Alaska Airlines has started flying Boeing 737 Max 9s again for the first time since they were grounded after a panel exploded on the side of one of its planes.
The airline said in a statement that it had completed its final inspection of its group of aircraft. They said they took the Max 9 back with a flight from Seattle to San Diego Friday afternoon.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday approved the inspection and maintenance process to return the planes to flight. Alaska technicians began inspections that night, the airline said.
The airline said it expects inspections to be completed by the end of next week, allowing it to operate a full flight schedule. Inspections are expected to take up to 12 hours per plane.
“Each of our 737-9 Max aircraft will only be returned to service once rigorous inspections are completed and each aircraft is deemed airworthy in accordance with FAA requirements,” Alaska Airlines said in a written statement Friday.
Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are the only two US airlines to operate this particular model of the Boeing 737.
United said it began flying Boeing Max 9 jetliners on Saturday. The first was United Flight 1525 from Newark to Las Vegas, which took off at 10:30 a.m. local time with 175 passengers and six crew members, the airline confirmed via email. The company said it expects more passenger flights on Boeing Max 9 planes on Saturday.
The FAA has detailed the process airlines must follow to inspect – and if necessary, repair – panels called door plugs, one of which came loose on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on January 5.
The plugs are used to seal holes left for additional doors on the Max 9 when an unusually large number of seats require more exits for safety reasons.
Alaska Airlines grounded its 65 Max 9 jets hours after one of two door plugs in the rear half of Flight 1282’s cabin exploded while it was about 14,000 feet above the Oregon. The FAA grounded all Max 9s in the United States the day after the eruption.
No passengers were seriously injured.