Ben Marquis
January 18, 2024

Sec. Blinken briefly stranded in Davos following problem with Boeing 737's oxygen system

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, but was unable to return home as intended once his participation in various events there were complete.

Blinken was briefly stranded in Davos after his modified military Boeing 737 was not able to be cleared for takeoff due to a leak in the aircraft's oxygen system, according to the Daily Mail.

The secretary was eventually able to return to the U.S. after a smaller government jet was transferred to Zurich from Brussels, Belgium, while all of his aides and staffers and accompanying reporters were forced to book last-minute commercial flights to get back to Washington D.C.

Problem with oxygen system grounds Blinken's plane

The Daily Mail reported that Sec. Blinken and his entourage had already boarded the government-owned Boeing 737 for a return flight to D.C. when they were informed that a previously identified issue with the oxygen system could not be easily fixed.

That problem rendered the aircraft unsafe to fly, which prompted the scramble of securing another plane for the secretary while forcing everyone else accompanying him to find their own way back to the U.S.

The State Department does not appear to have publicly commented on the incident but did issue a press release on Thursday to announce an upcoming trip for Blinken to several African nations next week, albeit without mention of how he would travel to those destinations.

737 MAX 9 grounded over door plug issues

This reported issue that impacted the airworthiness of Sec. Blinken's modified Boeing 737 comes on the heels of serious problems the aircraft manufacturer has had recently with similar planes in its 737 lineup.

The Seattle Times reported Wednesday that the Boeing 737 MAX 9 remains completely grounded per orders from the Federal Aviation Administration following a frightening incident earlier this month in which a door plug that covers an unused emergency exit came detached and flew off of an Alaskan Airlines flight while in mid-air.

It is believed by investigators that bolts used to fasten those door plugs were not properly installed and all of the MAX 9 aircraft have been grounded until they have been closely inspected and a solution to the problem is determined, at which point they will be given an all clear.

"All 737-9 MAX aircraft with door plugs will remain grounded pending the FAA’s review and final approval of an inspection and maintenance process that satisfies all FAA safety requirements," the FAA said in a statement. "Once the FAA approves an inspection and maintenance process, it will be required on every grounded 737-9 MAX prior to future operation."

At this point, it remains unclear when that clearance for the aircraft to return to the skies will be granted.

Prior issues with rudder and flight control systems

The issue with the door plugs on the Boeing 737 MAX 9 came just about a week after both Boeing and the FAA urged all airlines using any version of the 737 MAX to voluntarily ground those planes pending a targeted inspection of its rudder control system, according to a late-December report from Reuters.

That was due to the discovery of loose or missing bolts in the rudder control system's linkage, including in 737 MAX planes that were already in service around the world as well as in new aircraft still waiting to be delivered.

This, of course, followed the nearly two-year grounding of all 737 MAX jets following two catastrophic crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia in 2018 and 2019, respectively, that killed several hundred people combined due to faulty flight control systems that have since been revamped.

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