Boeing says the Boeing 737 MAX is ready; pending FAA approval

On March 12th, 2 days after the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 crash the whole world grounded the Boeing 737 MAX. While airlines are scrambling to find parking spaces to store their 737 MAX’s, Boeing is trying to solve its issues with the type, while also looking for space in order to put the built 737’s somewhere.

Boeing is definitely not canceling the 737 MAX, because the company believes it can fly again. But the worst case scenario of Airbus pressuring Boeing into the MAX has turned into a hellish scenario, as now the American aircraft manufacturer is blamed for the deaths of 346 people.

The two accidents have destroyed the reputation of Boeing, as the media revealed more and more shocking facts about the 737 MAX.

From lackluster training, lobbyism and greed over the manufacturing of the aircraft to the fact that Boeing did not even inform the pilots about MCAS, the company has two huge tasks on their hands.

Firstly, getting the update ready. Secondly, repairing the reputation of the company.

And one of those tasks is going better for Boeing than the other.

Why does the MAX need an update?

Before we dig into the news about the fact that the update is ready, finding out the reason behind the update is a must.

It all goes back to 2011 when American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) surprised everyone and went from an all-Boeing airline to ordering 260 Airbus A320neos and A320ceos.

Boeing did not want or need this – the aircraft manufacturer planned to design a new jet and stop building the 737. But Boeing had no other choice, as American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) also placed an order for 100 re-engined 737s, which did not even exist yet.

So, pressured by time and customers, the design team prepared their drafts for the new 737, called the MAX. New engines, new split-tip winglets, revised APU inlet, taller nose gear and other improvements were added to the Boeing 737, the company’s most popular jet.

But the new engines created an issue. The Leap-1B was a much bigger engine than the previous CFM56-7B used on the 737 NG. So, the engineers had to mount the engines much further forward than normal. As a result of this, Boeing had another issue – the aircraft was prone to stalling.

LEAP-1B Engine of the Boeing 737 MAX. u/coasterjake on reddit

In order to counteract the stalling, Boeing installed MCAS, a system that automatically makes adjustments to the angle of attack and prevents the 737 MAX from plunging into the ground. The system activates under very unique circumstances – if the AoA is very high, autopilot is off, flaps are up and if the aircraft is in a very steep turn.

Not working as intended

However, as we now know, it did the exact opposite – MCAS essentially doomed the passengers on Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 and Lion Air Flight JT 610.

As more details emerged about MCAS and the systems on the MAX, the general public found out that MCAS relies on only one of two AoA sensors on the aircraft. So, if the one sensor that MCAS relies on is broken, well, you better know how to disable the system.

The Lion Air pilots did not. Boeing simply did not provide any information on how to do so.

An alert, which notified the pilots about the AoA sensors disagreeing, was only an optional extra that airlines received after paying for AoA indicators. The preliminary reports about the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes revealed that both times, the AoA indicators showcased different numbers.

So, if Boeing only included the alert as a standard feature, which they will do now, the aircraft most likely would not have even lifted off the ground.

But Boeing is sticking to their guns – in a press release Boeing has said that they provide all data and information needed to safely operate the aircraft in the flight deck. The AoA disagree alert is not a necessity and only a feature.

Nevertheless, that showcases how rushed and irresponsible the certification and manufacturing process was, considering the fact that the pilots did not fully know what kind of systems there are on the aircraft. Greed and carelessness played a huge part in the death of 346 people.

But what will the new update bring to the table?

Updating the software of the Boeing 737 MAX

In one of the many press releases following the accidents, Boeing stated that the new update will have additional barriers to prevent MCAS from activating mistakenly. In short, the software on the Boeing 737 MAX will:

  • Include an AoA disagree alert on the flight deck;
  • MCAS will now compare the different AoA sensors; If a disagreement between the sensors is more than 5.5 degrees when the flaps are up, MCAS will not activate;
  • MCAS will only add one input. Previous to this, the system would have been able to provide multiple inputs to correct the AoA;
  • The pilots will always have the ability to override MCAS, as the system won’t be able to adjust the horizontal stabilizer more than the pilots could adjust it.

Boeing 737 MAX Flight Deck

In addition, instead of training the pilots on iPads, the pilots that want to achieve a 737 MAX type rating will have to go through a 21 day long learning process. Instructors will provide help during the whole course. If a pilot is switching from the NG, an older version of the Boeing 737, the training procedures will include computer-based lectures and a manual review. The lectures will include information about MCAS and changes regarding the update. In order to achieve their Boeing 737 MAX type rating, the pilots will also have to analyze a flight crew operations bulletin, an updated speed trim fail checklist and a new quick reference handbook.

Update is complete

While these changes will definitely improve the training and flying operations, these changes yet again showcase the negligence from Boeing and the FAA for approving the aircraft in the first place. Cutting corners in order to cut through the competition is never a good move, especially in aviation.

And on 16th of May, 2019, Boeing has announced that the update is completed. The company made 207 test flights on a simulator and a real MAX model, which equals to more than 360 hours.

Boeing will inform the FAA about the new MCAS and flight deck display updates. As the FAA understands and approves these updates, the two parties will schedule a certification flight.

Subsequently, the new system will be submitted for documentation.

Customer trust

Aviation is an industry where customer trust is the number one factor. If I, as a passenger, cannot trust one type of aircraft to fly me safely between point A and point B, means that either I do not travel at all, or that I choose only one aircraft manufacturer to travel with.

As a result, everybody loses. An airline loses a customer and their profits take a hit, which means they cannot order any new aircraft. Consequently, the aircraft manufacturer also loses a new customer.

So, the chain of events causes everyone to lose out. In this case, both Boeing and Airbus do suffer. Airlines, which have ordered the MAX and received the type for them are also not in a good shape. For example, Norwegian Air Shuttle has stated that they will demand compensation from Boeing. The Norwegian airline has 18 MAX’s in their fleet.

Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737 MAX - Rosalind Franklin. Source

And that is the main takeaway from the whole story of Boeing releasing a new update.

Sure, the software can make it literally bulletproof, but there is one thing that you cannot update – your flyers and airline customers trusting your aircraft. The two also go together – if passengers refuse to fly the Boeing 737 MAX, why would an airline order one?

Damage Control

At this point in time, Boeing has one more task, as I mentioned previously. To repair their own reputation.

However, that is easier said than done. Boeing has to convince passengers, flight crews and airlines that the Boeing 737 MAX is worthy of their attention.

But ever since the two crashes happened, Boeing’s reputation has taken multiple punches straight to the face.

The media around the world revealed the lobbyism, corruption, negligence and greed of Boeing regarding the 737 MAX. Late April, the company took another hit, when The New York Times published an article on how Boeing is cutting corners with another aircraft – the 787.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is also heavily criticized

The general public started questioning whether the company prioritizes profits over the safety of their own aircraft. Lack of transparency has not helped either – when pilots find out about new flaws about the aircraft from the media, you know that something is not right.

Their PR team needed to be working non-stop to control the damage. A few weeks after the Lion Air crash, Boeing met with pilots from American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) . The pilots were angry and confused. Angry, because Boeing has failed to inform them about MCAS. Confused, because they could not understand why, even after a Boeing representative said: “Look, we didn't include it because we have a lot of people flying on this and we didn't want to inundate you with information.”

In April of 2019, a Boeing representative met with the Association of Flight Attendants. The New York Times article, depicting the meeting did not provide a positive outlook for Boeing. The people attending the meeting were not confident in Boeing.

Blaming pilots and other circumstances

The public knowledge and Boeing’s statements started to oppose each other. During the meeting with AFA, the Boeing representative said: “pilots were expected to be able to handle the conditions on both doomed flights.”

During a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on the 15th of May, 2019, a Republican congressman had the guts to say something that is not very smart, to say the least. Sam Graves noted: “For me, the accident report reaffirms my belief that pilots trained in the United States would have successfully been able to handle this situation.”

And Boeing’s own CEO, who was present during a test flight on the Boeing 737 MAX, has said that MCAS was just “one link in a longer chain of events.”

But pilots and even Ethiopian Airlines have completely destroyed the presented facts.

When pilots from the United States tried to attempt to save the Boeing 737 MAX from the same situation as the Ethiopian Airlines pilots had to, they concluded that the 737 and MCAS had given them a near-impossible task to save the jet.

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX

Ethiopian Airlines released a press release that absolutely slammed any hope that Boeing was partly at fault. The Ethiopian airline reassured everyone that their training facilities are the most modern in Africa. They followed all rules and standards of pilot training around the world. They even have a Boeing 737 MAX simulator, which no airline in the United States has.

Except Boeing has failed to properly set it up – it did not have the software to replicate MCAS on the simulator. One more sign of negligence by the American manufacturer, if their own simulator cannot reproduce specific conditions that pilots can prepare for.

“Any effort that is being made to divert public attention from the flight control system problem of the airplane is a futile exercise because it is not based on factually correct analysis.”

And with those words, Ethiopian Airlines dropped the mic and left the room. Whatever way Boeing tried to divert the blame to a “chain of events”, it somehow always comes back to them and yet again points to their failures to make sure their own product follows standards of quality.

Public confidence

On Thursday, 23rd of May, 2019, Boeing, the FAA and other aviation authorities’ representatives will meet in Fort Worth, Texas. At the heart of American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) territory, discussions about the new updates will provide a more concrete timeline of when the type will fly again.

Airlines around the world are hopeful that the Boeing 737 MAX is able to fly passengers by the end of the summer, with the best-case scenario being August.

But if airlines are happy to fly the MAX, are customers willing to step onto it? While Boeing has started to provide plenty of transparency and make the right changes, is the general public willing to fly on one?

To find out, we turn to you – our readers. Would you be willing to fly on one?