The Boeing 737 MAX situation just went from bad to worse, and the timeline for the plane returning to service has probably just slipped quite a bit.
The 737 MAX situation up until now
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded globally since March, following the crash of two 737 MAXs just months apart. Boeing has been working on a software fix that they hope will get the plane back in the air.
In mid-May Boeing claimed that they completed the necessary software update, though obviously a lot more tests were needed to get the plane back in the sky. Most airlines seemed to be hoping the plane would be flying again by the fall, though I’d be surprised if that happens.
New 737 MAX safety issues discovered
A new major concern has just been discovered with the Boeing 737 MAX. Here’s the official FAA statement about it, which is vague on details, not surprisingly:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is following a thorough process, not a prescribed timeline, for returning the Boeing 737 Max to passenger service. The FAA will lift the aircraft’s prohibition order when we deem it is safe to do so. We continue to evaluate Boeing’s software modifications to the MCAS and we are still developing necessary training requirements. We also are responding to recommendations received from the Technical Advisory Board. The TAB is an independent review panel we have asked to review our work regarding 737 Max return to service. On the most recent issue, the FAA’s process is designed to discover and highlight potential risks. The FAA recently found a potential risk that Boeing must mitigate.
What’s going on? FAA pilots have uncovered a data processing issue impacting their ability to perform the procedure for counteracting “runaway stabiliser.”
This is the method by which pilots are supposed to respond to erroneous activation of the MCAS, which is the software that activated prior to two Boeing 737 MAX crashes.
Here’s what a source tells FlightGlobal:
“During simulator testing last week at Boeing, FAA test pilots discovered an issue that affected their ability to quickly and easily follow the required recovery procedures for runaway stabiliser trim. The issue was traced to how data is being processed by the flight computer.”
Boeing now says that they hope to find a fix by September, and then it will presumably take several more weeks (or months) for the plane to be flying.
This process is disappointing
The absolute top priority in the airline industry needs to be safety. Every aircraft manufacturer and airline will tell you that. Yet they way these companies act suggest that’s not the case.
When you consider what we’ve been hearing from airlines and Boeing and compare it to what’s apparently going on, there’s quite a disconnect.
Is the 737 MAX not flying due to politics?
American’s CEO, Doug Parker, has claimed that at this point the reason the 737 MAX isn’t in service is because of politics:
“There is an absolute software fix that’s this close to being certified, but they’ve been saying that for a while. I think as much as anything now it may be politics as much as the true certification … safety issue. I don’t think the FAA wants to be alone in doing this.”
Does he still feel that way? It’s clear his focus (and the focus of many other airline CEOs, and of Boeing) is to get the plane back in service ASAP. It seems they’d rather do fewer tests if it means they can get those planes flying passengers profitability again ASAP.
Is this really the approach an airline CEO should be taking? He’s giving Boeing the benefit of the doubt because it benefits his airline, when really he should be skeptical, given their track record with rushing this plane into service. But it seems he’s perfectly happy doing that again.
FAA pilots discovered this flaw
While I won’t claim to fully understand the process that gets this plane back into service, am I the only one who finds it disconcerting that it was FAA pilots who discovered this flaw?
Is Boeing just throwing darts at a board here and seeing what they can get away with from the FAA? Shouldn’t Boeing have put in the time to verify this independently before even trying to get the plane certified again?
This is all just disconcerting and plain sad. Boeing has lost so much public trust in this process, and continues to do so.
It seems like the FAA is now really taking their time, and even if they do certify the plane soon, I hope that other authorities aren’t pressured into returning this plane into service, and that it’s only flying again when they’re truly 110% confident in it.
I keep hearing people say “when the 737 MAX is back in the sky it will be the safest plane out there.” I call BS on that. There’s nothing in this process that has made me feel like Boeing or many operators of the 737 MAX have safety as the top priority here.