Boeing 737 MAX groundings

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Boeing 737 MAX groundings
Boeing 737 MAX grounded aircraft near Boeing Field, April 2019.jpg
A parking lot at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, filled with undelivered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft
Date
  • March 10, 2019 (UTC+3) (2019-03-10UTC+3) by Ethiopian Airlines
  • March 11, 2019 (2019-03-11) by China
  • March 12, 2019 (2019-03-12) by EASA
  • March 13, 2019 (2019-03-13) by FAA
DurationOngoing. 4 months and 9 days (since first grounding by Ethiopian Airlines, effective on the 10th and published on the 11th)
CauseTwo similar accidents within 4 months and 10 days; awaiting updates to MCAS, flight control computer, cockpit displays, crew manuals, training simulators and computer-based training; independent airworthiness evaluation by multiple regulators.
Deaths346:

In March 2019, aviation regulators and airlines around the world grounded the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner after two newly delivered airplanes crashed five months apart, killing all 346 aboard. The accidents befell Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. Ethiopian Airlines was first to ground the aircraft, effective the day of its crash. On March 11, China's Civil Aviation Administration was the first aviation regulator to order grounding, and most other aviation agencies and airlines followed suit over the next two days. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the airplane's certifying agency, publicly affirmed its airworthiness on March 11, but grounded it on March 13, citing evidence of similarities between the two accidents. In all, 387 aircraft were grounded.

Investigators suspected that each crash resulted when a new automated flight control, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), forced the aircraft into a nose dive due to erroneous information from an angle of attack (AoA) sensor. Pilots had no prior knowledge of MCAS, because the crew manuals written by Boeing contained no description of it. On November 7, Boeing released a service bulletin explaining the effects of the system and the flight recovery procedure. The FAA then issued an airworthiness directive ordering airlines to update their flight manuals within three days to include the required procedure. Boeing began remedying potential failures and dangers of the MCAS by revising the system software.

Following the Ethiopian Airlines accident, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress launched investigations of FAA type certification of the 737 MAX. A major focus is whether the FAA delegated too much authority for safety approval to Boeing. In April, Boeing publicly confirmed that MCAS was a factor in both accidents. The company suspended deliveries and reduced production of the airplane. Airlines and Boeing anticipated the 737 MAX would resume service sometime between July 2019 and beyond the end of the year, subject to regulatory approval of software and computer fixes, which experienced repeated delays. Faced with compensation demands from airlines for lost revenue, Boeing recorded a charge of $4.9 billion to cover its initial estimated costs. Lawsuits from crash victim families and pilots allege Boeing knowingly concealed flaws.

Accidents[edit]

Lion Air Flight 610 crash[edit]

PK-LQP, the aircraft involved in the crash of Flight 610

On October 29, 2018, Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta to Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang crashed into the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff. All 189 passengers and crew were killed in the accident.[1][2][3] The preliminary report tentatively attributed the accident to the erroneous angle-of-attack data and automatic nose-down trim commanded by MCAS.[4][5] The 737 MAX aircraft was delivered 2 months and 16 days prior, on August 13, 2018.

Boeing published a supplementary service bulletin addressing AoA warning and the pitch system's potential for repeated activation, all without referring to MCAS by name. The bulletin describes warnings triggered by erroneous AoA data, and referred pilots to a "non-normal runaway trim" procedure as resolution, specifying a narrow window of a few seconds before the system's next application.[6] The FAA issued an Emergency airworthiness directive 2018-23-51, requiring the bulletin's inclusion in the flight manuals, and that pilots immediately review the new information provided.[7]

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash[edit]

ET-AVJ, the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that crashed in Flight 302

On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, crashed six minutes after takeoff near Bishoftu, killing all 157 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft.[8][9][9][10][11] The 737 MAX was delivered 3 months and 23 days prior, on November 15, 2018, two weeks after the Lion Air accident.[12]

Initial reports indicated that the Flight 302 pilot struggled to control the airplane, in a manner similar to the circumstances of the Lion Air crash.[13] A stabilizer trim jackscrew found in the wreckage was set to put the aircraft into a dive.[14] Experts suggested this evidence further pointed to MCAS as at fault in the crash.[15][16] After the crash of flight ET302, Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Biniyam Demssie said in an interview that the procedures for disabling the MCAS were just previously incorporated into pilot training. "All the pilots flying the MAX received the training after the Indonesia crash," he said. "There was a directive by Boeing, so they took that training."[17] Ethiopia's transportation minister, Dagmawit Moges, said that initial data from the recovered flight data recorder of Ethiopian Flight 302 shows "clear similarities" with the crash of Lion Air Flight 610.[18]

Groundings[edit]

Ethiopian Airlines grounded its fleet on March 10.[19] The Civil Aviation Administration of China ordered all MAX aircraft grounded in the country on March 11, stating its zero tolerance policy and the similarities of the crashes. Most other regulators and airlines individually grounded their fleets in the next two days.[19][20][21][22]

On March 11, the FAA issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) for operators.  The CANIC listed the activities the FAA had completed after the Lion Air accident in support of continued operations of the MAX.[23][24][25]

On March 12, US President Trump tweeted a complaint about complex airplane systems, and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg called the president to assure him of the 737 MAX's safety.[26][27][28] The FAA stated hours later that it had "no basis to order grounding the aircraft" and no data from other countries to justify such action.[29]

On March 13, Canada received new information suggesting similarity between the crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau informed US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao of his decision to ground the aircraft. Hours later, President Trump announced US groundings, following consultation among Chao, acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. The FAA issued an official grounding order, citing the new evidence and acknowledging the "possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents".[30][31] The U.S., Canadian, and Chinese regulators oversee a combined fleet of 196 aircraft, nearly half of all 387 airplanes delivered.[32]

Impact on airborne flights[edit]

About 30 of the 737 MAX aircraft were flying in U.S. airspace when the FAA grounding order was announced. The airplanes were allowed to continue to their destinations and were then grounded.[33] In Europe, several flights were diverted when grounding orders were issued.[34][35] For example, an Israel-bound Norwegian Airlines 737 MAX aircraft returned to Stockholm, and two Turkish Airlines MAX aircraft flying to Britain, one to Gatwick Airport south of London and the other to Birmingham, turned around without landing and flew back to Turkey.[36][37]

On June 11, Norwegian Flight DY8922 attempted a ferry flight from Malaga, Spain to Stockholm, Sweden. Such flights can only be flown by pilots meeting a certain EASA qualification, and with no other cabin crew or passengers. The flight plan contained specific parameters to avoid MCAS intervention, flying at lower altitude than normal with flaps extended, and autopilot on.[38] However, the aircraft was refused entry into German airspace, and diverted to Châlons Vatry, France, where it remains until an alternate flight plan is available.[39][40]

Regulators[edit]

Regulators typically follow guidance from the plane maker or its certifying authority. After the second accident, Boeing declined to give guidance, but the FAA publicly affirmed the airplane's airworthiness and said it had no data from either accident to justify grounding, but would take "immediate and appropriate action" if necessary[41] . Despite FAA remarks, most regulators grounded the airplane and revoked airspace clearance to foreign operators.

Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft of Shenzhen Airlines grounded at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport in March 2019
  • March 11
    • China: The Civil Aviation Administration of China orders all domestic airlines to suspend operations of all 737 MAX 8 aircraft by 18:00 local time (10:00 GMT), pending the results of the investigation, thus grounding all 96 Boeing 737 MAX planes (c. 25% of all delivered) in China.[42][43]
    • United States: The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an affirmation of the continued airworthiness of the 737 MAX.[44] As many airlines and regulators began grounding the MAX, the FAA issued a "continued airworthiness notification", stating that it had no evidence from the crashes to justify regulatory action against the aircraft.[45]
    • Indonesia: Nine hours after China's grounding,[46] the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation issued a temporary suspension on the operation of all eleven 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Indonesia. A nationwide inspection on the type was expected to take place on March 12[47] to "ensure that aircraft operating in Indonesia are in an airworthy condition".[48]
    • Mongolia: Civil Aviation Authority of Mongolia (MCAA) said in a statement "MCAA has temporarily stopped the 737 MAX flight operated by MIAT Mongolian Airlines from March 11, 2019."[49]
  • March 12
    • Singapore: the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, "temporarily suspends" operation of all variants of the 737 MAX aircraft into and out of Singapore.[50]
    • India: Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) released a statement "DGCA has taken the decision to ground the 737 MAX aircraft immediately, pursuant to new inspections.[51]
    • Turkey: Turkish Civil Aviation Authority suspended flights of 737 MAX 8 and 9 type aircraft being operated by Turkish companies in Turkey, and stated that they are also reviewing the possibility of closing the country's airspace for the same.[52]
    • South Korea: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) advised Eastar Jet, the only airline of South Korea to possess Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to ground their models,[53] and three days later issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) message to block all Boeing 737 MAX models from landing and departing from all domestic airports.[54]
    • Europe: The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended all flight operations of all 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX in Europe. In addition, EASA published a Safety Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all commercial flights performed by third-country operators into, within or out of the EU of the above mentioned models[55]
    • Canada: Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said it was premature to consider groundings and that, "If I had to fly somewhere on that type of aircraft today, I would."[56]
    • Australia: The Civil Aviation Safety Authority banned Boeing 737 MAX from Australian airspace.[57]
    • Malaysia: The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia suspended the operations of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft flying to or from Malaysia and transiting in Malaysia.[58]
  • March 13
    • Canada: Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, prompted by receipt of new information,[59] said "There can't be any MAX 8 or MAX 9 flying into, out of or across Canada", effectively grounding all 737 MAX aircraft in Canadian airspace.[60]
    • United States: President Donald Trump announced on March 13, that United States authorities would ground all 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft in the United States.[61][62] After the President's announcement, the FAA officially ordered the grounding of all 737 MAX 8 and 9 operated by U.S. airlines or in the United States airspace.[63] The FAA did allow airlines to make ferry flights without passengers or flight attendants in order to reposition the aircraft in central locations.[64][65]
    • Hong Kong: The Civil Aviation Department banned the operation of all 737 Max aircraft into, out of and over Hong Kong.[66]
    • Panama: The Civil Aviation Authority grounded its aircraft.[67][68]
    • Vietnam: The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam banned Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from flying over Vietnam.[69]
    • New Zealand: The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand suspended Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from its airspace.[70]
    • Mexico: Mexico’s civil aviation authority suspended flights by Boeing Co’s 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft in and out of the country.[71]
    • Brazil: The National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) suspended the 737 MAX 8 aircraft from flying.[72]
    • Colombia: Colombia’s civil aviation authority banned Boeing Co 737 MAX 8 planes from flying over its airspace.[73]
    • Chile: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation banned Boeing 737 MAX 8 flights in the country’s airspace.[74]
  • March 14
    • Taiwan: The Civil Aeronautics Administration banned Boeing 737 Max from entering, leaving or flying over Taiwan.[75]
    • Japan: Japan’s transport ministry banned flights by Boeing Co’s 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft from its airspace.[76]
  • March 16

Airlines[edit]

After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, some airlines proactively grounded their fleets and regulatory bodies grounded the others. (This list includes MAX aircraft that have powered on their transponders, but may not yet have been delivered to an airline. Some pre-delivered aircraft are located at Boeing Field, Renton Municipal Airport and Paine Field airports).[155]

Analysis[edit]

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General opened an investigation into FAA approval of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft series, focusing on potential failures in the safety-review and certification process. The day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department for documents related to development of the 737 MAX.[185][186]

The main cause of the accidents is not yet determined; however, Ethiopian Airlines rejects the accusation of piloting error.[187]

Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said: "One of the ways Boeing marketed the 737 Max was the modest amount of training up for current 737 pilots. You didn't have to go back to the Sim [the flight simulator] again and again."[188]

James E. Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001, blamed the Federal aviation regulators for giving too much power to the airline industry.[189]

Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System[edit]

Lion Air Flight 610 - FDR Tracking Data

The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) is a new function of the 737 MAX's flight control system triggered by high angle of attack (AoA) information when the plane's upward pitch may become too steep. It operates only when flaps are retracted and autopilot is turned off, such as in climb shortly after takeoff. Upon automatic activation, MCAS operates the horizontal stabilizer trim motor to push down the airplane nose without pilot action or an alert to the flight crew. In both accidents, MCAS was apparently triggered by erroneous AoA information.[190][191][192][193] Satellite data for the flights, ET 302 and JT 610, showed fluctuations in vertical speed[194] as the pilots struggled to regain control. Pilots in both aircraft reported flight control problems and intended to return to the airport.[195][196] According to witness reports, the Ethiopian flight crashed while pitching steeply nose-down. In the months between the accidents, the FAA Aviation Safety Reporting System received numerous pilot complaints of the aircraft's unexpected behaviors, and how the crew manual lacked any description of the system.

The MCAS flight control law was newly introduced on the 737 MAX in order to mitigate the aerodyamic effect of its larger and heavier CFM LEAP-1B engines and their nacelles, which can cause the aircraft to pitch up.[197] The stated goal of MCAS, according to Boeing, was to make the 737 MAX perform similar to its immediate predecessor, the 737 Next Generation. The FAA and Boeing both refuted media reports describing MCAS as an anti-stall system, which Boeing asserted it is distinctly not.[198][199][200]

The MCAS on the 737 MAX is vulnerable to a single point of failure and lacks multi-sensor voting, unlike the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, an aerial refueling variant of the Boeing 767. According to the Air Force, the KC-46 MCAS compares two sensors, and pilots can overrule its system with control input.[201] In reading a single angle of attack sensor, the 737 MAX has no safeguards against erroneous information that can activate MCAS and trigger other cockpit warnings.[202][203] Recognized aviation practices, such as those of SAE International ARP4754, require quantitative assessments of availability, reliability, and integrity. Redundancy is a technique that may be used to achieve the quantitative safety requirements.

On April 4, 2019 Boeing publicly acknowledged that MCAS played a role in both accidents.[204] For more information, see § Corrective work

Angle of attack sensors[edit]

The automated logic to engage the MCAS relies on measurements provided by AoA sensors. The sensors themselves are under scrutiny[205]. Corrective work to the sensors is not precluded.[206]

The sensors of the Lion Air aircraft were made by United Technologies' Rosemount Aerospace, a model commonly found on commercial aircraft.

AoA disagree alert[edit]

Boeing declared in a statement to the media that the outsourced AoA disagree alert software was incorrect: "The Boeing design requirements for the 737 MAX included the AOA Disagree alert as a standard, standalone feature, in keeping with Boeing’s fundamental design philosophy of retaining commonality with the 737NG. In 2017, within several months after beginning 737 MAX deliveries, engineers at Boeing identified that the 737 MAX display system software did not correctly meet the AOA Disagree alert requirements."[207]

Certification inquiry[edit]

The impetus for Boeing to build the 737 MAX was serious competition from the Airbus A320neo, which was a threat to win a major order for aircraft from American Airlines, a traditional customer for Boeing airplanes.[208] Boeing decided to update its venerable 737, first designed in the 1960s, rather than creating a brand-new airplane, which would have cost much more and taken years longer. Boeing's goal was to ensure the 737 MAX would not need a new type rating, which would require significant additional pilot training, adding unacceptably to the overall cost of the airplane for customers. Boeing considered MCAS a hidden detail of the flight control system and did not describe it in the flight manual nor in training, based on the fundamental design philosophy of retaining commonality with the 737NG.[208] The 1,600 page flight crew manual mentions the term MCAS once, in the glossary.[209] Chief executive Dai Whittingham of the independent trade group UK Flight Safety Committee disputed the idea that the MAX was just another 737, saying, "It is a different body and aircraft but certifiers gave it the same type rating."[210]

The day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, a U.S. grand jury issued a subpoena for certification information about the MAX.[211][212] On March 19, 2019, the Department of Transportation requested the Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit on the 737 MAX certification process[213] and Congress also announced an investigation into the same process.[214] The FBI has joined the criminal investigation into the certification as well.[215][216]

Members of Congress and government investigators expressed concern about FAA rules that allowed Boeing to extensively "self-certify" aircraft.[217][218] During design and construction of the MAX, the FAA delegated a large amount of safety assessments to Boeing itself, a practice that had been standard for years, but several FAA insiders believed the delegation went too far.[219][208]

On March 6 (shortly before the second crash of a 737 MAX on March 10) The Seattle Times, for a story under preparation, informed Boeing and the FAA of many flaws in the MCAS safety analysis, and asked them for responses.

On March 17, 2019, The Seattle Times published a story that aviation engineers familiar with Boeing's safety analysis of MCAS had told the newspaper the system was flawed:[208]

  • it downplayed its capability of pushing down the plane nose to avert a stall;[208]
  • after the Lion Air crash, Boeing informed the airlines, via a bulletin to airlines, the MCAS could deflect the tail in increments up to 2.5°, up from the 0.6° told to the FAA in the safety assessment;[208]
  • MCAS could reset itself after each pilot response to repeatedly pitch the aircraft down;[208]
  • MCAS failure was assessed as "hazardous", one level below "catastrophic", but even then it should not rely on a single sensor.[208]

On April 2, 2019, after receiving reports from whistleblowers regarding the training of FAA inspectors who reviewed the 737 MAX type certificate, the Senate Commerce Committee launched a second Congressional investigation; it focuses on FAA training of the inspectors.[220][221][222]

On April 19, it was announced that experts from nine civil aviation authorities would investigate how MCAS was approved by the FAA, if changes need to be made in the FAA's approval process and whether the design of MCAS complies with regulations.[223]

On May 15, during a senate hearing, FAA acting administrator Daniel Elwell defended their certification process of Boeing aircraft. However the FAA criticized Boeing for not mentioning the MCAS in the 737 MAX's manuals. Representative Rick Larsen responded saying that "the FAA needs to fix its credibility problem" and that the committee would assist them in doing so.[224][225]

On June 7, the delayed notice on the defective Angle-of-Attack Alert on 737 MAX was investigated. The Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee sent letters to Boeing, United Technologies Corp., and the FAA, requesting a timeline and supporting documents related to awareness of the defect, and when airlines were notified.[226]

On July 17, representatives of crash victims' families, in testimony to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Aviation Subcommittee, called on regulators to re-certificate the MAX as a completely new aircraft. They also called for wider reforms to the certification process, and asked the committee to grant protective subpoenas so that whistleblowers could testify even if they had agreed to a gag order as a condition of a settlement with Boeing.[227]

Reactions[edit]

Aircrew[edit]

In a private meeting on November 27 2018, after the Lion Air accident, American Airlines pilots pressed Boeing managers to develop an urgent fix for MCAS and suggested that the FAA require a safety review which could have grounded the airplanes.[228][229] A recording of the meeting revealed pilots' anger that they were not informed about MCAS. One pilot was heard saying, "We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes."[230] Boeing vice president Mike Sinnett explained that the company did not want to make changes in a rush, because of uncertainty whether the Lion Air accident was related to MCAS. Sinnett said Boeing expected pilots to be able to handle any control problems.[228]

In addition, the U.S. Aviation Safety Reporting System received messages about the 737 MAX from U.S. pilots in November 2018, including one from a captain who "expressed concern that some systems such as the MCAS are not fully described in the aircraft Flight Manual."[231][232] U.S. pilots also complained about the way the 737 MAX performed, including claims of problems similar to those reported about the Lion Air crash.[233] Pilots of at least two U.S. flights in 2018 reported the nose of the 737 MAX pitched down suddenly when they engaged the autopilot.[234] The FAA stated in response that "Some of the reports reference possible issues with the autopilot/autothrottle, which is a separate system from MCAS, and/or acknowledge the problems could have been due to pilot error."[235]

U.S. labor unions representing pilots and flight attendants had different opinions on whether or not to ground the aircraft. Two flight attendant unions, AFA and the APFA favored groundings,[236] while pilot unions such as the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association,[237] APA, and ALPA, expressed confidence in continued operation of the aircraft.[238]

Manufacturers[edit]

Airbus[edit]

On 2018 May 21, Boeing competitor Airbus' leadership held a press conference in Toulouse. They do not view the relationship of Boeing and the FAA as having been corrupted, however in regards to comparing the EASA and the FAA: "EASA has a slightly different mandate than the FAA. EASA is a purely safety orientated agency" [239]. Further, Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer does not feel the 737 MAX is a variant that has stretched the original 737 too far: "The MAX is not one stretch too many, in my humble opinion". Airbus leader Remi Maillard went on to commit the manufacturer: "We work hand in hand with the regulators, and with the OEMs to adopt the safety standards. But, to be clear, our internal safety standards are even more stringent than what is required by the regulators". Scherer remarked on the way manufacturers can learn from accidents: "Whenever there is an accident out there, the first question that gets asked in an Airbus management meeting is: can we learn from it?"

Airbus continues to earn customer orders in the wake of the 737 MAX grounding, booking over $11bn USD in orders.[240], with similar additional orders from airlines that are either cancelling their 737 MAX orders altogether, or reducing quantities[241]. Airbus also announced the Airbus A320-family A321XLR variant which directly competes with the 737 MAX.

Boeing[edit]

Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft roll-out at Renton factory, December 2015

Boeing issued a brief statement after each crash, saying it was "deeply saddened" by the loss of life and offered its "heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones" of the passengers and crews. It said it was helping with the Lion Air investigation and sending a technical team to assist in the Ethiopia investigation.[242][243]

As non-U.S. countries and airlines began grounding the 737 MAX, Boeing stated: "at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators."[244] Boeing said "in light of" the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the company would postpone the scheduled March 13 public rollout ceremony for the first completed Boeing 777X.[245]

On March 11, Boeing stated that upgrades to the MCAS flight control software, cockpit displays, operation manuals and crew training were underway due to findings from the Lion Air crash. Boeing anticipated software deployment in the coming weeks and said the upgrade would be made mandatory by an FAA Airworthiness Directive.[246]

When the FAA grounded the MAX aircraft on March 13, Boeing stated it "continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX. However, after consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, Boeing has determined — out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft's safety — to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 737 MAX aircraft."[247]

On March 14, Boeing reiterated that pilots can always use manual trim control to override software commands, and that both its Flight Crew Operations Manual and November 6 bulletin offer detailed procedures for handling incorrect angle-of-attack readings.[248][249] The FAA stated it anticipated clearing the software update by March 25, 2019, allowing Boeing to distribute it to the grounded fleets.[250] On April 1, the FAA announced the software upgrade was delayed because more work was necessary.[251] On April 11, Boeing said it had completed 96 test flights with the updated software.[252][253]

On April 4, 2019, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg acknowledged that MCAS played a role in both crashes. His comments came in response to public release of preliminary results of the Ethiopian Airlines accident investigation, which suggested pilots performed the recovery procedure. Muilenburg stated it was "apparent that in both flights" MCAS activated due to "erroneous angle of attack information." He said the MCAS software update and additional training and information for pilots would "eliminate the possibility of unintended MCAS activation and prevent an MCAS-related accident from ever happening again".[204]

After the grounding, Boeing suspended 737 MAX deliveries to customers, but continued production at a rate of 52 aircraft per month.[254] In mid-April, the production rate was reduced to 42 aircraft per month.[255] In May 2019, Boeing reported a 56% drop in plane deliveries year on year.[256]

On April 24, 2019 Muilenburg said the aircraft was properly designed and certificated, and he asserted "there is no technical slip or gap here". He said in the accidents there were "actions or actions not taken that contributed to the final outcome".[257] On April 29, he claimed that the pilots did not "completely" follow the procedures that Boeing had outlined. He said Boeing was working to make the airplane even safer.[258][259]

On May 5, Boeing asserted that "Neither the angle of attack indicator nor the AOA Disagree alert are necessary for the safe operation of the airplane. They provide supplemental information only, and have never been considered safety features on commercial jet transport airplanes."[260] On May 29, Muilenburg acknowledged that the crashes had damaged the public's trust.[261] Before the June Paris Air Show, Muilenburg said, regarding the AoA disagree indicator, that Boeing made "a mistake in the implementation of the alert" and the company's communication "was not consistent. And that's unacceptable."[262]

In July 2019, Boeing announced the second 737 program leader departure amid 737 MAX production delays in two years.[263] Previous position holder Scott Campbell retired in August 2018 due to late deliveries of 737 MAX engines and other components. Eric Lindbald assumed the role shortly before the program became embattled in two accidents and ongoing groundings. He had been in that post only a year, and had not been involved in the development of the MAX.[264] Lindbald will be succeeded by Mark Jenks, vice president of the Boeing New Midsize Airplane program and previously in charge of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.[265][relevant? ]

Software outsourcing[edit]

In June 2019, Boeing's software development practices came under criticism from current and former engineers. Software development work for the MAX was reportedly complicated by Boeing's decision to outsource work to lower-paid contractors, including Indian companies HCL Technologies and Cyient, though these contractors did not work on MCAS or the AoA disagree alert. Management pressure to limit changes that might introduce extra time or cost was also highlighted.[266][267]

Political[edit]

  • Just after the FAA reaffirmed the MAX safety, several western media outlets, including the Financial Times, The New York Times, Fox News, and CNBC, questioned China's motives for grounding the aircraft by suggesting the action was either "politically motivated" or that China was "potentially benefiting from the grounding".[268][269][46][270][271]
  • On April 15, 2019, President Trump tweeted : "What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name."[272]
  • Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. agency that investigates airplane crashes, said the FAA should ground the airplane.[273]
  • U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Mitt Romney, Dianne Feinstein, Ted Cruz, Roger Wicker and Richard Blumenthal called for the FAA to temporarily ground all 737 MAX 8 and 9 jets.[274][275][276] Cruz and Wicker announced plans to hold a hearing in the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation and Space "to investigate these crashes, determine their contributing factors, and ensure that the United States aviation industry remains the safest in the world."[276] Warren went as far as to question if the Trump administration was protecting Boeing.[277][importance?]
  • Kyrsten Sinema among other US Senators at a 2019 March 28 hearing questioned a panel of regulators in the committee responsible for aviation oversight in the US Senate, "Is there more we need to do?" [278]. Kyrsten also questioned why more detail was not included in the flight operations manuals given to pilots not offering details of new features and systems like MCAS since the previous models: "Can you talk about why this was not included in pilot training material?"[279]

Airlines[edit]

American Airlines[edit]

Former American pilot Sully Sullenburger remarked "These crashes are demonstrable evidence that our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us. These accidents should never have happened" [280].

The American Airlines pilot union criticized Boeing for not fully explaining the existence or operation of MCAS: "However, at APA we remained concerned about whether the new training protocol, materials and method of instruction suggested by Boeing are adequate to ensure that pilots across the globe flying the MAX fleet can do so in absolute complete safety"[281]

Southwest Airlines[edit]

Southwest notified their pilots that an optional feature, AoA indication on the cockpit displays, will be enabled to all aircraft in its fleet on November 30, 2018, shortly after Boeing had disclosed to airlines the existence of MCAS and the defective AoA disagree alert.[282][283]

United Airlines[edit]

United's CEO Oscar Munoz said that passengers would still feel uncertain about flying on a Boeing 737 MAX even after the software update.[284] The International Air Transport Association (IATA) made a statement calling for more coordination and consensus with training and return to service requirements.[285].

Ethiopian Airlines[edit]

Ethiopian Airlines said "These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds, and we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302"[286]. The CEO also pushed back and rejected the notion that his airlines pilots were not fully trained or experienced, a notion intimated in the US House of Representatives in a recent hearing by the FAA director. He said: "As far as the training is concerned ... we've gone according to the Boeing recommendation and FAA-approved one. We are not expected to speculate or to imagine something that doesn't exist at all"[287]. In June, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam expressed his confidence in the process for bringing the MAX back into service, and expected Ethiopian to be the last carrier to resume flights.[288]

Aeroflot[edit]

In March 2019, RT reported the indefinite suspension of contracts for the purchase by Russian airlines of dozens of aircraft, including Aeroflot’s Pobeda subsidiary, S7 Airlines, Ural Airlines and UTair. Vitaly Savelyev, Aeroflot's CEO, said that "the company would refuse operating MAX planes ordered by Pobeda".[289]

IAG[edit]

On June 18, International Airlines Group (IAG) announced plans for a fleet comprising 200 Boeing 737 MAX jets. Boeing and IAG signed a letter of intent at the Paris Air Show valued at a list price of over $24 billion.[290]

Norwegian Air[edit]

The CEO of Norwegian Air, a low cost carrier, stated in July that the company "has a huge appetite for 737 MAX jets", according to a report from American City Business Journals.[291]

Ryanair[edit]

In July, Ryanair warned that some of its bases would be subject to short-term closures in 2020 due to the shortfall in MAX deliveries, and pointed out that the MAX 200 version it has ordered will require separate certification expected to take a further two months after the MAX returns to service.[292]

International agencies[edit]

In a May 22 statement, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) reaffirmed the need to independently certify the 737 MAX software and pilot training.[293]

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), UN’s aviation agency, invited global regulators "to review pilot licensing requirements". It is the first time ICAO will undertake such a broad review.[294][295] The meeting was scheduled before the crashes and could extend beyond the requirements for commercial pilots, according to Miguel Marin, chief of the operational safety section of ICAO's Air Navigation Bureau.[296]

Industry experts[edit]

Retired airline captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who gained fame in the Miracle on the Hudson accident in 2009, sharply criticized Boeing and the FAA, saying they "have been found wanting in this ugly saga". He said the overly "cozy relationship" between the aviation industry and government was seen when the Boeing CEO "reached out to the U.S. President to try to keep the 737 MAX 8 from being grounded". He also lamented understaffing and underfunding of the FAA. He said that good business means that "it is always better and cheaper to do it right instead of doing it wrong and trying to repair the damage after the fact, and when lives are lost, there is no way to repair the damage."[297]

The bulk of Boeing statements were considered by lawyers, analysts, and experts to be contradictory and unconvincing.[298] They said Boeing refused to answer tough questions and accept responsibility, defended the airplane design and certification while "promising to fix the plane's software", delayed to ground planes and issue an apology, and yet was quick to assign blame towards pilot error.[299][300]

Consumer advocates[edit]

In June, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who lost a grandniece in one of the accidents, claimed that the Boeing 737 "must never fly again... it’s not a matter of software. It’s a matter of structural design defect: the plane’s engines are too much for the traditional fuselage". Nader also called for Boeing top leaders to resign. Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers said in an email, responding to Mr. Nader, that Boeing extended its condolences to Nader and all the relatives of the people that lost their lives in the accidents but said that "safety is our top priority as we make the changes necessary to return the MAX to service".[301]

Public[edit]

A March 2019 poll suggested that 53% of American adults would not want to fly on a 737 MAX plane if the aircraft were to be cleared by the FAA the following week.[302]

Investment company UBS does not "anticipate significant share erosion" as it ran a public poll run showing 8% of the U.S. flying public would never fly the 737 MAX, (dropping to 3% when including that two-thirds seldom or never check the aircraft type before booking a flight), while 60% would fly it after at least six months of safe operations and a tenth would fly it after 1 to 3 months, not mattering much as airliner procurement timeframes are five to 10-plus years.[303]

Financial impact[edit]

Airline demands for compensation[edit]

On March 13, Norwegian Air became the first airline to publicly demand compensation from Boeing for the costs of the groundings of the 737 MAX. CEO Bjørn Kjos said, "It is quite obvious we will not take the cost related to the new aircraft that we have to park temporarily, we will send this bill to those who produce this aircraft."[304] India's SpiceJet also announced that they will seek compensation from Boeing. A senior official said, "We will seek compensation from Boeing for the grounding of the aircraft. We will also seek recompense for revenue loss and any kind of maintenance or technical overhaul that the aircraft will have to undergo. This is part of the contract, which we signed with Boeing for all the 737 MAX aircraft."[305] On April 10 state-owned China Eastern Airlines requested compensation from Boeing over the disruptions.[306]

Airlines have countered the capacity loss by extending leases, deferring maintenance, rearranging aircraft assignments, and canceling flights; most have removed the MAX from schedules until at least August. On May 22, Bloomberg L.P. estimated Boeing’s reimbursements will approach $1.4 billion based on typical operating profit per aircraft, won’t be allocated until "expected deliveries are made" and compensation can include order changes.[307] Chinese carriers estimates the cost of the grounding at CNY4 billion ($579 million) by the end of June.[308] The delivery delay will cost Ryanair about a million passengers through the summer of 2019, but the low-cost carrier remains confident in Boeing and would prefer better pricing on future orders rather than cash compensation.[309]

Litigation[edit]

Pilots[edit]

In June 2019, 737 MAX pilots jointly filed a class action against Boeing for lost wages due to the grounding, claiming that Boeing attempted to cover-up design flaws with the aircraft.[310]

Victims' families[edit]

Unlike the maximum claim by a passenger against an airline, which is limited by the Montreal Convention, claims against the manufacturer are not subject to a preset limit. In effect since 1999, the convention requires an airline, regardless of fault, if it is based in a country that ratified the treaty, to pay around $170,000 each as a minimum liability.

Representatives of passengers on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 may be able to argue that Boeing knew, or should have known or contemplated, the risk of a crash from knowledge of MCAS and previous issues, including the earlier Lion Air crash, potentially opening a route to punitive damages.[311] According to lawyers involved in passenger claims, the U.S. legal structure for damage claims is often plaintiff-friendly, and Boeing may therefore attempt to argue that claims on behalf of deceased passengers should be heard in other countries.[311]

Boeing's compensation fund[edit]

On July 3, Boeing announced it would set aside $100 million to help families of victims with education, hardship and living expenses and for community programs and economic development. However, the plan was criticized by several families, calling it "too vague" and citing that Boeing did not consult them ahead of time. Boeing did not explain how it would allocate the money.[312][313]

Order cancellations[edit]

At the time of the grounding, Boeing had 4,636 unfilled orders worldwide for the 737 MAX.[314] Following the grounding, Boeing suspended deliveries of 737 MAX aircraft to customers, but did not halt production of the aircraft. Analysts estimated that each month of the grounding could result in a delay of $1.8 billion in revenue to the company.[315] The total magnitude of the unfilled orders was estimated at $600 billion.[316]

The first announcement by a customer of plans to cancel an order came on March 11, the day after Ethiopian Airlines crash. Lion Air reportedly planned to drop a $22 billion order with Boeing in favor of Airbus aircraft.[317]

The first confirmed cancellation was announced on March 14 when Indonesian flag carrier Garuda Indonesia announced the cancellation of 49 orders for the aircraft, citing "concerns on the safety of passengers".[318] Garuda stated that it was talking to Boeing about whether to return the single aircraft already received and to replace the 737 MAX order with a different Boeing model, not necessarily replacing Boeing as its supplier.[319] On March 22, Garuda Indonesia's spokesperson Ikhsan Rosan said "Our passengers have lost confidence to fly with the Max 8."[320][321][322]

On April 30, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said the 737 MAX grounding "is not changing the mid- to long-term picture" as "[Airbus is] limited by the supply chain": it should reach a monthly A320 production rate of 60 by mid-2019 before 63 in 2021 while Boeing reduced MAX monthly output to 42 from 52.[323]

On June 3, Azerbaijan Airlines cancelled its order of 10 737 MAX 8’s, citing safety concerns with the aircraft. This was later corrected on June 4 that the airline will postpone the order.[324][325]

On July 7, flyadeal cancelled its order of 30 737 MAX 8's, planning to replace it with the Airbus A320neo.[326][327]

Profitability and stock price[edit]

In the days following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, Boeing stock price went down. By March 14, the stock lost 11% of its value.[316] By March 23, the stock had lost 18% of its value, which represented a $40 billion drop in market capitalization.[328]

On April 8, 2019, Bank of America downgraded Boeing's stock after production of the 737 MAX was reduced.[329]

On April 10, a class action lawsuit was filed against Boeing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by a shareholder who accused the company of "covering up safety problems with its 737 MAX".[330]

On April 24, Boeing released its first-quarter results.[331] The company announced that the grounding of the 737 MAX would cost as much as $1 billion. It consequently suspended its stock buyback program and announced that the previously released earnings forecasts, which were compiled prior to the grounding, were no longer valid and new forecasts will be released in the future.[332][333] Boeing also blamed the grounding for a 21% drop in quarterly profits relative to the quarterly profits from the previous year.[334]

On May 7, Barclays downgraded Boeing stock after conducting a passenger survey that showed nearly half those polled would not fly on the airplane for a year or more after it returns to service.[335]

On July 18, Boeing announced that it was to take a $4.9 billion after-tax charge in the second quarter of 2019. This corresponds to its initial estimate of the cost of compensation to airlines, but not the cost of lawsuits, potential fines, or the less tangible cost to its reputation. It also said that its estimated production costs would rise by $1.7 billion, primarily due to higher costs associated with the reduced production rate.[336]

Corrective work[edit]

MCAS function and cockpit displays[edit]

From November 2018, Boeing began work on implementing updates to the crew manual and MCAS control software to address unintended activation and the failure of the AoA disagree alert.

On March 27, FAA's Acting Administrator Elwell testified before a Senate Committee, saying that on January 21, "Boeing submitted a proposed MCAS software enhancement to the FAA for certification. ... the FAA has tested this enhancement to the 737 MAX flight control system in both the simulator and the aircraft. The testing, which was conducted by FAA flight test engineers and flight test pilots, included aerodynamic stall situations and recovery procedures."

After a series of delays, the final MCAS software was released to the FAA in May 2019.[337][338] On May 16, Boeing announced that the completed software update was awaiting approval from the FAA.[339][340] The flight software underwent 360 hours of testing on 207 flights.[341] Boeing also updated existing crew procedures.[342]

Boeing published some details of new system requirements for the MCAS software and for the cockpit displays[343]:

  • If both AOA sensors disagree with the flaps retracted, MCAS will not activate and an indicator will alert the pilots.
  • If MCAS is activated in non-normal conditions, it will only "provide one input for each elevated AOA event."
  • Flight crew pulling back on the column will be able to counteract MCAS.

Autopilot disengagement[edit]

According to press articles published in early July, EASA provided a list of five major issues that must be addressed to allow the airplane to fly again. The list included one new item: the autopilot failing to disengage in certain emergencies.[206]

Angle of attack sensors[edit]

In June, EASA director Patrick Ky said that retrofitting additional hardware is an option to be considered.[206]

Flight control data processing issue[edit]

In early April, Boeing reported a problem with software affecting flaps and other flight-control hardware, unrelated to MCAS; classified as critical to flight safety, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered Boeing to fix the problem.[344]

In June 2019, "in a special Boeing simulator that is designed for engineering reviews,"[345] FAA pilots performed a stress testing scenario – an abnormal condition identified through FMEA after the MCAS update was implemented[346] – for evaluating the effect of a fault in a microprocessor: as expected from the scenario, the horizontal stabilizer pointed the nose downward. Although the test pilot ultimately recovered control, the system was slow to respond to the proper runaway stabilizer checklist steps, due to an 80286[347] microprocessor being overwhelmed with data. The FAA characterized the slow responsiveness as "catastrophic", whereas Boeing initially classified it as "major". The solution appears to consist in rerouting data across multiple chips. Boeing stated that the issue can be fixed in software.[348] The software change will not be ready for evaluation until at least September 2019.[349] Boeing also said that it agreed with additional requirements that the FAA required it to fulfill, and added that it was working toward resolving the safety risk. It will not offer the MAX for certification until all requirements have been satisfied.[350]

Flight simulator and training[edit]

On May 17, after discovering 737 MAX flight simulators could not adequately replicate MCAS activation,[351] Boeing corrected the software to improve the force feedback of the manual trim wheel and to ensure realism.[352] This led to a debate on whether simulator training is a prerequisite prior to the aircraft's eventual return to service. On May 31, Boeing proposed that simulator training for pilots flying on the 737 MAX would not be mandatory.[353] In the USA, the MAX shares a common type rating with all the other Boeing 737 families.

Computer training is deemed sufficient by the FAA Flight Standardization Board, the US Airline Pilots Association and Southwest Airlines pilots, but Transport Canada and American Airlines urged use of simulators.[354][355] On June 19, in a testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Chesley Sullenberger advocated for simulator training. "Pilots need to have first-hand experience with the crash scenarios and its conflicting indications before flying with passengers and crew."[356][202]

The "differences training" is the subject of worry by senior industry training experts.[357]

Textron-owned simulator maker TRU Simulation + Training anticipates a transition course but not mandatory simulator sessions.[358]

Return to service[edit]

Boeing considers the MAX and the 737-800 (pictured) similar aircraft.

Aviation authorities[edit]

By convention, aviation regulators worldwide accept the certification of aircraft from the country of manufacture and do not review those certifications in much detail.[359] The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Transport Canada announced they will independently verify FAA recertification of the 737 MAX.[359] The FAA was seeking consensus with other regulators to approve the return to service to avoid suspicion of undue cooperation with Boeing.[360] The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had also made a similar statement calling for more coordination and consensus with training and return to service requirements.[361]

The FAA does not have a timetable on when the 737 MAX will return to service,[362] stating that it is guided by a "thorough process, not a prescribed timeline."[363]

On June 27, Belgium issued a NOTAM prohibiting the 737-8 MAX and -9 MAX until 2020.[364][importance?]

In July 2019, EASA outlined five major issues to be resolved before it will agree to the MAX's return to service. These included one previously unreported issue: the autopilot failing to disengage in certain emergency situations.[365]

Boeing[edit]

Boeing initially hoped that flights could resume by July 2019;[366] by June 3, CEO Dennis Muilenburg, expected to have the planes flying by the end of 2019 but declined to provide a timeline.[367]

On July 18, Boeing hoped to return the MAX to flight during the fourth quarter of 2019, but indicated that this was its best estimate and that the date could still slip.[368]

Airline projections[edit]

Airlines individually announced return to service dates to facilitate flight reservations and scheduling into the future, as groundings have resulted in cancellations of flights served by the aircraft.

In April, Southwest and American Airlines estimated that groundings could continue until August 2019.[369] At that stage United Airlines expected its 737 MAXs to remain grounded until July.[370] Air Canada, which also initially descheduled its 737 MAXs until July, has pushed their return to August 2019.[371] On May 24, United extended scheduled cancellations until August 2019.[372] At the end of May, the International Air Transport Association expected flights to resume in mid-August.[373]

At the beginning of June, Emirates chief Sheikh Ahmed projected December 2019 for flydubai's 737 MAX operations, he said, due to a lack of regulator coordination.[374] During June, American Airlines,[375] Southwest Airlines[376][377] and United Airlines[378] all extended their cancellations to September 2 or 3. At the end of June, Southwest and United removed the MAX from their schedules for another month, until October 2.[379] By mid-July, United,[380] American,[381][382] and Southwest Airlines[383] further extended their cancellations until the beginning of November. United Airlines announced that it was purchasing 19 used 737-700s for delivery from December; the airline's fleet plan for this timeframe had previously targeted 30 MAXs by the end of 2019 and a further 28 in 2020.[384]

See also[edit]

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