before they are sent to Boeing, which has its main factory in Everett, Wash.
NBC News asked Minicucci if Boeing has a serious problem with quality control extending beyond a single plane, to which he responded, “I think this is the issue that’s at question right here, which is what is Boeing going to do differently on their quality program, to make sure that when we get an airplane, it’s at the highest degree of excellence and that’s what’s got to be different going forward.”
Minicucci said he has had “very tough, candid conversations,” with Boeing’s leadership.
Minicucci’s full interview airs on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” at 6:30 p.m. EST and Wednesday morning on NBC’s “TODAY.”
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