Boeing Urges 737 MAX Inspections for Loose Hardware in Rudder Control System

Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, is advising airlines to conduct inspections on 737 MAX planes for a potential issue with a loose bolt in the rudder control system, according to a statement by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday. The FAA is keeping a close watch on the targeted inspections of Boeing 737 MAX and will contemplate further steps based on any new findings of loose or missing components. The inspection recommendation came after an international operator found a bolt missing a nut during regular maintenance on a rudder-control linkage mechanism, as per the FAA. 


Boeing also found another aircraft awaiting delivery with a nut that was not properly tightened, the agency added. "The problem identified on the specific airplane has been fixed," Boeing stated. "To err on the side of caution, we are suggesting operators inspect their 737 MAX planes and report any discoveries. We have notified the FAA and our customers and will continue to keep them updated on the progress." The aircraft manufacturer has advised airlines to inspect their MAXs within a fortnight, however, delivered 737 MAX planes can continue to operate safely, according to Boeing. 


The production and delivery of the MAX will proceed. The issue does not impact older 737 Next Generation models, Boeing clarified. Boeing's shares fell by 1% in midday trading. United Airlines and American Airlines, two major domestic MAX customers, each stated that they do not anticipate the inspections to affect operations. Southwest Airlines, a U.S. airline that exclusively operates the 737 NG and MAX, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FAA stated that Boeing had sent a message to operators of newer single-aisle planes to inspect specific tie rods that control rudder movement for potential loose hardware. 

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The rudder controls the aircraft's nose position during flight. The inspections involve removing an access panel and verifying that the hardware was correctly installed, Boeing explained. The process should take about two hours, and Boeing is inspecting undelivered 737 MAX aircraft before delivering them to customers. "The FAA will stay in touch with Boeing and the airlines while the inspections are being conducted," the agency stated, asking airlines to respond if any loose hardware has been previously detected and provide details on how quickly these inspections can be completed. Any problem with a rudder not functioning correctly would likely be identified during a pre-flight check, as flight crews routinely check the rudder system before an aircraft leaves the gate, Boeing noted. The inspections will assist the FAA in determining the extent of the problem and whether it indicates a larger issue in production quality that necessitates the regulator to take additional measures, said Anthony Brickhouse, an air safety expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "Airlines need to take it seriously," he stated. "But as a member of the flying public, I don't view this as a cause for concern." The 737 MAX was grounded globally for 20 months after two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019 that claimed the lives of 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Boeing is still waiting for certification of its smaller 737 MAX 7 and larger MAX 10. The FAA has been closely examining the MAX. In 2021, the FAA stated that it was monitoring all 737 MAX planes using satellite data.

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