Work halts for day at Boeing Renton plant as airlines push to bring back grounded 737s

RENTON, Wash. — Work was halted at Boeing’s Renton plant where the 737 MAX 9 is assembled on Thursday, as the company deals with fallout after a door plug blew out during an Alaska Airlines flight three weeks ago.

The flight from Portland, initially bound for Ontario, was able to make an emergency landing back at PDX. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded most MAX 9s the next day. Alaska and United Airlines — the only U.S. carriers with MAX 9s — canceled hundreds of flights since then.

Boeing said production, delivery and support teams paused work on Thursday in what the company called a “quality stand down,” so employees can take part in work sessions focused on quality.

For over 15 hours, more than 10,000 employees participated between first and section shifts. Production leaders also spoke to workers about the manufacturers recent failures.

“We the Boeing company are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny and what I will say is rightly so,” Boeing Senior VP Elizabeth Lund told them. “The accident was serious and our customers are counting on us the flying public is counting on us we are counting on us first and foremost I know you guys love this company like I love this company.”

Production leaders asked employees to speak up and voice their concerns as well.

Even so, some say more needs to be done. That includes lawyer Robert Clifford, who represented the families of the 157 passengers killed on a Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed in 2019.

“It matters to all of us who are going to get on an airplane tomorrow of course,” he told KIRO 7. “It doesn’t change what’s occurred.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators will be on-site at the facility on Friday when investigators will build a timeline from the early stages of the door plug all the way to the flight.

NTSB officials have said they are looking into whether bolts that help secure the door plug were missing before the plane took off.

More issues have arisen for the company after a whistleblower told the Seattle Times that Boeing failed to properly reinstall the fuselage panel that blew off Alaska Airlines flight 1282.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun is trying to reassure senators about the company’s safety standards for a second day.

“We fly safe planes. We don’t put planes in the air that we don’t have 100% confidence in. I’m here today in the spirit of transparency to, number one: recognize the seriousness of what you just asked. Number two: to share everything I can with our Capitol Hill interests and answer all their questions, because they have a lot of them,” Calhoun said.

Meanwhile, the MAX 9s could soon be back in the air after the Federal Aviation Administration laid out an inspection and maintenance process that airlines must follow for the plane to return to service.

In a letter to employees, United Airlines says it hopes to bring back the grounded planes on Sunday.

Alaska Airlines is expecting to do that even sooner, saying in a statement that it expects some of its grounded planes will be back in service by Friday.