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July 22, 2024
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More information is coming out about the MAX 9 event on flight AS1282. Here’s our earlier coverage on this (1,2,3,4).

Here’s a list of MAX 9 operators.  There is some debate about the fleet size; we have seen 171 as the total impacted by the door plug. By our count, 70% of the fleet is with Alaska and United. The FAA approved Boeing’s inspection plan, which should take 4-8 hours per aircraft.


Inspections at United and Alaska reported finding loose bolts—no news yet from the other operators, who will also need to report any such findings.

A brief flutter of concern about WiFi installations as a potential reason for loose bolts was allayed when the vendor confirmed they did not touch the plug during installation.

Focus is on Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems as attention moves back to assembly. Boeing has an “all hands” call today as it focuses on its safety culture.

Boeing is unlikely to slow MAX supply chain orders.  The OEM plans to deliver between 500 and 550 MAX this year.  Most of these will be for the unaffected MAX 8.

Spirit AeroSystems will draw attention because of last year’s quality items: the vertical fin tolerance, aft pressure bulkhead, and the recent rudder bolt issues.

The sense across the industry is that this MAX issue follows a string of previous issues, but nobody has any schadenfreude. The issue is not comforting anyone.  We will repeat what we’ve said with every MAX issue – the most desirable outcome for commercial aviation is a strong and stable duopoly.  Each MAX event impacts that stability negatively.

Meanwhile, Airbus does not benefit, as its backlog is sold out through 2030. Boeing is impacted, and it faces credibility issues again.  The MAX is the focus, but the 787, KC-46, and 777X have seen program hiccups.  Boeing is taking another hit to its reputation.

If other MAX 9 operators also find loose bolts, and it is logical to expect this, then Boeing faces more reputation damage.  As noted by Vertical Research Partners, “…Boeing and Spirit have said that there is no systemic quality issue, for there to be three quality issues with the same supplier on the same aircraft in just one year looks like more than coincidence.”

The morning before flight AS1282, Boeing requested the FAA exempt the MAX 7 from safety rules. The MAX 7 has nothing like the MAX 9 issue, but the optics do not favor the FAA granting such an exception. The FAA must guard its reputation zealously after its role around the MAX MCAS issue. The FAA must be aware they are closely watched by the US industry, EASA, and especially China’s regulator.

Boeing’s wish for  MAX 7 and MAX 10 certification in 2024 will certainly be slowed down. This has trickle-down impacts for Southwest (MAX 7) and Ryanair (MAX 10).  Michael O’Leary already had a word.  Southwest has been publicly sanguine about the MAX 7 delay, but its impact incurs real MRO costs for its older 700NGs.

An additional impact from the MAX 9 inspections and a potential extended grounding is the rising valuations of second-hand aircraft. As AviationValues notes, “Market Values have risen in the last 12 months as the availability of serviceable aircraft has reduced with off-market transactions and lease extension commitments reducing aircraft that could have become available for sale or lease.

To reiterate, the MAX 9 loose bolt issue impacts far and wide.  The issue is much bigger than some canceled flights. Let’s hope this latest issue is quickly resolved.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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