Development of the Boeing 737 MAX, to attain cost savings of about 15 percent on fuel, began in 2011 after the successful launch of the Airbus A320neo. The 737 MAX entered service in 2017 after six years of preparation.
The twin crashes, killing 346 people, within a space of less than 5 months have shaken the global aviation community and have cast a shadow over the much hyped Boeing model which was supposed to be a standard.
Chilling details have emerged from the Indonesian Lion Air crash investigation off Jakarta with similarities to the March 10 Ethiopian tragedy.
Experts suspect an automated system, known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) meant to stop stalling by dipping the nose, may be involved in both cases, with pilots unable to override it as their jets plunged downwards.
Both came down just minutes after take-off after erratic flight patterns and loss of control reported by the pilots. However, experts also point out that every accident is a unique chain of human and technical factors.
Though Boeing has promised a swift update of the automatic flight software for the plane and revise pilot training but regulators in Europe and Canada want to be sure themselves, rather than rely on U.S. vetting.
There are several awkward questions. Legal and safety experts have questioned how thoroughly regulators vetted the MAX model and how well pilots were trained on new features.
Today, more than 300 MAX aircraft are grounded round the world, and deliveries of nearly 5,000 more – worth well over $500 billion – are on hold.
The world’s biggest plane maker Boeing is facing various obstacles for the 737 MAX fleet services to resume. Pressure on Boeing has grown immensely. Federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Transportation are scrutinising how carefully the MAX model was developed. The U.S. Justice Department was looking at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Boeing. And a federal grand jury last week issued at least one subpoena to an entity involved in the plane’s development.
The rest of the world is curiously observing the developments.
The European Union’s aviation agency EASA promised its own deep look at Boeing’s software updates and failure modes. Rowing back from previous reliance on U.S. FAA vetting, Canada and the European Union will now seek their own guarantees over the MAX planes, complicating Boeing’s hopes to get them flying worldwide again.
“We will not allow the aircraft to fly if we have not found acceptable answers to all our questions,” its executive director Patrick Ky told an EU parliament committee hearing.
“Whatever the FAA does. OK? This is a personal guarantee that I make in front of you.”
Canada said it would independently certify the MAX in future, rather than accepting FAA validation, and would also send a team to help U.S. authorities evaluate proposed design changes.
Chesley Sullenberger, the U.S. pilot who landed a jet on the Hudson River saving all 155 people on board a decade ago, wrote, “Our credibility as leaders in aviation is being damaged. Boeing and the FAA have been found wanting in this ugly saga that began years ago but has come home to roost with two terrible fatal crashes, with no survivors, in less than five months, on a new airplane type, the Boeing 737 Max 8, something that is unprecedented in modern aviation history.”
The crisis has also put pressure on airline companies.
Norwegian Airlines has already said it will seek compensation after grounding its MAX aircraft.
Various firms are reconsidering Boeing orders, and some are revising financial forecasts given they now cannot count on maintenance and fuel savings factored in from the MAX.
Air Canada intends to keep its MAX aircraft grounded until at least July 1, would accelerate intake of recently acquired Airbus A321 planes, and had hired other carriers to provide extra capacity meantime.