The US Federal Aviation Administration has detailed the procedure for inspections of all B737-9s covered by its jurisdiction, after which the aircraft will be cleared to return to service. The regulator has ramped up its supervision of Boeing and said it would not allow any production line expansion until quality concerns have been properly addressed.

"The exhaustive, enhanced review our team completed after several weeks of information gathering gives me and the FAA confidence to proceed to the inspection and maintenance phase. However, let me be clear: This won't be back to business as usual for Boeing. We will not agree to any request from Boeing for an expansion in production or approve additional production lines for the B737 MAX until we are satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved," FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said.

The procedure includes an inspection of specific bolts, guide tracks and fittings, detailed visual inspections of left and right mid-cabin exit door plugs, retorquing fasteners, and correcting any damage or abnormal conditions. The FAA emphasised that the aircraft would be deemed safe to operate once the inspections confirmed that the door plugs were up to the certification standards.

Alaska Airlines (AS, Seattle Tacoma International) said it is "preparing to begin detailed inspections" and expects to return the type to service on January 25, 2024, once a "rigorous inspection" is completed. United Airlines (UA, Chicago O'Hare) has told its staff in an internal memo reported by Axios that commerical MAX 9 operations would resume on January 27, 2024. The two carriers operate the majority of MAX 9s in the United States and globally, with 79 in United's fleet and 65 in Alaska's.

Copa Airlines (CM, Panamá City Tocumen International), which operates twenty-nine B737-9s, said it expects all inspections to be completed by January 25.

Despite the tentative all-clear for the B737-9, the FAA said it would ramp up already tightened supervision of the country's largest aircraft manufacturer. Approvals for the expansion of B737 MAX assembly lines or production rates will be capped pending the correction of ongoing quality issues. The FAA will increase its inspections at Boeing facilities and launch a new inquest into the company's compliance with manufacturing standards.

"The quality assurance issues we have seen are unacceptable. That is why we will have more boots on the ground closely scrutinising and monitoring production and manufacturing activities," Whitaker said.

Meanwhile, in a rare glimpse of good news for Boeing, China Southern Airlines (CZ, Guangzhou) has accepted a new B737-8, marking the resumption of deliveries of the type to China after almost five years. B-20C8 (msn 63282) was ferried from Seattle Boeing Field to Honolulu on January 24, 2024, under China Southern's 'CZ' code, and is expected to fly onwards to China. It will be the twenty-fifth B737-8 for the airline which took delivery of the previous 24 before the March 2019 grounding. The ch-aviation fleets history module shows that the last delivery of a B737 MAX to China - namely B737-8 B-209Q (msn 60909) for Air China (CA, Beijing Capital) - took place on March 8, 2019.