Flight cancellations are piling up as Alaska and United are stuck without their grounded Boeing jets

PORTLAND, Ore. — Alaska Airlines and United Airlines grounded all their Boeing 737 Max 9 planes again on Sunday as they waited for instructions on how to inspect the planes to prevent another onboard blowout like the one that damaged an Alaska plane .

Alaska Airlines had returned 18 of its 65 737 Max 9 planes to service on Saturday, less than 24 hours after part of the fuselage of another plane blew out 3 miles above Oregon.

The reprieve was short-lived.

The airline said Sunday it had received a notice from the Federal Aviation Administration that additional work may be needed on those 18 planes.

Alaska said it had canceled 170 flights on the West Coast — more than a fifth of its schedule — by mid-afternoon because of the groundings.

“These aircraft have also now been removed from service until details of any additional maintenance work may be confirmed by the FAA,” the airline said in a statement. “We are in contact with the FAA to determine what further work may be required. .”

United Airlines said it canceled about 180 flights on Sunday, while saving others by finding other planes that were not grounded.

Alaska and United are the only US airlines flying the Max 9.

United said it was waiting for Boeing to issue a so-called multi-operator message, a service bulletin used when multiple airlines need to perform similar work on a particular type of aircraft.

Boeing is working on a bulletin but has not yet submitted it to the FAA, according to a person familiar with the situation. Creating a detailed, technical bulletin often takes a few days, the person said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the company and regulators have not publicly discussed the process.

Boeing declined to comment.

A panel used to close off an area reserved for a Max 9 exit door blew out Friday evening, shortly after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland, Oregon. The unpressurized plane, carrying 171 passengers and six crew members, returned safely to Portland International Airport without serious injuries.

Hours after the incident, the FAA ordered the grounding of 171 Max 9s, including all Alaska and United aircraft, until they could be inspected. The FAA said the inspections will last four to eight hours.

Boeing has delivered 218 Max 9s worldwide, but not all of them are covered by the FAA order. They are among more than 1,300 Max jets – mainly the Max 8 variant – sold by the aircraft manufacturer. The Max 8 and other versions of the Boeing 737 are not affected by the grounding.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said she agreed with the decision to ground the Max 9s.

“Safety comes first. Aviation manufacturing must adhere to a gold standard, including quality controls and strong FAA oversight,” she said in a statement.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators searched Sunday for the paneled exit door that blew off Flight 1282. They have a good idea of ​​where it landed, near Oregon Route 217 and Barnes Road in the Cedar Hills area west of Portland, NTSB Chairman Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference Saturday evening.

“If you notice this, please contact your local police,” she said.

Early Sunday afternoon, some locals were scouring a patch of land with dense brush, wedged between busy roads and a light rail station. The area is located opposite a vast hospital complex.

Searcher Adam Pirkle said he rode 14 miles and maneuvered his bike through vegetation. “I looked at the flight path, I looked at the wind,” he said. “I tried to focus on wooded areas.”

Daniel Feldt navigated the same thicket on foot, equipped with binoculars, after descending from the roof of a parking garage next to the light rail station. “I was in the parking garage and scanned everything. “I didn't see any holes in the bushes that looked obvious where something had fallen through,” he said.

Gavin Redshaw had even taken his drone for an aerial photo, but had not found anything by Sunday afternoon. “Lots of trash, but no door,” he said.

The country has not had a fatal accident involving a U.S. passenger ship since 2009 when a Colgan Air flight crashed near Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground. In 2013, an Asiana Airlines flight from South Korea crashed at San Francisco International Airport, killing three of the 307 people on board.

Flight 1282 departed Portland at 5:07 p.m. Friday for a two-hour flight to Ontario, California. About six minutes later, the fuselage blew out when the plane was about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) above sea level. One of the pilots declared a state of emergency and asked for permission to descend to 10,000 feet (3 kilometers), the altitude where the air would have enough oxygen to breathe safely.

Videos posted online by passengers showed a gaping hole where the paneled exit had been and passengers wearing masks. They applauded when the plane landed safely about 13 minutes after impact. Firefighters then came down the aisle and asked passengers to remain in their seats while they treated the injured.

It was extremely fortunate that the plane had not yet reached cruising altitude, while passengers and flight attendants may have been walking around the cabin, Homendy said.

“Nobody was in 26A and B where that door plug is, the plane was about 16,000 feet and only 10 minutes away from the airport when the door blew,” she said. The investigation is expected to last months.

The aircraft involved rolled off the assembly line and received certification two months ago, according to online FAA records. It had been on 145 flights since it entered commercial service on Nov. 11, said FlightRadar24, another tracking service. The flight from Portland was the plane's third of the day.

Aviation experts were astounded that a piece would fly out of a new plane. Anthony Brickhouse, a professor of aerospace safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said he has seen fuselage panels come off airplanes before, but can't remember one where passengers are “looking at the lights of the city.”

The Max is the latest version of Boeing's venerable 737, a twin-engine, single-aisle plane often used on domestic flights in the US. The aircraft was put into service in May 2017.

In 2018 and 2019, two Max 8 jets crashed, killing 346 people. All Max 8 and Max 9 planes were grounded worldwide for almost two years until Boeing made changes to an automated flight control system implicated in the crashes.

The Max has been plagued by other problems, including manufacturing defects, overheating concerns that led the FAA to tell pilots to limit the use of an anti-icing system, and a possible loose bolt in the rudder system.


Koenig reported from Dallas. Bohrer reported from Juneau, Alaska. Associated Press reporters Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Hawaii, contributed.