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An investigator examines the frame on a section of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 7.The Associated Press

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday it will intensify oversight of Boeing BA-N after a panel broke off a new jet in mid-flight, and the agency’s chief Mike Whitaker sees “other manufacturing problems” at the largest U.S. plane maker.

The U.S. regulator said it would also conduct a new audit of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 production line and its suppliers and consider shifting FAA responsibilities now assigned to Boeing in the certification of new aircraft to an independent entity.

Such a move would be unusual, some safety experts said, suggesting deepening concerns by the FAA over recent images of an Alaska Airlines plane in mid-air with a gaping hole in it – and subsequent discoveries by two U.S. carriers of similar doors with loose bolts.

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have cancelled hundreds of flights since Saturday as a widening crisis has engulfed the U.S. plane maker. Alaska on Friday extended all MAX 9 cancellations through Sunday.

Whitaker wants to re-examine the long-standing practice of the FAA delegating some critical safety tasks to Boeing.

“I don’t think it’s just an FAA or Boeing option. I think we should look at third party,” Whitaker told Reuters. “I think it may be an option where there’s a higher level of confidence where we have more direct oversight ability, and where the folks doing certain critical inspections don’t have a paycheque that’s coming from the manufacturer.”

Boeing shares fell 2.2% on Friday and are down nearly 12% since the Jan. 5 incident. Confidence in Boeing has been shaken since a pair of MAX 9 crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people and led Congress to pass sweeping reforms to certification of new airplanes.

On Thursday, the FAA announced a formal investigation into the Max 9, which Whitaker said had “significant problems” and noted Boeing’s past history of production issues.

The FAA on Saturday grounded 171 airplanes MAX 9 with the same configuration as the plane involved in the incident. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating if the MAX 9 was missing or had improperly tightened bolts. Whitaker declined to put any timetable on approval of inspection and maintenance instructions that would allow airlines to begin returning MAX 9 planes to service.

Whitaker told Reuters he sees the MAX 9 problems as a manufacturing issue, not a design problem. Noting years of manufacturing issues at Boeing, he said: “Whatever’s happening isn’t fixing the problem and requires an extensive review. We are becoming increasingly focused on the manufacturing process.”

The FAA wants to see on Boeing production “where these breakdowns could happen. Are there not enough quality control checks? Are they’re not in the right places? Is the order of assembly creating some issues?” He said investigators “really need to get into the weeds to see what’s happening here.”

Boeing pledged on Friday to “co-operate fully and transparently with our regulator. We support all actions that strengthen quality and safety and we are taking actions across our production system.”

The Alaska Airlines aircraft, which had been in service for just eight weeks, took off from Portland, Oregon last Friday and was flying at 16,000 feet (4,900 meters) when the panel tore off the plane. Pilots returned the jet to Portland, with only minor injuries suffered by passengers.

Alaska and United, the other major U.S. carrier that operates 737 MAX 9 planes with that configuration, said preliminary checks found loose parts on multiple grounded aircraft.

Captain Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Association representing 15,000 pilots at American Airlines, said this kind of oversight was “inevitable” given Boeing’s recent problems. Texas-based American flies a different MAX variant.

“I think there’s an increased level of skepticism and scrutiny over what used to be … an excellent brand,” Sicher told Reuters. “Now everyone is starting to raise an eyebrow and make sure the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted.”

On Wednesday, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun acknowledged on CNBC that there was a “quality” issue in allowing the MAX 9 to fly with the problem that caused the blowout.

Since the fatal crashes, critics have said strained budgets at the FAA led the agency to delegate too much responsibility to the plane maker. Since 2019 the agency has delegated fewer responsibilities to the plane maker.

“The larger question is does the FAA have the staffing to increase oversight for the long term?” said U.S. aviation safety expert John Cox, adding that the creation of third-party entity would be “highly unusual.”

In March, the FAA said it boosted staff providing regulatory oversight on Boeing to 107 from 82 in prior years.

In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $6.6 million in penalties after failing to comply with a 2015 safety agreement. The FAA also launched an outside review of Boeing’s safety culture in January 2023.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said he was confident Boeing would learn from the incident.

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell, who had urged the FAA in January 2023 to conduct a new Boeing audit and pressed the agency Thursday to answer new safety questions, said she welcomed the FAA’s decision “to open a new audit of Boeing’s production line to determine if the company’s quality control processes meet compliance standards.”

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