Boeing’s year from hell: After SIX travel disasters involving 737 Max and other jets, following two deadly crashes, will Americans continue to fly on beleaguered planes?

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • An incident involving a Boeing 737 MAX 8 which veered off a runway in Houston is the latest disaster involving the company
  • In January, the door of a 737 MAX 9 blew out while it was 16,000ft over Portland 
  • The incidents follow two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 which killed 346 people

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 which veered off a runway after landing in Houston on Friday is the latest in a series of at least nine major incidents involving the company’s aircraft in recent years.

The aircraft, which arrived from Memphis, is said to have suffered some form of gear collapse as it exited the runway at George Bush Airport. The 160 passengers and six crew were not injured. 

Footage showed the plane stopped with its wing touching the ground by the side of the runway, while passengers were hurried off from an emergency gate ladder. 

The incident is yet another involving the beleaguered company’s aircraft – including two deadly crashes which killed a total of 346 people.

Here, DailyMail.com looks at some of the high-profile incidents and production issues which have affected Boeing in recent years. 

A Boeing 737 Max operated by United Airlines veered off the tarmac into the grass when exiting the runway at George Bush Airport in Houston early Friday

Shocking footage showed the plane laying flat on its wings off the side off a runway, after suffering an apparent gear collapse

Shocking footage showed the plane laying flat on its wings off the side off a runway, after suffering an apparent gear collapse 

WHEEL FALLS OFF AFTER TAKE OFF 

A wheel fell off a Boeing 777-200 shortly after takeoff in San Francisco on Thursday.  

The 256lb wheel fell from a United Airlines plane shortly after take-off and crushed cars parked below after it plummeted to the ground. 

The United Airlines flight 35 left San Francisco Airport on its way to Osaka in Japan and was barely off the runway when the Boeing 777-200’s wheel came off.

The plane with 235 passengers and 14 crew diverted to Los Angeles Airport after it was alerted to the landing gear failure at 11.35am on Thursday.

The plane landed safely at LAX about 1.20pm with no further incident and no injuries reported on the ground.

‘The 777-200 has six tires on each of its two main landing gear struts. The aircraft is designed to land safely with missing or damaged tires,’ United said. 

 A 256lb wheel has fallen from an airliner as it took off, crushing cars where it landed after plummeting to the ground

MID-FLIGHT ENGINE FIRE

On Monday, just days before the wheel incident, a 737 engine caught fire mid-flight.

Heart-stopping video caught the moment a Boeing jet’s engines exploded and burst into flames in the skies above Texas, forcing an emergency landing.

The terrifying incident took place just minutes into a United Airlines flight bound for Fort Myers, Florida.

Video taken from a passenger window shows white-hot flashes streaming out of the  737’s jet engine.

Moments later, they were forced to make an emergency landing and return to George H. Bush Intercontinental Houston Airport moments after takeoff. No injuries were reported in the incident. 

DOOR BLOWOUT AT 16,000FT 

A Boeing aircraft also suffered a near-catastrophe in January as a 737 MAX 9 plane door blew out at 16,000ft over Portland, Oregon, forcing an emergency landing. 

In January, an Alaska Airlines flight suffered a near-catastrophe as a plane door blew out at 16,000ft over Portland

In January, an Alaska Airlines flight suffered a near-catastrophe as a plane door blew out at 16,000ft over Portland 

There were no serious injuries from the terrifying air failure, but passenger's belongings including phones flew out of the aircraft

There were no serious injuries from the terrifying air failure, but passenger’s belongings including phones flew out of the aircraft

Earlier this week, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board accused Boeing of failing to provide some key records sought in its ongoing investigation into the mid-air cabin door emergency.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said investigators have sought the names of the 25 people who work on door plugs at a Boeing facility in Renton, Washington, but have not received them from Boeing. 

‘It is absurd that two months later we don’t have it,’ Homendy said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Boeing insisted that it had initially provided the NTSB with some of the names of Boeing employees, including door specialists it believed would have relevant information.

Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, called it ‘utterly unacceptable’ that the NTSB was not receiving full cooperation from Boeing.

Homendy also confirmed that the MAX 9 door plug had moved during prior flights, citing markings on the door. 

DEADLY INCIDENTS INVOLVING 737 MAX

The most serious issues have involved the 737 Max, the latest version of its 737, a workhorse of passenger aviation.

Following the door blow out, United Airlines said inspections of other 737 Max jets prompted by the incident on the Alaska Airlines flight turned up loose bolts and other ‘installation issues’ on the part that failed – a door plug used to seal openings used for additional emergency exits in some configurations of the plane.

Safety and manufacturing problems have also plagued other models.

In 2018, a woman died when a piece of engine housing ripped off a Southwest Airlines 737 and shattered the window she was sitting next to.

She was partially sucked out of the plane as it lost cabin pressure before other passengers pulled her back in.

Wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-MAX plane is seen on March 11, 2019

Wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-MAX plane is seen on March 11, 2019

The engine of a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max is inspected after it crashed off Indonesia in 2018

The engine of a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max is inspected after it crashed off Indonesia in 2018 

Boeing began working on the Max in 2011 as an answer to a new, more fuel-efficient model from European rival Airbus.

The company billed it as an updated 737 that wouldn’t require much in the way of additional pilot training – a key selling point for what has become Boeing’s best-selling airplane.

But the Max did include significant changes, some of which Boeing downplayed – most notably, the addition of an automated flight-control system designed to help account for the plane’s larger engines.

Boeing didn’t mention the system, called MCAS, in airplane manuals, and most pilots didn’t know about it.

That system was implicated in two crashes that killed 346 people.

The first occurred when a Max 8 operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea in October 2018.

The second was when a Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 crashed nearly straight down into a field six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa in March 2019.

All Max jets were grounded worldwide for nearly two years while the company made changes to the flight-control system. Investigations revealed what a congressional panel called a ‘horrific culmination’ of failed government oversight, design flaws and inaction at Boeing.

PRODUCTION ISSUES 

The Max has suffered from a series of production issues.

Boeing asked airlines in December 2023 to check the jets for a potential loose bolt in the rudder control system, after an international operator found a bolt with a missing nut during routine maintenance.

In a separate case, Boeing found that an undelivered aircraft had a nut that was not properly tightened.

The FAA recently told pilots to limit use of an anti-ice system on the Max because the inlets around the engines could overheat and break away.

Boeing recently asked the agency for a safety waiver while it develops a long-term fix. The company needs the exemption to begin delivering its new, smaller Max 7 to customers.

Last year, Boeing reported a problem with fittings on Max jets where the fuselage meets the vertical section of the tail. Boeing said its Wichita, Kansas-based supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, used a ‘non-standard manufacturing process’ on some of the planes.

Boeing and Spirit also said they discovered improperly drilled fastener holes in the aft pressure bulkhead – which maintains pressure when planes are at cruising altitude – on the fuselages of some models of the 737 Max.

Boeing said the flaws could delay the deliveries of some new jets but did not pose an immediate hazard in those already flying.

Boeing has said it is committed to safety.

MORE ENGINE TROUBLES

Federal safety officials are investigating an engine fire that was discovered on a United Airlines Boeing 737 Max after the plane landed in Newark, New Jersey, last June.

The flight crew noticed a fire warning indication as the plane taxied in, shut down the engine and discharged a fire suppressant. There was no visible smoke or fire, but maintenance crews found a fuel leak as well as soot and heat damage.

Also under investigation is what prompted the emergency landing in Wichita, Kansas, of a Denver-bound United Airlines flight on Dec. 14. Passengers reported hearing a rumbling and an engine fire was discovered after it landed. No one was injured.

In 2021, a Boeing 777’s right engine fan blade broke off shortly after takeoff from Denver with 239 people onboard. No one was injured. The NTSB blamed inadequate inspection of the fan blades as well as the ‘insufficient frequency’ of the manufacturer’s recommendation for inspections.

Boeing’s two-aisle 787 has also been plagued by manufacturing problems that have sporadically held up deliveries.

In June, the company said it was inspecting fittings on part of the tail called the horizontal stabilizer ‘for a nonconforming condition.’

In March, 787 deliveries were halted while federal regulators looked over documentation of work that was done on new planes.

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