Boeing Directs Airlines to Check 787 Cockpit Seats After Latam Incident


Boeing Directs Airlines to Check 787 Cockpit Seats After Latam Incident

Boeing has told airlines to check the cockpit seats of its 787 Dreamliner plane, the company said on Friday, after a Latam Airlines plane suddenly plunged on a flight to Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, injuring passengers.

The drop in altitude appears to have been caused when a flight attendant hit a switch on a seat that sent a pilot into the plane’s controls, The Wall Street Journal reported this week, citing unnamed U.S. industry officials. Aviation regulators are investigating the incident and have not released any findings.

In a statement, Boeing said it had reminded airlines of a safety memo from 2017 that instructed them on how to inspect and maintain switches on flight deck seats.

“The investigation of Flight LA800 is ongoing and we defer to the investigation authorities on any potential findings,” the company said. “We are recommending operators perform an inspection at the next maintenance opportunity,” it added.

The Latam plane’s harrowing drop was documented in video footage captured by passengers. The plane fell abruptly and then quickly recovered, one passenger, Brian Jokat, said, likening it to “coming over the top of a roller coaster and heading down.”

The drop left at least one passenger in critical condition; 11 other people were also transported to hospitals in Auckland after the plane landed there. All told, dozens of passengers suffered injuries, most of them minor.

Regulators, airlines and travelers have been intensely focused on the quality and safety of Boeing planes since a Jan. 5 incident in which a panel sheared off a Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 plane, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing. In 2018 and 2019, two 737 Max 8 planes crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing nearly 350 people.

In a note to its 787 flight crews, American Airlines said it had “identified a potential hazard” with the horizontal power control switches on the top back of pilot seats.

The note, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said that the airline’s technology operations team “will be ensuring that these switches are properly secured” and asked 787 captains “to brief all pilots, flight attendants and flightdeck jumpseat riders on your flight of the importance of not using the switch on the top back of the pilot seat when the seat is occupied.”

In an image of the back of a seat that is included in the note, it appears that the switch has a cover.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement on Friday that it would assemble a panel of experts to review Boeing’s messages to airlines about the switch, including the 2017 memo, and provide feedback to the company. “The agency will continue to monitor the situation closely,” it said.

The 787 Dreamliner, a two-aisle jet, is one of Boeing’s most important planes. Its three models can carry 248 to 336 passengers, according to Boeing, and is used by airlines on international and transcontinental flights.

Latam’s plane was flying from Sydney, Australia, to Auckland and was scheduled to carry on to Santiago in Chile, where the airline is based. The company said in a statement on Friday that it was working with investigators.

Mark Walker contributed reporting.

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