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In March 2019, aviation regulators and airlines around the world grounded all Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliners after two MAX 8 aircraft crashed, killing the 346 people aboard. The accidents befell Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019. Ethiopian Airlines acted first, grounding its MAX fleet effective the day of the accident. On March 11, Chinese authorities ordered the first regulatory grounding, and most other agencies and airlines banned the airplane over the next two days. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initially reaffirmed the airplane's airworthiness on March 11, but grounded it on March 13. The groundings affected 387 MAX aircraft delivered to 59 airlines.

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 CAAC (China)
  • March 12, 2019 (2019-03-12) by EASA
  • March 13, 2019 (2019-03-13) by FAA
DurationOngoing. 6 months and 6 days (since first grounding on March 10, 2019)
CausePrecautionary measure following two similar crashes less than five months apart
Deaths346:

In both accidents, pilots lost control to automated commands by the 737 MAX's new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which repeatedly pushed the airplane nose down in response to erroneous angle of attack (AoA) data. Pilots learned of the new "automatic trim" feature only after the first crash, when Boeing updated the airplane's flight manual and the FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive. Boeing admitted that MCAS played a role in both accidents, and developed updates to the flight control systems, cockpit displays, and computer architecture, which took months longer than expected.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Congress launched investigations into FAA type certification of the MAX, particularly the FAA's delegation of authority to Boeing that allowed the company to conduct activities for certification on behalf of the agency. Technical safety experts from nine countries, the FAA, and NASA are jointly reviewing the certification of the MAX automated flight control system and its compliance with regulations. Industry experts said the panel's findings could change global standards for certification.

Boeing suspended deliveries and reduced production of the MAX, and might temporarily stop manufacturing the airplane if recertification is delayed beyond October 2019. Airlines canceled thousands of flights and leased other aircraft to fill in for the MAX. Boeing recorded a $4.9 billion charge for compensation to airlines and set up a separate fund to help families of accident victims. Pilots and families sued Boeing for allegedly concealing flaws in the airplane.

Contents

CrashesEdit

Lion Air Flight 610 crashEdit

 
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. This is the deadliest crash involving the Boeing 737 regardless of variant.[6]

Boeing published a supplementary service bulletin addressing the 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.[7] 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.[8][9]

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashEdit

 
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.[10][11][11][12][13] The 737 MAX was delivered 3 months and 23 days prior, on November 15, 2018, two weeks after the Lion Air accident.[14]

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.[15] A stabilizer trim jackscrew found in the wreckage was set to put the aircraft into a dive.[16] Experts suggested this evidence further pointed to MCAS as at fault in the crash.[17][18] 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."[19] 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.[20][21]

GroundingsEdit

 
     Grounded by government regulator
     Voluntarily grounded by all operating airlines

Ethiopian Airlines grounded its fleet on March 10.[22] 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.[22][23][24][25]

On March 11, the FAA issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) for operators. The CANIC set out the activities the FAA had completed after the Lion Air accident in support of continued operations of the MAX and listed the 59 affected operators of 387 MAX aircraft around the world.[26][27][28]

On March 13, Canada received new information suggesting similarity between the crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao of his decision to ground the aircraft. Hours later, President Trump announced U.S. 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".[29][30] The U.S., Canadian, and Chinese regulators oversee a combined fleet of 196 aircraft, nearly half of all 387 airplanes delivered.[31]

Impact on airborne flightsEdit

About 30 Boeing 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.[32] In Europe, several flights were diverted when grounding orders were issued.[33][34] 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 and flew back to Turkey.[35][36]

On June 11, Norwegian Flight DY8922 attempted a ferry flight from Málaga, 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.[37] However, the aircraft was refused entry into German airspace, and diverted to Châlons Vatry, France.[38][39]

RegulatorsEdit

Although regulators typically follow guidance from the plane maker and its national certifying authority, in this case they cited safety precautions as reason to ground the aircraft, and revoked clearance of MAX aircraft from foreign airlines despite the lack of guidance from Boeing and the Continued Airworthiness Notification from the FAA.[40]

 
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.[41][42]
    • United States: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an affirmation of the continued airworthiness of the 737 MAX.[43] 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.[44]
    • Indonesia: Nine hours after China's grounding,[45] 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[46] to "ensure that aircraft operating in Indonesia are in an airworthy condition".[47]
    • 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."[48]
  • 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.[49]
    • 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.[50]
    • 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.[51]
    • 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,[52] 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.[53]
    • 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, published at 18:23,[54] 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] The reasons invoked include:[54]

      Technical decision, data driven, precautionary measure: Similarities with the Lion Air accident data; Application of EASA guidance material for taking corrective actions in case of potential unsafe conditions; Additional considerations: no direct access to the investigation, unusual scenario of a “young” aircraft experiencing 2 fatal accidents in less than 6 months.

      — Paytrick Ky, director
  • 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][61]
    • 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.[62][63] 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.[64] The FAA did allow airlines to make ferry flights without passengers or flight attendants in order to reposition the aircraft in central locations.[65][66]
    • Hong Kong: The Civil Aviation Department banned the operation of all 737 Max aircraft into, out of and over Hong Kong.[67]
    • Panama: The Civil Aviation Authority grounded its aircraft.[68][69]
    • Vietnam: The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam banned Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from flying over Vietnam.[70]
    • New Zealand: The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand suspended Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from its airspace.[71]
    • Mexico: Mexico's civil aviation authority suspended flights by Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft in and out of the country.[72]
    • Brazil: The National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) suspended the 737 MAX 8 aircraft from flying.[73]
    • Colombia: Colombia's civil aviation authority banned Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes from flying over its airspace.[74]
    • Chile: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation banned Boeing 737 MAX 8 flights in the country's airspace.[75]
    • Trinidad and Tobago: The Director General of Civil Aviation banned Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes from use in civil aviation operations within and over Trinidad and Tobago.[76]
  • March 14
    • Taiwan: The Civil Aeronautics Administration banned Boeing 737 Max from entering, leaving or flying over Taiwan.[77]
    • Japan: Japan's transport ministry banned flights by Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft from its airspace.[78]
  • March 16


AirlinesEdit

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).[157]

Avionics analysisEdit

Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation SystemEdit

 
Lion Air Flight 610 - Tracking Data from Flightradar24

The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law was introduced on the 737 MAX to mitigate the aircraft's tendency to pitch up because of the aerodynamic effect of its larger, and heavier, and more powerful CFM LEAP-1B engines and nacelles. 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.[187][188][189] The aircraft had to perform well in a low-speed stall test.[190]

Investigators suspect that MCAS was triggered by falsely high angle of attack (AoA) inputs, as if the plane had pitched up excessively. On both flights, shortly after takeoff, MCAS repeatedly actuated the horizontal stabilizer trim motor to push down the airplane nose.[191][192][193][194] Satellite data for the flights, ET 302 and JT 610, showed that the planes struggled to gain altitude.[195] Pilots reported difficulty controlling the airplane and asked to return to the airport.[196][197] On April 4, 2019 Boeing publicly acknowledged that MCAS played a role in both accidents.[198]

On older 737s, pulling back on the control column "would cut off electronic control of the stabilizers, allowing the pilots to control them manually. That feature was disabled on the Max when MCAS was activated — another change that pilots were unlikely to have been aware of." Boeing told airlines after the Lion Air crash that when MCAS is activated, pulling back on the control column will not stop a stabilizer runaway.[199] Nevertheless, confusion continued: the safety committee of a major U.S. airline misled its pilots by telling that the MCAS could be overcome by "applying opposite control-column input to activate the column cutout switches".[200] CBS Safety expert and former pilot Chesley Sullenberger testified, "The logic was that when MCAS was activated, it had to be, and must not be prevented." [201]

On March 11, 2019, after China had grounded the aircraft, [202] Boeing published some details of new system requirements for the MCAS software and for the cockpit displays, which it began implementing in the wake of the prior accident five months earlier: [203]

  • If the two 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 will be able to counteract MCAS by pulling back on the column.

On March 27, FAA's Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, 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."[204] After a series of delays, the updated MCAS software was released to the FAA in May 2019.[205][206] On May 16, Boeing announced that the completed software update was awaiting approval from the FAA.[207][208] The flight software underwent 360 hours of testing on 207 flights.[209] Boeing also updated existing crew procedures.[210]

Angle of attack sensors and architectureEdit

The Angle of Attack sensors measure an aircraft's pitch relative to oncoming winds. Though there are two sensors, only one of them is used at a time to trigger MCAS activation on the 737 MAX. The angle of attack system is not robust to the failure of a single AoA sensor, thus activating MCAS under a single point of failure.[201] 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.

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tankers on order, which is based on a Boeing 767. They remarked that MCAS exists on the KC-46, compares both sensors, and allows pilots to retake control of the airplane.[211] The sensors themselves are under scrutiny. Sensors on the Lion air aircraft were supplied by United Technologies' Rosemount Aerospace.[212]

Redesign of the AoA sensor system architecture is not precluded.[213] In September 2019, EASA said it prefers triple-redundant Angle of Attack sensors rather than the dual redundancy in Boeing’s proposed upgrade to the MAX.[214] Installation of a third sensor could be expensive and take a long time. The change, if mandated, could be extended to thousands of older model 737s in service around the world.[214]

Angle-of-Attack Disagree alertEdit

The Angle-of-Attack Disagree alert, via an annunciator on the primary flight display, tells the pilot that the pair of AoA sensors, which should provide similar readings, have deviated significantly.[215] Thus, pilots get insight into disagreements and the feature prompts for a maintenance logbook entry.[191] In November 2017, after several months of MAX deliveries, Boeing discovered that the alert was inoperable on most aircraft, but the company did not notify the FAA until November 2018, in the wake of the Lion Air crash. [216] The alert function depended on the presence of an optional indicator, which was not selected by most airlines. In 2017, Boeing had determined that the defect was not critical to aircraft safety or operation, and intended to repair this in a system update in 2020. In December 2018, an internal safety review board corroborated Boeing's prior assessment, and Boeing shared this conclusion and the analysis with the FAA. [217][218][219]

At Boeing, the SRB is responsible for deciding only if an issue is or is not a safety issue; a SRB brings together multiple company subject matter experts (SMEs) in many disciplines. The most knowledgeable SME presents the issue, assisted and guided by the Aviation Safety organization. The safety decision is taken as a vote. Any vote for “safety” results in a board decision of “safety”.[220]

In May 2019, Boeing defended that "Neither the angle of attack indicator nor the AoA Disagree alert are necessary for the safe operation of the airplane." Boeing recognized that the defective software was not implemented to their specifications as a "standard, standalone feature." CEO Muilenburg said the company's communication about the alert "was not consistent. And that's unacceptable."[221][222]

On June 7, the delayed notice on the defective Angle-of-Attack Disagree 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.[223]

In March 2019 a Boeing representative told Inc. magazine, "Customers have been informed that AOA [angle of attack] disagree alert will become a standard feature on the 737 Max. It can be retrofitted on previously delivered airplanes."[224]

Boeing stated in May 2019, "...MAX production aircraft will have an activated and operable AOA Disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator. All customers with previously delivered MAX airplanes will have the ability to activate the AOA Disagree alert."[222]

Angle of attack displayEdit

In 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued Safety Recommendation A-96-094.

TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA): Require that all transport-category aircraft present pilots with angle-of-attack info in a visual format, and that all air carriers train their pilots to use the info to obtain maximum possible airplane climb performance.

The NTSB also stated about another accident in 1997, that "a display of angle of attack on the flight deck would have maintained the flightcrew's awareness of the stall condition and it would have provided direct indication of the pitch attitudes required for recovery throughout the attempted stall recovery sequence." The NTSB also believed that the accident may have been prevented if a direct indication of AoA was presented to the flightcrew (NTSB, 1997)."[225](p29)

Boeing published an article in Aero magazine about AoA systems, Operational use of Angle of Attack on modern commercial jet planes: "Angle of attack (AOA) is an aerodynamic parameter that is key to understanding the limits of airplane performance. Recent accidents and incidents have resulted in new flight crew training programs, which in turn have raised interest in AOA in commercial aviation. Awareness of AOA is vitally important as the airplane nears stall. [...] The AOA indicator can be used to assist with unreliable airspeed indications as a result of blocked pitot or static ports and may provide additional situation and configuration awareness to the flight crew."[226]

Boeing published in a FAQ about the MAX corrective work, "With the software update, customers are not charged for the AOA disagree feature or their selection of the AOA indicator option."[227]

Flight computer architectureEdit

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.[228]

In June 2019, "in a special Boeing simulator that is designed for engineering reviews,"[229] FAA pilots performed a stress testing scenario – an abnormal condition identified through FMEA after the MCAS update was implemented[230] – 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. Boeing initially classified this as a "major" hazard, and the FAA upgraded it to a more severe "catastrophic" rating. Boeing stated that the issue can be fixed in software.[231] The software change will not be ready for evaluation until at least September 2019.[232] EASA director Patrick Ky said that retrofitting additional hardware is an option to be considered.[213]

The failure scenario was known before the MAX entered service in 2017: it had been assessed in a safety analysis when the plane was certified. Boeing had concluded that pilots could perform a procedure to shut off the motor driving the stabilizer to overcome the nose-down movement.[233]

The scenario also affects 737NG aircraft, though it presents less risk than on the MAX. On the NG, moving the yoke counters any uncommanded stabilizer input, but this function is bypassed on the MAX to avoid negating the purpose of MCAS.[234]

Early news reports were inaccurate in attributing the problem to an 80286[235] microprocessor overwhelmed with data. The test scenario simulated an event toggling five bits in the flight control computer. The bits represent status flags such as whether MCAS is active (which disables the cutout switch), or whether the tail trim motor is energized. Engineers were able to simulate single event upsets and artificially induce MCAS activation by manipulating these signals. Such a fault occurs when memory bits change from 0 to 1 or vice versa, which is something that can be caused by cosmic rays striking the microprocessor.[236]

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.[231]

The updated flight control system will take input from both flight control computers and compare their outputs. This switch to a fail-safe two-channel redundant system, with each computer using an independent set of sensors, is a fundamental change from the architecture used on all 737s to date, where the system alternates between computers after each flight.[236]

Type rating and training needsEdit

In the U.S., the MAX shares a common type rating with all the other Boeing 737 families.[237] 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.[202] 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.

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."[238]

Boeing also played down the scope of MCAS to regulators. The company "never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to FAA officials involved in determining pilot training needs"[239]. On March 30, 2016, the Max’s chief technical pilot requested senior FAA officials to remove MCAS from the pilot’s manual. The officials had been briefed on the original version of MCAS but Boeing never disclosed that MCAS was being significantly overhauled.[239]

Certification inquiriesEdit

The main cause of the accidents is not yet determined; however, Ethiopian Airlines rejects the accusation of piloting error.[240] Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg acknowledged that MCAS played a role in both crashes.[198]

As with any other FAA certification, the MAX certification included: reviews to show that system designs and the MAX complied with FAA regulations; gound tests and flight tests; evaluation of the airplane's required maintenance and operational suitability; collaboration with other civil aviation authorities on aircraft approval. The FAA has never allowed companies to police themselves or self-certify their aircraft.[241] However, the FAA delegated to Boeing vast portions of the certification process.

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 U.S. federal grand jury issued a subpoena on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department for documents related to development of the 737 MAX.[242][243][244][245] On March 19, 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation requested the Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit on the 737 MAX certification process[246] and Congress also announced an investigation into the same process.[247] The FBI has joined the criminal investigation into the certification as well.[248][249] FBI agents reportedly visited the homes of Boeing employees in “knock-and-talks”.[250]

Members of Congress and government investigators expressed concern about FAA rules that allowed Boeing to extensively "self-certify" aircraft.[251][252] FAA acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said “We do not allow self-certification of any kind”.[253] 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.[254][202] By 2018, the FAA was letting Boeing certify 96 percent of its own work.[255]

On April 2, 2019, after receiving reports from whistle-blowers 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.[256][257][258]

On April 19, it was announced that a Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) team of experts from nine civil aviation authorities has formed to investigate how MCAS was approved by the FAA, whether changes need to be made in the FAA's regulatory process and whether the design of MCAS complies with regulations.[259] CNN reported on August 20 that the JATR is near completion of the review, though it remains unclear whether the recommendations will be made public.[260]

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 whistle-blowers could testify even if they had agreed to a gag order as a condition of a settlement with Boeing.[261]

In a July 31 senate hearing, the FAA defended its administrative actions following the Lion Air accident, noting that standard protocol in ongoing crash investigations limited the information that could be provided in the airworthiness directive. The agency had recognized that pilot actions played a significant role in the Lion Air accident, and did not dispute that FAA officials believed a recurrence of MCAS malfunction was likely, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.[262][263]

Mark Forkner, formerly Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the MAX project, has invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, to avoid submitting documents to federal prosecutors investigating the crashes.[264]

In September, a U.S. Congress panel asked Boeing's CEO to make several employees available for interviews, to complement the documents and the senior management perspective already provided.[265]

System safety analysisEdit

In March 2019, reports emerged that Boeing performed the original System Safety Analysis, and FAA technical staff felt that managers pressured them to sign off on it. Boeing managers also pressured engineers to limit safety testing during the analysis.[236]

On March 6, 2019, four days prior to the Ethiopian crash, The Seattle Times requested comments from Boeing and FAA regarding their safety analysis of MCAS. On March 17, a week after the crash, the newspaper ran the story with following findings from aviation engineers:[202]

  • The analysis downplayed MCAS's capability of pushing down the plane nose to avert a stall;[202]
  • After the Lion Air crash, Boeing released a service bulletin informing airlines that 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;[202]
  • MCAS could reset itself after each pilot response to repeatedly pitch the aircraft down;[202]
  • MCAS failure was assessed as "hazardous", one level below "catastrophic", but even then it should not rely on a single sensor.[202]

In its safety analysis for the 737 MAX, Boeing stated the assumption that pilots trained on standard Boeing 737 safety procedures should be able to properly assess contradictory warnings and act effectively within four seconds.[266]

Crew manuals, pilot training and simulatorsEdit

Boeing considered MCAS a hidden detail of the flight control system and did not describe it in the flight manual or in training materials, based on the fundamental design philosophy of retaining commonality with the 737NG.[202] The 1,600-page flight crew manual mentions the term MCAS once, in the glossary.[267]

The Boeing service bulletin[268][269] dated November 6, 2018, issued after the Lion Air crash, referred to a "pitch trim system" that could be triggered by erroneous Angle of Attack information when the aircraft is under manual control, and reminded pilots of various indications and effects that can result from this erroneous information.[270] In the months between the accidents, the FAA Aviation Safety Reporting System received numerous U.S. pilot complaints of the aircraft's unexpected behaviors, and how the crew manual lacked any description of the system.[271] Most air regulatory agencies, including the FAA, Transport Canada and EASA, didn't require specific training on MCAS. Brazil's national civil aviation agency "was one of the only civil aviation authorities to require specific training for the operation of the 737-8 Max".[272]

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.[273][274]

On May 17, after discovering 737 MAX flight simulators could not adequately replicate MCAS activation,[275] Boeing corrected the software to improve the force feedback of the manual trim wheel and to ensure realism.[276] 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.[277]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.[278][279] 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."[280][201] The "differences training" is the subject of worry by senior industry training experts.[281]

Textron-owned simulator maker TRU Simulation + Training anticipates a transition course but not mandatory simulator sessions in minimum standards being developed by Boeing and the FAA.[282]

On July 24, Boeing indicated that some regulatory agencies may mandate simulator training before return to service, and also expected some airlines to require simulator sessions even if these are not mandated.[283]

ReactionsEdit

AircrewEdit

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.[284][285] 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."[286] 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.[284]

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 systems such as the MCAS are not fully described in the aircraft flight manual.[287][288] Captain Mike Michaelis, chairman of the safety committee of the Allied Pilots Association at American Airlines said "It's pretty asinine for them to put a system on an airplane and not tell the pilots … especially when it deals with flight controls".[289]

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.[290] 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.[291] 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."[292]

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,[293] while pilot unions such as the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association,[294] APA, and ALPA, expressed confidence in continued operation of the aircraft.[295]

BoeingEdit

Accidents and groundingEdit

 
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.[296][297]

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."[298] Boeing said "in light of" the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the company would postpone the scheduled March 13 public roll-out ceremony for the first completed Boeing 777X.[299]

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."[300]

After the grounding, Boeing suspended 737 MAX deliveries to customers, but continued production at a rate of 52 aircraft per month.[301] In mid-April, the production rate was reduced to 42 aircraft per month.[302] In May 2019, Boeing reported a 56% drop in plane deliveries year on year.[303] In July 2019, after reporting its financial results, Boeing stated that it would consider further reducing or even shutting down production if the grounding lasts longer than expected.[304][283] On August 23, Boeing announced that if the plane would be allowed to return to service by October 2019, production would return from 42 aircraft per month to 52 by the end of February, and then climb to 57 per month by summer 2020.[305]

Investigation feedbackEdit

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.[306] On April 11, Boeing said it had completed 96 test flights with the updated software.[307][308] The FAA stated it anticipated clearing the software update by March 25, 2019, allowing Boeing to distribute it to the grounded fleets.[309] On April 1, the FAA announced the software upgrade was delayed because more work was necessary.[310]

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.[311][312]

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".[198]

In an earnings call that took place on April 24, 2019, Muilenburg said the aircraft was properly designed and certificated, and denied that any "technical slip or gap" existed. He said there were "actions or actions not taken that contributed to the final outcome".[313] 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.[314][315]

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."[222] On May 29, Muilenburg acknowledged that the crashes had damaged the public's trust.[316] 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."[221]

On August 4, 2019, Boeing stated they conducted around 500 test flights with updated software,[317] and Wired reported that one test flight involved multiple altitude changes.[318]

Corporate structureEdit

Following panel review recommendations, Boeing has strengthened its engineering oversight. Muilenburg now receives weekly reports of potential safety issues from rank-and-file engineers - thousands will report to chief engineers rather than to separate programs, helping them reach senior management more effectively.[319]

In September 2019, the New York Times reported that Boeing board will call for structural changes after 737 Max crashes: changing corporate reporting structures, a new safety group, future plane cockpits designed for new pilots with less training. The committee, established in April, did not investigate the Max crashes, but produced the first findings for a reform of Boeing's internal structures since then. It will recommend engineers to report to the chief engineer rather than business management, to avoid pressure from business leaders against engineers who identify safety issues. The committee found that inter-group communication was lacking within engineering and between Seattle offices and corporate headquarters during the certification work. The safety group will ensure information is shared and the certification work is independent. The group will report to senior leadership and a new permanent committee on the board.[320]

Current and former employeesEdit

In May 2019, engineers said that Boeing pushed to limit safety testing to accelerate planes certification, including 737 MAX.[321] FAA said it has "received no whistleblower complaints or any other reports ... alleging pressure to speed up 737 MAX certification." Former engineers at Boeing blamed company executives of cost-cutting, over more than a decade, yielding to low morale and reduced engineering staffing, which "they argue contributed to two recent deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 Max jets."[322]

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.[323][324]

In July 2019, Boeing announced the retirement of 737 program leader Eric Lindblad, the second person to depart that post in two years. He held the job less than a year, but was not involved in development of the MAX. His predecessor, Scott Campbell, retired in August 2018, amid late deliveries of 737 MAX engines and other components. Lindblad assumed the role shortly before the program became embattled in two accidents and ongoing groundings. He will be succeeded by Mark Jenks, vice president of the Boeing New Midsize Airplane program and previously in charge of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.[325][326][relevant? ]

AirbusEdit

 
An A319neo with the CFM-LEAP engine

In May 2019, executives of Boeing competitor Airbus told reporters they do not view the relationship between Boeing and the FAA as having been corrupted. They compared the EASA and the FAA, saying: "EASA has a slightly different mandate than the FAA. EASA is a purely safety orientated agency".[327] Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer did 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 stated: "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 continued to earn customer orders in the wake of the 737 MAX grounding, booking over US$11 billion in orders,[328] with similar additional orders from airlines that are either cancelling their 737 MAX orders altogether, or reducing quantities.[329] Airbus also announced the Airbus A320-family A321XLR variant at the June 2019 Paris Air Show.

The Airbus A320neo and the 737 MAX both use engines from the CFM LEAP family, with different thrust rating / requirements. After EASA identified a common risk of excess pitch, Airbus made a preemptive change to the flight manual to protect the aircraft in such situations.[330][331]

PoliticalEdit

  • On March 11, just after the FAA reaffirmed the MAX's 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".[332][333][45][334][335]
  • On March 12, U.S. 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.[336][337][338] 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.[339]
  • 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.[340][341][342] 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."[342] Warren went as far as to question if the Trump administration was protecting Boeing.[343][importance?]
  • Kyrsten Sinema among other U.S. Senators at a March 28, 2019, hearing questioned a panel of regulators in the committee responsible for aviation oversight in the US Senate, "Is there more we need to do?" [344] 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?"[345]
  • 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."[346]

AirlinesEdit

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"[347] American Airlines was the first U.S. airline to cancel a route when it canceled its route from Dallas, Texas to Oakland, California.[348]

Southwest Airlines 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.[349][350] On July 26, the airline announced it would stop operations out of Newark Liberty International Airport due to the groundings.[351]

United Airlines' CEO Oscar Munoz said that passengers would still feel uncertain about flying on a Boeing 737 MAX even after the software update.[352] United announced the cancellation of a route between Chicago, Illinois and Leon, Mexico.[353]

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".[354] 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".[355] 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.[356]

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".[357]

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 US$24 billion.[358]

Bjorn Kjos, ex-CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle who stepped down in July, stated in July that the company "has a huge appetite for 737 MAX jets", according to a report from American City Business Journals.[359] He had said : "It is quite obvious that we will not take the cost... We will send this bill to those who produced this aircraft."[360]

In mid-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.[361] By the end of July, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary expressed further concerns and frustration with the delays and revealed that, in parallel with discussions with Boeing regarding a potential order for new aircraft to be delivered from 2023, he was also talking to Airbus which was offering very aggressive pricing.[362]

Industry expertsEdit

On March 12, 2019, 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.[363]

Retired airline captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who gained fame in the Miracle on the Hudson accident in 2009, said, "These crashes are demonstrable evidence that our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us. These accidents should never have happened." [364] He 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. "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."[365] He said AoA indicators might have helped in these two crashes. “It is ironic that most modern aircraft measure (angle of attack) and that information is often used in many aircraft systems, but it is not displayed to pilots. Instead, pilots must infer (angle of attack) from other parameters, deducing it indirectly.” [366]

Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 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."[367] James E. Hall, chairman of the NTSB from 1994 to 2001, blamed the FAA regulators for giving too much power to the airline industry.[242][368] In July, Hall and Goelz co-signed an opinion letter to The New York Times, in which they said: "Boeing has found a willing partner in the FAA, which allowed the company to circumvent standard certification processes so it could sell aircraft more quickly. Boeing's inadequate regard for safety and the FAA's complicity display an unconscionable lack of leadership at both organizations." The letter went on to compare the current crisis with Boeing's handling of Boeing 737 rudder issues in the 1990s.[368]

Andrew Skow, a former Northrop Grumman chief engineer, assessed Boeing as having good track record modernizing of the 737, but, “They may have pushed it too far.”[369]

A former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Andrew Kornecki, who is an expert in redundancy systems, said operating with one or two sensors "would be fine if all the pilots were sufficiently trained in how to assess and handle the plane in the event of a problem". But, he would much prefer building the plane with three sensors, as Airbus does.[370]

Lawyers, analysts and experts considered Boeing's public statements to be contradictory and unconvincing.[371] 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.[372][373]

John Goglia, former member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), criticized Boeing and the FAA for not protecting FAA-designated oversight engineers from Boeing management pressure. Commenting on the 2016 removal of a senior engineer who had insisted on improved testing of a fire suppression system, he said that management action of this kind produces a chilling effect on others and "negates the whole system."[321]

Engineering experts have pointed out misconceptions of the general public and media concerning the 737 MAX characteristics and the crashes.[374]

Consumer advocatesEdit

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".[375][376]

In May 2019, the consumer advocate organization Flyers Rights opposed the FAA's position of not requiring simulator training for 737 MAX pilots. It also asked to extend the comment period to allow independent experts to "share their expertise with the FAA and Boeing".[377]

PublicEdit

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.[378] In July, Southwest Airlines reprinted aircraft safety cards that were shared between the MAX and the rest of the Southwest 737-800 fleet.[379]

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 one to three months, not mattering much as airliner procurement time-frames are five to ten-plus years.[380]

Financial impactEdit

Boeing reported a record quarterly loss of $2.9bn in the second quarter of 2019, as it provisioned $4.9bn for airlines compensation. Its inventory has grown by $6bn, it has postponed development of the Boeing New Midsize Airplane and its stock market value has dropped by $62bn as its share price lost 25% between March and August 2019. Including the knock-on cost for airlines and the supply chain, the groundings cost $4bn per quarter. At the time of the grounding, Boeing's annual revenue was $100bn, 60% of which came from sales to airliners. The 737 MAX represented one third of sales to airlines. The company had a 10% profit margin, for an annual profit of $10bn. It employed 137,000 people in the United States and paid $45bn to 13,600 domestic suppliers, which employed a further 1.3 million people, accounting for about 1% of the American workforce. [381]

AirlinesEdit

On March 13, Norwegian 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."[382] 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."[383] On April 10 state-owned China Eastern Airlines requested compensation from Boeing over the disruptions.[384]

Airlines have countered the capacity loss by extending leases, deferring maintenance, rearranging aircraft assignments, and canceling flights; most have removed the 737 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.[385] Chinese carriers estimates the cost of the grounding at CNY4 billion ($579 million) by the end of June.[386] 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.[387]

With 34 737 MAXs, Southwest has cancelled thousands of flights and revealed a $175m hit to pre-tax profits in the second quarter. American Airlines has scrapped 115 flights a day, lowering full-year profits by $350m.

Brazil’s Gol expects to spend respectively 1% and 2% more than planned on fuel in the third and fourth quarters of 2019, according to its Chief Financial Officer.[388]

Globally, OAG estimates that the grounding will cost airlines $4bn of sales by November.[381]

LitigationEdit

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.[389]

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.[citation needed]

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.[390] 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.[390]

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 initially did not explain how it would allocate the money.[391][392] Boeing later announced it dedicates half to distribute to families of victims, under the oversight of veteran U.S. compensation expert Ken Feinberg. The remainder is reserved for government and community projects. Boeing said that the fund distributions are independent from the outcome of lawsuits.[393]

OrdersEdit

At the time of the grounding, Boeing had 4,636 unfilled orders worldwide for the 737 MAX.[394] Following the grounding, Boeing suspended deliveries of 737 MAX aircraft to customers, and slowed 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.[395] The total magnitude of the unfilled orders was estimated at $600 billion.[396]

On March 11, the day after Ethiopian Airlines crash, Lion Air announced its plans to drop a US$22 billion order with Boeing in favor of Airbus aircraft.[397] On March 22, Indonesian flag carrier Garuda Indonesia requested the cancellation of 49 orders, citing "Garuda passengers in Indonesia have lost trust and no longer have the confidence".[398]

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.[399]

On June 3, Azerbaijan Airlines planned to postpone its order of 10 737 MAX 8s.[400] On July 7, Saudi Arabian budget carrier flyadeal put on hold its order of 30 737 MAX 8s, planning to replace it with the Airbus A320neo family.[401] On July 29, Turkish Airlines was considering plans to cancel all its remaining Boeing 737 MAX orders, namely for 54 737 MAX 8s and nine 737 MAX 9s, in favor of the Airbus A320neo and additional Airbus A321neo due to safety concerns and loss of trust and confidence with the 737 MAX.[402] On July 31, China Southern Airlines said it was suspending its order for 64 737 MAX 8s, which were due to join the 26 already in its fleet.[403]

Key contractual provisions, including the right to cancel delayed deliveries, come into effect on October 1 for a number of major customers, and analysts therefore expect more cancellations from that date.[404] As of August 2019, no new orders had been added to the 737 MAX backlog for the sixth consecutive month,[405] though none had been canceled either.[381]

In August, Russian Rostec's subsidiary Avia, filed a lawsuit in the USA to cancel an order for 35 MAX jets.[406][407]

Boeing's profitability, stock price, outlookEdit

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.[396] By March 23, the stock had lost 18% of its value, which represented a $40 billion drop in market capitalization.[408] On April 8, 2019, Bank of America downgraded Boeing's stock after production of the 737 MAX was reduced.[409] 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".[410]

On April 24, Boeing released its first-quarter results.[411] 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.[412][413] Boeing also blamed the grounding for a 21% drop in quarterly profits relative to the quarterly profits from the previous year.[414]

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.[415] 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.[416] On July 22, Fitch Ratings and Moody's lowered Boeing's outlooks to negative from stable, in light of the 737 MAX situation.[417]

On July 24, Boeing released its second-quarter results. The company reported a $2.9 billion loss due to the groundings.[418] It also warned that production might need to be reduced or even suspended if the groundings last longer than Boeing's current assumptions of a return to service in the fourth quarter of 2019.[283] In July 2019, Boeing desisted from a $60 billion Pentagon procurement to replace land-based nuclear missiles. Some analysts[weasel words] said that Boeing's ability to pursue big military projects is reduced due to the financial cost of the groundings.[419]

SuppliersEdit

As it gets half its revenues supplying 737 fuselages, Spirit AeroSystems saw margins slip and is cutting work time while it lost 28% of its market capitalisation ($3bn) since March. As it is paid only on plane deliveries, the cashflow of the MAX engines supplier, a joint venture General Electric and Safran, could be reduced by $1.4bn in 2019. Composite materials supplier Allegheny Technologies has been similarly hit, but others like UTC or Senior plc are more insulated.[381]

As of September 2019, Safran expects to see the groundings affect its finances in the second half of 2019. The "decrease of pre-payments for future deliveries" is expected to reduce free cash flow in each semester by €300 million.[420]

Aviation insuranceEdit

The insurance payout will likely be the biggest ever, according to S&P Global Ratings. According to director Marc-Philippe Juilliard, the crashes and the groundings of the MAX since March are "worst disaster in the history" of aviation insurance.[421]

Return to serviceEdit

Aviation authoritiesEdit

By convention, aviation regulators worldwide accept the certification of aircraft from the country of manufacture and do not review those certifications in much detail.[422] For example, Canada accepted FAA’s MAX certification in June 2017 under a bilateral agreement.[423]

The FAA was seeking consensus with other regulators to approve the return to service to avoid suspicion of undue cooperation with Boeing.[424] 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.[425]

The FAA does not have a timetable on when the 737 MAX will return to service,[426] stating that it is guided by a "thorough process, not a prescribed timeline."[427]

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Transport Canada announced they will independently verify FAA recertification of the 737 MAX.[422] In March, Canadian Minister of Transport Garneau said that Transport Canada will do its own certification of Boeing's software update “even if it’s certified by the FAA.”[423] In a letter sent to the FAA on April 1st, EASA stated four conditions for recertification: "1. Design changes proposed by Boeing are EASA approved (no delegation to FAA) 2. Additional and broader independent design review has been satisfactorily completed by EASA 3. Accidents of JT610 and ET302 are deemed sufficiently understood 4. B737 MAX flight crews have been adequately trained." [54]

In a May 22 statement, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) reaffirmed the need to independently certify the 737 MAX software and pilot training.[428] In addition to system analysis mentioned above, EASA raised concerns with the autopilot not engaging or disengaging upon request, or that the manual trim wheel is electronically counteracted upon, or requires substantial physical force to overcome the aerodynamic effects in flight.[429]

The FAA has identified new risks of failure during thorough testing. As a result, Boeing will make the overall flight-control computer more redundant and both computers will operate on each flight instead of alternating between flights. The planes were said to be unlikely to resume operations until 2020.[430][431][236]

In September, EASA stated it is satisfied with changes to the flight control computer architecture ; improved crew procedures and training are considered a simplification but still work in progress; the integrity of the angle of attack system is still not appropriately covered by Boeing's response. EASA recommends a flight test to evaluate aircraft performance with and without the MCAS. [432][54][433]

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) invited global regulators "to review pilot licensing requirements". It is the first time ICAO will undertake such a broad review.[434][435] 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.[436]

On June 27, Belgium issued a NOTAM prohibiting the 737-8 MAX and -9 MAX until 2020.[437][importance?] By the end of July, the software amendment was expected to be submitted to the authorities in October, not September as previously indicated.[362]

On August 22, the FAA announced that it would invite pilots from around the world, intended to be a representative cross-section of "ordinary" 737 pilots, to participate in simulator tests as part of the recertification process, at a date to be determined.[438] The evaluation group sessions are one of the final steps in the validation of flight-control computer software updates and will involve around 30 pilots, including some first officers with multi-crew pilot licenses which emphasize simulator experience rather than flight hours. The FAA hopes that the feedback from pilots with more varied experience will enable it to determine more effective training standards for the aircraft.[439]

In August, reports of friction between Boeing Co. and international air-safety authorities emerged. A Boeing briefing was stopped short by FAA, EASA, and other regulators, who complained that Boeing had "failed to provide technical details and answer specific questions about modifications in the operation of MAX flight-control computers."[440][441] A U.S. official confirmed frustration with some of Boeing's answers.[442]

In September, EASA said it will send its own test pilots and engineers to fly certification flight tests of the modified 737 MAX. EASA also said it prefers a design that takes readings from three independent Angle of Attack sensors.[214]

UAE's Director General of the General Civil Aviation Authority, Said Mohammed al-Suwaidi, announced GCAA will conduct its own assessment, rather than follow the FAA. The UAE regulator had yet not seen Boeing’s fixes in detail.[443]

BoeingEdit

Boeing initially hoped that flights could resume by July 2019;[444] by June 3, CEO Dennis Muilenburg, expected to have the planes flying by the end of 2019 but declined to provide a timeline.[445] On July 18, Boeing reaffirmed Muilenberg's prediction, hoping to return the MAX to flight during the fourth quarter of 2019. Boeing indicated that this was its best estimate and that the date could still slip.[446]

In September, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg stated that the MAX might return in phases around the world due to the current state of regulatory divide on approving the airplane. [447] Later that same month Boeing told its suppliers that the plane could return to service by November.[448]

Airline projections and policiesEdit

Airlines individually announced return to service dates to facilitate flight reservations and scheduling into the future, as groundings have resulted in route cancellations and postponed retirement of older aircraft.

In April, Southwest and American Airlines estimated that groundings could continue until August 2019.[449] At that stage United Airlines expected its 737 MAXs to remain grounded until July.[450] Air Canada, which also initially descheduled its 737 MAXs until July, pushed their return to August 2019.[451] On May 24, United extended scheduled cancellations until August 2019.[452] At the end of May, the International Air Transport Association expected flights to resume in mid-August.[453]

Emirates chief Sheikh Ahmed gave the furthest projection that pushed the expected date to December 2019, for flydubai's 737 MAX operations, he said, due to a lack of regulator coordination.[454] American Airlines,[455] Southwest Airlines[456][356] and United Airlines[457] all extended their cancellations to September 2 or 3. Southwest and United removed the 737 MAX from their schedules for another month, until October 2.[458]

United,[459] American,[460][461][462][463] and Southwest Airlines[464] further extended their cancellations until the beginning of November. United Airlines announced that it was purchasing 19 used 737-700s for delivery from December;[465] the airline's fleet plan for this timeframe had previously targeted 30 MAXs by the end of 2019 and a further 28 in 2020.[466] Southwest Airlines pulled the planes from its schedule until January 5, 2020[467][468] as well as ceasing all operations at Newark airport.[351][468] Air Canada extended its cancellations until January 8, 2020, cutting its overall capacity, and noted that it could take up to a year to return its 737 MAX fleet to full service.[469]

In August 2019, American Airlines added some 737 MAX routes to its schedule for November and December 2019, in anticipation of the aircraft being returned to service.[470] Icelandair removed the 737 MAX from its schedule until 2020, not anticipating the aircraft's return to service.[471] United Airlines removed the 737 MAX from its schedule until December 19.[472] American Airlines also removed the aircraft from its schedule until December 3.[473]

By September, no Canadian airlines planned to fly the MAX 8 until at least 2020.[474]

United and Southwest announced their back-to-service policies allowing passengers not feeling comfortable flying on a MAX to be put on another flight if "it's not an airplane you want to fly on for whatever reason".[475]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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