Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Boeing must face questions about the 737 Max

As new details emerge about the craft and its safety certification, answers are urgently needed

Boeing 737 Max 8 planes have been grounded around the world. Reuters/Willy Kurniawan
Boeing 737 Max 8 planes have been grounded around the world. Reuters/Willy Kurniawan

Ten days after the death of 157 people in the Ethiopian Airlines disaster, it has become clear that the US-based aviation company Boeing must face serious questions over the safety of its 737 Max series of aircraft – two of which have crashed in the past five months. According to Ethiopia’s transport minister Dagmawit Moges, black-box data retrieved from the plane in question has revealed “clear similarities” between its fate and that of the Lion Air craft that plummeted into the Java sea in October last year, killing 189.

The cause of these accidents has yet to be confirmed. However, the Seattle Times has uncovered worrying details about the safety certification of the 737 Max series. A recent report has shown that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) outsourced a number of tasks to Boeing, essentially leaving the company to assess the safety of its own product. Given that Airbus had recently launched its rival A320neo plane, Boeing was keen to get the 737 Max into service. It was designed to be similar enough to Boeing’s existing 737 model that pilots would need very little extra training to fly it – a key financial consideration when airlines are purchasing new craft. However, the model has larger engines, placed further forward on its wings. This new design increased the risk of the engines stalling if the plane was angled too sharply upward. To prevent this happening, Boeing introduced the MCAS flight-control system, which dips the plane’s nose in such an event.

The MCAS is an important safety mechanism. However, the pilots’ minimal training did not include how to override it in the event of a malfunction. The FAA received at least 11 reports from pilots concerning the Boeing 737 Max 8 between April and December 2018 – many involving the plane’s nose dipping down while in flight. The pilot of Lion Air flight 610 was also found to have tried to disengage the MCAS 26 times before crashing.

Hundreds of 737 Max planes have now been grounded across the globe. The craft is also banned from UAE airspace. Meanwhile, Canada and the EU have refused to rely on the FAA for answers and will conduct their own investigations into its safety. This lack of confidence affects not only the FAA, but US authorities in general. Only after mounting international pressure did president Donald Trump announced plans to ground the plane. Passengers have also expressed their unease about flying on the 737 Max, which has prompted flight search engine Kayak to add a new feature to filter out certain aircraft models. It is clear that Boeing and US authorities will have to work hard in order to regain the world’s trust. This must start with a firm commitment to always put passenger safety before profit.

Updated: March 20, 2019 07:38 PM

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