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FAA bans Boeing 737 Max 9 production expansion, clears path for jets to fly

The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared a path to return 171 grounded Boeing 737 Max 9 planes to the sky in a plan that also bans production expansion, three weeks after a door plug blew out on an Alaska Airlines flight. "The January 5 Boeing 737-9 Max incident must never happen again," the FAA said Wednesday. File Photo by Cityswift/Flickr
The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared a path to return 171 grounded Boeing 737 Max 9 planes to the sky in a plan that also bans production expansion, three weeks after a door plug blew out on an Alaska Airlines flight. "The January 5 Boeing 737-9 Max incident must never happen again," the FAA said Wednesday. File Photo by Cityswift/Flickr

Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared a path to return 171 grounded Boeing 737 Max 9 planes to the sky in a plan that also bans production expansion of the Max, three weeks after a door plug blew out on an Alaska Airlines flight.

"The January 5 Boeing 737-9 Max incident must never happen again," FAA administrator Mike Whitaker announced in a statement late Wednesday.

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"Let me be clear: This won't be back to business as usual for Boeing," Whitaker said. "We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the 737 MAX until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved."

Whitaker did not announce a timetable for the planes to return to the airlines, but said the "exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase."

United Airlines said earlier this week that it expects the planes to be grounded through the end of the month.

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While Boeing has not commented on the FAA's announcement, the company announced a "quality stand down" Wednesday at its Washington factory to address issues with its 737 Max planes.

The actions being taken by Boeing and the FAA come after a door plug on a 737 Max 9 jet flew off during an Alaska Airlines flight on Jan. 5, endangering 177 people on board. The plane landed safely after returning to the Portland, Ore., airport for an emergency landing, before the FAA grounded all Max 9s for safety inspections during its investigation.

The Alaska Airlines plane involved in the door plug incident was delivered late last year. Both Alaska and United Airlines have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights during the grounding.

On Wednesday, Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, met with Boeing chief executive officer Dave Calhoun and announced plans to hold a hearing to investigate Boeing's safety record.

"In today's meeting with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun, I made it clear that quality engineering and a commitment to safety always have to be the top priority. Hardworking engineers and machinists in the Pacific Northwest know this," Cantwell said in a statement.

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"The American flying public and Boeing line workers deserve a culture of leadership at Boeing that puts safety ahead of profits."

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