Loose Bolt Found in Rudder of Boeing 737 MAX Prompts Mass Inspection Order

Boeing has ordered an inspection of newer 737 MAX airplanes to check for a potentially loose bolt in a crucial flight control system. This comes after an international operator discovered a bolt with a missing nut in the rudder, while Boeing flagged a similar problem on an undelivered plane, federal aviation authorities reported.

The aircraft manufacturer has issued a notice to multiple operators, asking them to examine specific tie rods that control rudder movement on newer 737 MAX airplanes and to look for potential loose hardware, as per a Dec. 28 notice from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The rudder is a primary flight control surface situated on the vertical tail that controls an airplane’s left and right movement around a vertical axis, known as “yaw.”

Boeing issued the inspection notice in collaboration with the FAA after an international operator discovered a bolt with a missing nut during routine maintenance on a mechanism in the rudder-control linkage. Boeing also found an improperly tightened nut on an additional undelivered aircraft, the FAA stated.

A Boeing spokesperson mentioned that the loose bolt identified on the in-service airplane has been fixed, and that the inspection notice was issued “out of an abundance of caution.”

“We are recommending operators inspect their 737 MAX airplanes and inform us of any findings,” the spokesperson said. “We informed the FAA and our customers and will continue to keep them aware of the progress.”

Boeing estimates that the inspection, which necessitates the removal of an access panel and visual validation of the proper installation of the rudder-control mechanism, will take roughly two hours per aircraft.

United Airlines, a significant MAX customer, mentioned that it does not anticipate the inspections to affect its operations.

The FAA emphasized that it is urging the airlines to conduct the inspections and supply the agency with information regarding any additional loose hardware found, as well as details on how quickly these two-hour inspections can be carried out in practice.

The agency disclosed that it is closely monitoring the targeted inspections and will consider taking further action if more loose or missing hardware is discovered.

The inspections will assist the FAA in determining the extent of the problem and if it indicates a larger issue in production quality, which could prompt the regulator to take additional action, according to air safety expert Anthony Brickhouse at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, who shared this perspective with Reuters.

“As a member of the flying public, I don’t see this as an issue to be concerned about,” Brickhouse said. “Airlines need to take it seriously.”

The 737 MAX, grounded worldwide for 20 months after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed 346 people in 2018 and 2019, has been under close scrutiny by the FAA.

In November 2019, the FAA informed Boeing that it would be the sole issuer of airworthiness certificates, which are necessary for a plane to enter into service. Previously, Boeing and the FAA shared the responsibility of issuing the certificates.

The FAA stated in 2021 that it was actively tracking all 737 MAX airplanes using satellite data.

Boeing shares traded 1.2 percent lower around 1 p.m. EST, though they are still up roughly 32 percent year to date.

The mass inspection alert related to the loose bolt marks the latest setback for the 737 MAX. In April, for example, deliveries of some 737 MAX models were temporarily halted after Boeing discovered a problem with certain parts supplied by Spirit AeroSystems.

This latest issue with loose bolts is just the most recent in a series of setbacks for Boeing’s 737 MAX jets, with earlier problems pertaining to parts supplied by Spirit AeroSystems and engine-housing parts overheating.

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