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Boeing CEO pledges to cooperate in investigation of Alaska Airlines fuselage incident

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Alaska Airlines has canceled flights on its Boeing 737 Max 9 jets through Saturday for safety inspections. A mid-air blowout of an airliner's door plug is the latest in a series of problems for Boeing. Boeing CEO David Calhoun told a staff-wide safety meeting that the company had made a mistake, although he was not clear what that mistake was. He did, though, pledge cooperation with investigators.

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DAVID CALHOUN: We need to know we're starting from a very anxious moment with our customers, and we simply have to deal with that reality. So it's going to be a lot about transparency.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us to talk about the company's future is Andrew Tangel who reports on aviation for The Wall Street Journal. Andrew, I mean, this is not the first time there have been problems with the 737 Max 9. Why is this happening again?

ANDREW TANGEL: That remains to be seen. The FAA and the NTSB are trying to figure out what exactly led to this plug door blowout on an Alaska jet. But the inspections have shown that there are other manufacturing flaws with other 737 Max 9s in this area with the door plug on those planes. So it looks like some correlation with manufacturing problems that Boeing has experienced in recent years, and there's been a lot more scrutiny since the earlier crashes of the 737 Max 8 about five years ago. Those were for a different problem that was a flight control system, but the company's been under the microscope ever since, and they've been finding more problems.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So - and you mentioned the crash from five years ago. That was two Boeing planes that crashed - Indonesia and Ethiopia - killing a total of - what? - 350 people. I mean, those failures, how does that affect confidence in Boeing?

TANGEL: Well, it certainly makes passengers wonder about the safety of their airplanes, and that's a problem for Boeing. They've got problems with their military planes. The Air Force has complained about foreign object debris - garbage, essentially - left behind in the manufacturing process inside the airplanes. It can pose a safety risk. And we've written before about the same issue found even in replacement jets Boeing is working on that will serve as Air Force One. We wrote about how they even found some small tequila bottles left inside one of those planes. That's a sign of quality assurance issues not acceptable when building aircrafts.

MARTÍNEZ: Is the number of issues and problems that we're seeing with Boeing lately, is that unusual?

TANGEL: It appears to be unusual. There's also a lot of scrutiny of Boeing. They've been working on quality, trying to reduce the amount of defects. And they acknowledged this week that they've still got more work to do.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, Andrew, I'm in D.C., and I fly back to Los Angeles soon. And I checked my ticket, and it says that I'm going to be on a 737 Max 9. I'm still going to take the flight if it's not cancelled, but I'm going to have a lot on my mind. So what's Boeing doing to regain the trust of passengers?

TANGEL: That's going to come down to the FAA, which is overseeing Boeing. They have grounded the Max 9s in the U.S., and they've got to finalize their prescriptive inspections and communicate to passengers like yourself that the inspections are going to do the trick to prevent another one of these blowouts. Now, it's unclear if your plane will, in fact, be a 737 Max 9, but maybe you'll get a new plane if the plane is not approved to fly by then.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Hopefully. Andrew Tangel reports on aviation for The Wall Street Journal. Andrew, thanks.

TANGEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF VENTI'S "FRESH OPPORTUNITES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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