What is the future for Boeing’s 737 Max?

The two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets in just five months has triggered shock waves across the world and to the aviation industry, how will this impact the aerospace giant?

Two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets have occurred in just five months - image courtesy of Boeing.
Two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets have occurred in just five months – image courtesy of Boeing.

The first fatal accident was in October, when a 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea, killing 189 people.

Despite this, Boeing seemed relatively unharmed, with little apparent impact on new orders.

But its Ethiopian Airlines second crash last Sunday (10 March) triggered governments and airlines across the world to suspend the use of the jets or ban them from entering their airspace.

The list now includes the European Union, China, Canada and Australia, as well as airlines in Brazil, Russia, Mexico and Norway.

In the US on Wednesday (13 March), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told the country’s airlines to ground their fleets. This contradicted the FAA’s earlier statements, and the regulator was criticised for not halting the model sooner.

The aircraft

The 737 Max is the newest version of the 737, the best-selling airliner ever. Boeing has taken nearly 5,000 orders for the various Max versions from over 100 customers worldwide.

Airlines across the globe embraced the plane for its fuel efficiency and utility for short and medium-haul flights.

Before Sunday’s crash, the 737 Max planes were frequently used, taking more than 9,000 flights in a single week and reaching almost every continent. 

Heightened safety concerns

The accidents have raised questions over Boeing’s insistence that the Max 737 was (and is) safe to fly.

The crashes could be more detrimental to Boeing if investigators find fault in the aircraft’s design or similarities between the two incidents, something that could certainly shape Boeing’s fortunes.

The aircraft will remain grounded until May at least in the US – image courtesy of Boeing.

The aircraft will remain grounded until May at least in the US until a software update can be tested and installed, the FAA said.

Boeing’s response

Boeing said in a statement on Tuesday (12 March), one day before the US grounded the model, “Safety is Boeing’s number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max.

“We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets.

“We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets. The US’s Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

Boeing said that it has been working closely with the FAA on the development, planning and certification of a software enhancement to be deployed across the 737 Max fleet in the coming weeks.

However the following day, the FAA ordered the grounding of the aircraft, citing the action was a result of the “data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analysed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.”

What happens next

The Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) will receive the black box recorder that will reveal flight data, technical information and cockpit voice recorders to investigate exactly what happened on the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.

Both incidents are still under investigation, but the preliminary satellite tracking data suggests they might have been caused by a faulty automated system designed to prevent the plane from stalling, known as MCAS.

Boeing is a global aviation leader in the design and manufacture of aircraft. However, the findings will likely dictate the future for its 737 Max model and how the company should proceed in ensuring maximum safety of its aircraft.