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US Secretary of State forced to change planes after 'critical failure' in his Boeing 737 at Davos

Blinken took a helicopter from Davos to Zurich to board his plane, but was then informed that the plane was not able to fly him back. The incident is the latest blow to Boeing's tarnished reputation after a mid-air door plug blowout incident on January 5 that raised international alarm.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: January 18, 2024 7:51 IST
US Secretary, Antony Blinken, Boeing critical failure, Davos
Image Source : AP/FILE US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Boeing crisis: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was briefly stranded and forced to change planes to return to Washington from the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos after his Boeing 737 plane suffered a critical failure related to an oxygen tank, according to CNN. The plane suffered the problem after Blinken and his delegation boarded it, forcing the team to deplane.

Shortly afterwards, a new and smaller plane was sent for Blinken and several of his travelling party returned to Washington commercially, according to the travelling press. US State Department spokesperson said the plane suffered a mechanical issue, the latest blow in Boeing's shrinking reputation after a mid-air blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight on January 5. 

The top US diplomat had travelled to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum on Monday and was scheduled to fly back to Washington on Wednesday. Blinken had taken a helicopter from Davos to Zurich, where he boarded his plane, but was then informed that the plane was not able to fly him back.

The January 5 blowout incident on an Alaska Airlines flight has raised global concerns about manufacturing of the Boeing planes as several airlines across the world grounded Boeing 737 planes. US regulators also grounded 171 MAX 9 planes after a panel blew off an Alaska Airlines-operated flight not long after taking off from Portland, Oregon, forcing pilots to scramble to land the plane safely. 

That Alaska Air plane is a newer version of the 737 than the one that Blinken had been set to ride on, which is an older model modified for use by the military. However, the newer version has had serious problems since two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019 resulted in the deaths of nearly 350 people.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun addressed the mid-air panel blowout incident from an Alaska Airlines jet, publicly acknowledging the company's mistake. He assured staff that Boeing would collaborate with regulators to prevent a recurrence of the incident. Expressing deep concern, Calhoun admitted to being "shaken to the bone" by the accident. 

The crisis deepened as the United Airlines said it had found loose bolts on multiple grounded MAX 9 aircraft, raising new concerns among industry experts about how its best-selling jet family is manufactured. United, one of the two US carriers that fly this Boeing model with the panels, said its own preliminary checks found bolts that needed tightening on several panels. That disclosure heightened concerns about the production process of the MAX 9 jets that have been grounded.

Meanwhile, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expanding its probe into Boeing, including manufacturing practices and production lines. Last week, the FAA started an investigation into whether Boeing failed to ensure its planes complied with the agency’s safety regulations and also announced an audit in its production.

"After taking decisive action to ground 171 Boeing 737-9 MAX airplanes, the FAA is now investigating Boeing’s manufacturing practices and production lines, including those involving subcontractor Spirit AeroSystems, bolstering its oversight of Boeing, and examining potential system change," the FAA said in a statement Wednesday.

(with inputs from Reuters)

ALSO READ | Another Boeing flight with 59 passengers onboard turns back due to cockpit window crack mid-air

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