US Secretary of State forced to find another way home after 737 suffers fault 

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The Secretary of State for the United States, Antony Blinken, has been forced to make alternative travel arrangements home after trying to depart from Switzerland. The aircraft due to fly Blinken back to the US suffered a technical fault while on the ground at Zurich Airport (ZRH) on January 17, 2024, forcing the Secretary of State and his entourage to find other means of travel to return home. 

Blinken and his team had been attending the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – the annual jamboree that attracts world leaders, business magnates, and billionaire entrepreneurs alike. However, as it came to Blinken had headed for the airport and boarded his aircraft, only to find that his plane had suffered a “critical failure” and was unable to depart.  

The plane in question was a Boeing C-40 – essentially a highly modified Boeing 737 that is operated by the US Air Force (USAF) and is based at Andrews Air Base. The aircraft is one of several of the type that are used to transport senior government officials (such as Blinken) to appointments and events worldwide.  

A report published by Bloomberg stated that Blinken and his entourage had already boarded the aircraft, but the discovery of a minor oxygen leak meant that all passengers including Blinken were subsequently forced to disembark once more. 

The Secretary of State had his return to the US delayed as he was forced to await the arrival of a similar aircraft dispatched by the USAF to pick him up. Others in Blinken’s group were reportedly put on commercial flights instead as the replacement plane had a lower capacity.


Oleh Yatskiv / Shutterstock

A State Department spokesperson said that although the type tasked to bring Blinken home was indeed a variant of the Boeing 737 family, it was not a MAX derivative that has come under intense pressure in recent days following a mid-air plug-door blowout involving a Boeing 737 MAX 9 of Alaska Airlines on January 5, 2024. 

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft on January 6, 2024, until what the agency calls “enhanced inspections” could be carried out and completed. The move came after loose bolts were discovered on plugged exit doors of multiple airframes in service with both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines.  

While this latest high-profile incident involving a Boeing 737 variant will not help Boeing in its attempts to reassure the watching world that its best-selling 737 model is safe, it will be keen to reinforce the message that Blinken’s aircraft was not a 737 MAX and its technical problem was unrelated to the issues currently being dealt with by the company concerning the MAX 9 variant.  

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