During a congressional hearing last week Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Stephen Dickson chastised Boeing for attempting to rush the recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX. Administrator Dickson reassured lawmakers that the FAA would take its time with the process in an effort to avoid the same mistakes the regulatory agency made when it originally cleared the plane for service. Now, Boeing has announced it will temporarily halt production of the fatally flawed aircraft beginning in January.
Faced with the reality that the certification process for its MAX will be much longer than Boeing hoped, it opted to halt production in order to buy time to deliver the 400 completed airplanes that have not been delivered since a worldwide ban was implemented in March after the second of two deadly crashes. The crashes claimed the lives of 346 people. Industry insiders believe the MAX will be cleared for service again, yet no timeline has been established and problems that keep arising with the aircraft continue pushing any estimated time frame further into the future.
Boeing has been working to develop a software fix for the aircraft’s defective flight control system, the MCAS, which investigators believe to have caused the two crashes. Boeing added the MCAS system, which operated inconspicuously in the background, to counteract the tendency of the nose of the 737 Max jets to point up – a problem created when Boeing installed heavier engines in a higher position on the wings. Authorities investigating the crashes found that the MCAS misfired in both cases, receiving erroneous data from a faulty exterior angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor. MCAS processed that data and sent the planes into unnecessary anti-stall maneuvers that repeatedly forced the aircraft’s nose downward.
The production halt will be the biggest for Boeing’s assembly line in more than two decades and the extent of the halt will depend on when regulators agree to lift the ban on the MAX aircraft. Administrator Dickson has said that the process for approving any fixes and updates for the MAX will take as long as necessary to ensure air traveler safety and that no part of the process will be delegated, as before, to Boeing. He also encouraged agency staff to be very thorough in the review process.
The halt’s length is also dependent upon the findings of other regulatory agencies throughout the world. Prior to the MAX debacle, most aviation regulators followed the FAA’s lead. The FAA’s certification and approval of the MAX has been scrutinized and diminished the agency’s standing in the global aviation safety community. Regulators in a number of countries have vowed to independently determine when the MAX is safe enough to fly within their borders.
Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that the halt should not affect his company or employees because it doesn’t plan to lay off workers assigned to the 737 MAX. However, he wasn’t as positive about the fate of Boeing’s suppliers.
“Boeing made some really bad decisions and seemingly misled U.S. regulators because it was motivated by greed,” said Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews who focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation and currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims. “Unfortunately, as we often see, the results of those bad decisions keep spreading. The burden is then shared by consumers and other businesses, and the ripple effects of those outcomes impact economies worldwide.”
In designing the 737 Max, Boeing was racing to compete with Airbus, the European manufacturer whose more fuel-efficient A320neo had already hit the market. The A320neo was virtually the same as previous generations of the aircraft only more fuel-efficient. Boeing said its 737 Max planes also would operate like the old 737s, yet the new plane’s physical design flaw gave it different flight characteristics – namely, the tendency for the nose to drift upward. Rather than redesign the plane aerodynamically, Boeing created the MCAS software to correct the deficiency but introduced another set of defects.
CNBC reported that orders for large jets have declined in recent months. It said, “[t]he boom in airplane orders is over for Boeing and Airbus” and described how the two rivals and largest aircraft manufacturers in the world enjoyed some of the largest airplane sales in aviation history over the last decade. The business news outlet also said that “[t]he biggest shock by far has been the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX” in describing factors that contributed to the shift in sales.
The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) also warned that aviation industry profitability is being threatened. The group’s leaders met in November at the 63rd AAPA Assembly of Presidents to discuss the changing economic environment and determine ways to prepare for success in the future despite the economic shifts.
In addition to his Ethiopian Airlines crash clients, Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.