Boeing’s 737 nightmare

After the second crash of its latest passenger aircraft model, China has ordered all domestic operators to ground the Boeing 737 MAX fleet pending an inquiry into the safety of the planes. The Boeing 737 MAX is an American narrow-body aircraft series designed and produced by Boeing Commercial Airplanes as the fourth generation of the Boeing 737, succeeding the Boeing 737....

After the second crash of its latest passenger aircraft model, China has ordered all domestic operators to ground the Boeing 737 MAX fleet, pending an inquiry into the safety of the planes. 

Background 

The Boeing 737 MAX is an American narrow-body aircraft series designed and produced by Boeing Commercial Airplanes as the fourth generation of the Boeing 737, succeeding the Boeing 737 Next Generation (NG).

The new 737 generations were launched on August 30, 2011. It performed its first flight on January 29, 2016. The new series gained FAA certification on March 8, 2017. The first delivery was a MAX 8 on May 6, 2017, to Malindo Air, which placed the aircraft into service on May 22, 2017.

As of January 2019, the Boeing 737 MAX has received 5,011 firm orders and delivered 350. The 737 MAX 8 has been involved in two fatal crashes as of March 2019.

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing 737 MAX 8 registration PK-LQP, crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after take-off from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia. The flight was a scheduled domestic flight to Depati Amir Airport, Pangkal Pinang, Indonesia. All 189 onboard died. On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, 737 MAX 8 registration ET-AVJ, crashed approximately six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa. The flight was a scheduled flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya.  All 149 passengers and 8 crew members on board died. The aircraft was only 4 months old at the time.

Analysis 

Chinese airlines have been ordered to ground their Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes after the modern jet suffered a second fatal crash in just five months – with its aviation watchdog noting disturbing similarities between the incidents.

“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity,” the Civil Aviation Administration of China said Monday, emphasizing its principle of zero-tolerance on any safety hazards. All Chinese domestic airlines were requested to suspend the operation of the 737-8s by 6:00 pm local time (10:00 am GMT on March 11, 2019) and, on most routes the jet has already been replaced with older-generation planes.

While the US manufacturer continues to emphasize the jet’s “unmatched reliability” and to market MAX 8 as the customer's preferred choice for “comfortable flying experience,” the latest generation Boeing 737 has a gloomy track record since its commercial debut in 2017, having been involved in two fatal crashes in the last five months.

Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, was a tragedy of truly international magnitude, killing three Russians, eight Americans, four Indians and eight Chinese citizens – in addition to 18 Canadians, 32 Kenyans, eight Italians, nine Ethiopians, six Egyptians, three Australians, four Slovaks and five Dutch persons. Morocco and Poland each lost two of its nationals. Among the passengers were 19 UN Workers representing different nationalities.

While Boeing has sent an investigative team to get to the bottom of the tragedy, Swedish flight-tracking website flightradar24 said the jet displayed an “unstable vertical speed” during its takeoff. Despite worldwide concerns over the aircraft’s safety, Boeing has yet to make a decision on whether to ground the planes globally, pending investigation. Currently, 350 units of the 737 MAX have been delivered worldwide. Another 4,661 are planned for delivery.

Chinese carriers account for about 20 per cent of the plane’s sales, with dozens of Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets already in operation and many more scheduled for delivery. China Southern Airlines Co. has the largest fleet, with 16 of the aircraft, while Air China Ltd. currently operates 14 jets. China Eastern Airlines Corp. has 13 planes in service.

Assessment 

Our assessment is that the two crashes within a span of five months are a serious cause of concern for an industry leader like Boeing. We believe that with modern safety systems, fail-safes and additional safety nets applied to various sub-systems within an aircraft’s main control architecture, fatal crashes should be taken very seriously and a global grounding of the Max 8 fleet should not be ruled out until a full investigation is carried out. 

 

Image Courtesy: Alec Wilson from Khon Kaen, Thailand (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HS-LSI_(44161228802).jpg), „HS-LSI (44161228802)“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

 

Comments