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Alaska Airlines clears 18 737 Max-9 aircraft for service after grounding fleet

By Mike Heuer & Ehren Wynder
Alaska Airlines says it has cleared 18 of its of 65 Boeing 747 Max 9 passenger jets to return to service. The remainder of the fleet is grounded after a side panel blew out of the fuselage during a flight from Portland, Ore., on Friday. File Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA
Alaska Airlines says it has cleared 18 of its of 65 Boeing 747 Max 9 passenger jets to return to service. The remainder of the fleet is grounded after a side panel blew out of the fuselage during a flight from Portland, Ore., on Friday. File Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA

Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Alaska Airlines on Saturday cleared 18 Boeing 737-9 Max-9 airliners to return to service while investigators examine the rest of the fleet to determine why a fuselage side panel blew out mid-flight.

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 lost a panel on its rear fuselage shortly after taking off from Portland International Airport on Friday, causing a pressurization problem and forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing at the Portland, Ore., airport at about 5 p.m.

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The flight was carrying 171 passengers and six flight crew while on its way from Portland to Ontario, Calif. No injuries were reported.

"We have taken the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft," Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said in a statement. "Each aircraft will be returned to service only after completion of full maintenance and safety inspection."

Alaska Airlines gave an update of the situation at noon Saturday, saying 18 jets passed inspection and were cleared to return to service. The ongoing maintenance and safety inspection should wrap up in a few days.

In response to Friday's incident, the Federal Aviation Administration on Saturday ordered a temporary grounding of certain 737 aircraft.

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The agency estimated the directive would affect about 171 planes worldwide.

"Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB's investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282," the FAA said.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the incident. Minicucci said the airline is cooperating the federal safety investigation.

FAA officials said Flight 1282 experienced the problem about 20 minutes after taking off from Portland while flying at 16,000 feet.

In China, officials there are considering grounding that nation's entire fleet of 737 aircraft in response to the Flight 1282 event, Bloomberg reported.

China previously grounded the same aircraft and halted receipt of the model following a pair of 747 Max crashes in 2018 that killed more than 300 people.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency is monitoring the situation and might issue a mandate if necessary.

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