FAA confirms more Boeing 737 Max problems
Tuesday, June 04, 2019
It has been almost three months since a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia in March. Subsequent months have produced an especially tense safety review process since the 737 Max 8 plane model is the most common in the world. After three high-profile incidents within the past nine months, Boeing is in the midst of a greater discussion on airline regulations and safety standards.
Now, it looks like the 737 Max will be grounded until at least August. What went wrong?
At first, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it located an alert system malfunction linked to the two biggest recent crashes.
The system, known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), is blamed for the crashes: "While the original version relied on data from at least two types of sensors, the final version used just one, leaving the system without a critical safeguard. In both doomed flights, pilots struggled as a single damaged sensor sent the planes into irrecoverable nose-dives within minutes, killing 346 people and prompting regulators around the world to ground the Max."
This important alert system issue was never reported to the FAA, and it was also removed from the 737 Max Super 8 pilot manual. Therefore, most 737 Max pilots did not know about the system until after last October’s Java Sea crash.
As The New York Times summarizes: "The disasters might have been avoided, if employees and regulators had a better understanding of MCAS."
So that’s one problem leading to the fatal crashes, but not the only one.
The FAA also states that its 737 planes may also have faulty wing parts, in addition to the already acknowledged alert system problems. These faulty parts can also be found on other models, "like Boeing’s Next Generation (NG) and Max aircraft, including 32 NG and 33 Max jets."
More accurately, worldwide "133 NG and 179 Max planes are affected and of those, 32 Boeing 737 NG and 33 Boeing Max planes" in the U.S. are affected.
To respond to the news of flawed wing parts, airline companies — including Southwest and Alaska Airlines — have 10 days to respond to an “airworthiness directive mandating service” action.
This is especially important for Southwest, since the company uses 750 Boeing 737s in its fleet.
International civil aviation authorities have been notified, but they don’t all have the same response. Boeing is currently fixing the 737 software malfunction, but there’s disagreement between the U.S. and Canada about how to train pilots on software.
In the U.S., it appears simply using computers for training is sufficient, but in Canada they want to use flight simulators for training on this program.
Pilot training is one major issue, and there are more. The issue of inspections and quality control were taken up by the International Association of Machinists after it was discovered the company’s plan to phase out human inspectors in favor of an automated system. An example of this new automation is "a ‘smart wrench’ used to tighten nuts in hydraulic lines on Boeing’s 737 and 777 programs."
This automated inspection plan was already controversial before this year’s crashes. Now with news that other models additional to the 737 may have parts defects, it’s not the best time to be rolling out the new Quality Transformation program.
In fact, as the news of the 737’s grounding until at least August spreads, it will be difficult to institute a controversial automation program at all. And the company is losing money, as orders are being cancelled amidst rumors of faulty parts.
The Azerbaijan airline, AZAL, postponed a 737 Max order for 10 planes, resulting in a loss of $790 million. And that’s just one order. An Indian airline, Garuda, has also cancelled a $6 billion order for 737s. Lion Air, which has grounded its 737 fleet since the Ethiopia crash, reports a $20 million loss already.
Boeing stock is down, and its losses will be in the billions by summer’s end as more orders get cancelled. It is also expected that the 737 Max may need a serious rebranding after earning such a sullied reputation, and that effort will also cost the company money, too.
Whether Boeing can achieve a full financial recovery will be decided by, among other things, how candid and direct the company is with its partners and the public about its product shortfalls, which, in this case, are directly linked to hundreds of deaths.
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