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Forecast podcast: Boeing acknowledges ‘mistake’ after plane loses panel at 16,000 feet

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Joe Veyera discuss U.S.  regulators grounding Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes, plus more on the ICJ genocide hearing against Israel, Guatemala’s presidential transition, the World Economic Forum in Davos and the deadline to form a government in Northern Ireland..

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Agnese Boffano, Jeff Landset, Alex Moore and Jess Fino. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is January 11th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got US regulators grounding Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes, the ICJ genocide hearing against Israel, Guatemala’s presidential transition, the World Economic Forum in Davos and the deadline to form a government in Northern Ireland. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.

Boeing 737 MAX 9 grounding

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the recent grounding of some Boeing aircraft. For more on that I’ve got the lead for our Americas desk, Joe Veyera. 

JIMMY: Hi, Joe!

JOE: Hey, Jimmy. Good to be back.

JIMMY: Alright, Joe. Let’s just jump right into this. This situation with grounded planes all started with an incident on an Alaska Airlines flight last week so, before you get into all the latest info, can you give us a recap of what happened?

JOE: Of course. So, shortly after takeoff from Portland International Airport on Friday evening, the flight headed for Ontario, Calif., was forced to return to PDX and make an emergency landing after the left door plug on the plane slid off its hinges, and blew off of the fuselage at about 16,000 feet, causing a sudden depressurization inside the cabin. Several passengers suffered minor injuries, but authorities say the incident could have been far worse. No one was in the seats next to the opening, and because the plane had yet to reach cruising altitude, everyone on board was still seated. Also of note, this particular plane had been removed from service to Hawaii by the airline after a pressurization light lit up on three different occasions, so a quick landing could be made if necessary, but there’s no indication yet if that’s related to Friday’s incident.

JIMMY: Can you talk a little bit about the decisions to ground the planes? How did that all play out?

JOE: The FAA ordered the immediate grounding of just over 170 Boeing 737 9 MAX  planes, primarily operated by Alaska and United Airlines, on Saturday morning. And the inspections in the days since have uncovered loose bolts that appear related to installation issues in the door plug, suggesting there’s a more structural issue at play as opposed to this being sort of a one-off fluke. And you may be wondering at this point, what exactly is a door plug, and it’s kind of what it sounds like. The original design of the 737 MAX 9 had two additional emergency exits, and Alaska has opted to fly theirs without the maximum number of seats, which means it doesn’t need those extra doors, and the plug is meant to be a permanent seal where those doors would be.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest, then? How do things stand at the moment?

JOE: So, as of Wednesday afternoon, the planes remain grounded, and hundreds of flights have either been canceled or delayed each day as carriers scramble to adjust their schedules to a reduced fleet. Alaska Airlines said it will cancel all flights on the 737 MAX 9 through Saturday, which amounts to between 110 and 150 flights per day, in an effort to give travelers a bit more clarity in their plans. But we don’t know at this point when the necessary inspections will be complete and they’ll be back in service.

JIMMY: What have reactions to the situation been like?

JOE: Alaska was very proactive in grounding their 737 MAX 9 fleet Friday night before the order came down from the FAA. As for Boeing, CEO Dave Calhoun said the company needed to “acknowledge our mistake” and approach the fallout with complete transparency during a town hall with employees on Tuesday. Boeing stock has also taken a tumble over the past several days, dropping from about $250/share at the close of trading on Friday to around $230/share on Wednesday.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that you’ve mentioned there, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

JOE: Well, the big question obviously is when U.S. regulators will clear the 737 MAX 9 to return to the skies, with the FAA saying Tuesday, “the safety of the flying public, not speed, will determine the timeline.” Meanwhile, international carriers that also fly the 737 MAX 9, like Aeromexico and Turkish Airlines, have also taken it out of service pending inspections. But I think the other thing to watch is just where does Boeing go from here? They managed to avoid something truly catastrophic, but the public’s confidence in the company had already been shaken with the 737 MAX 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019, and this is just another black eye for them.

JIMMY: Well, Joe, we’ll pause there for today, but as always, thanks for getting us caught up to speed on what we need to know and look out for. Always appreciate it.

JOE: Always happy to help.

JIMMY: Take care.

ICJ genocide hearing against Israel

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: Today and tomorrow, the International Court of Justice will be hearing a case brought by South Africa alleging Israel has committed and failed to prevent genocide in Gaza.

At least 23,000 Palestinians have died during the three-month conflict, two-thirds of which are reportedly women and children, according to health authorities in Gaza.

South Africa says Israel has broken its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Israel denies the allegation and says it is operating in accordance with international law in Gaza.

The ICJ, the UN’s highest legal body, will convene a 15-judge panel, plus representatives from Israel and South Africa, to hear the case.

The Occupied Palestinian Territories cannot have any formal role in the proceedings because they are not a UN member state.

Most cases heard by the ICJ take years to complete, but South Africa is hoping the court could order emergency measures, including a ceasefire in Gaza.

The court’s decision is binding, but it has no power to enforce its ruling, meaning any action it orders must be carried out by the countries involved.

Guatemala presidential transition

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Bernardo Arévalo will be formally sworn in as Guatemala’s President on Sunday. That, despite attempts by the political establishment to prevent him from taking up the role.

Arévalo, who is the son of a former president now in exile, won a runoff election in the summer of 2023 but quickly faced challenges to his victory.

His party was suspended and prosecutors attempted to strip him of his political immunity.

While the legal challenges to Arévalo’s presidency have subsided in the wake of widespread protests against the attorney general, he still faces headwinds to his tenure.

There are strong figures in the government that oppose him and his political viewpoint. Congress has also already limited his ability to spend money on education and health care.

Corruption is a deeply entrenched feature of Guatemalan political life and Arévalo faces an uphill struggle to tackle that issue.

World Economic Forum begins in Davos

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Presidents, CEOs and influencers alike will descend on the Swiss resort town of Davos beginning Monday. They’ll be there for the annual World Economic Forum meeting.

The five-day-long summit brings together some of the world’s most significant political, economic and corporate figures to discuss issues affecting the global economy.

The typical topics of emerging technologies and climate change will be on the agenda, but participants are also expected to discuss a spate of major elections and conflicts affecting the world this year. 

Davos has come under fire in previous years for what critics say is an exclusive and elitist environment which prioritizes corporate rhetoric over tangible action.

The Swiss government will send 5,000 soldiers to the alpine resort to maintain security as protests around the event are a frequent occurrence.

Deadline to form government in Northern Ireland

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Political parties in Northern Ireland must reach an agreement to form a new government by next Thursday or risk triggering new elections.

The state has been without a government since February 2022 after First Minister Paul Givan resigned over a controversial post-Brexit trade deal.

Negotiations have been ongoing ever since, but the Democratic Unionist Party refuses to take part in a government with the Irish nationalists Sinn Fein, which became the largest party in Northern Ireland following elections in 2022.

Now, if no agreement can be reached by next Thursday, the UK government has a legal obligation to trigger new elections within the next 12 weeks.

A fresh vote could change the balance of power within the Northern Ireland executive and shake up the long-stalled talks.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode includes work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, Jeff Landset, Alex Moore and Jess Fino. Our interview featured editor Joe Veyera and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: Boeing 737 MAX 9 – The Boeing 737 MAX is the fourth generation of the Boeing 737, a narrow-body airliner manufactured by Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA), a division of American company Boeing. It succeeds the Boeing 737 Next Generation (NG) and competes with the Airbus A320neo family. (Clemens Vasters / flickr CC BY 2.0 Deed)

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