Now The Boeing 737 MAX Has An Autopilot Problem

The beleaguered Boeing 737 MAX is now facing another headwind. This time, there are safety concerns regarding the autopilot. Autopilot issues are a new concern, recently identified as the aircraft undergoes additional scrutiny before being allowed to return to service.

Boeing 737 MAX
The 737 MAX now faces additional questions surrounding the autopilot. Photo: Boeing

The problem

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) identified key details they wish to see remedied before allowing the 737 MAX to return to service. Most of these details were previously known issues with the aircraft. Here is the list, as reported by Bloomberg, of issues Boeing needs to fix with the 737 MAX:

  1. The potential difficulty pilots have in turning the jet’s manual trim wheel
  2. The unreliability of the angle of attack sensors
  3. Inadequate training procedures for pilots
  4. Software issue regarding a lagging microprocessor (the FAA identified this issue recently)
  5. Failure of the autopilot to disengage in certain emergencies
737 MAX
The MAX investigation has turned up problem after problem. Photo: Boeing

Judging from the list, it seems that the 737 MAX will require a fair bit of work before returning to the sky. Whether or not the FAA agrees with the EASA is a different story.

The autopilot problem

The EASA discovered that the autopilot does not always disengage properly. In the case of an emergency, this could lead to a danger if pilots do not have the time to take over from the autopilot.

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The FAA has been tight-lipped about all of this. Currently, the FAA faces multiple questions about their certification process that has diminished their credibility as a worldwide aviation safety regulator. Thus, the EASA is likely to wield significant influence for the rest of the world’s aviation agencies.

Boeing 737 MAX Test flight
The 737 MAX faces a new headwind with this autopilot issue. Photo: Boeing

Boeing’s statement

Simple Flying reached out to Boeing. A Boeing representative provided the following statement:

“We continue to engage with regulators and are providing information as we work towards the safe return to service for the MAX.”
Boeing has not revealed any details regarding this new concern from the EASA. Nor has any information been revealed as to how Boeing will fix the additional issue the EASA raised.

Timeline

Boeing is maintaining their timeline of reentry to be September of 2019. Some airlines have removed the 737 MAX through October. Furthermore, some countries have banned 737 MAX flights through 2020. Ultimately, regulatory agencies will play a big role in determining when the 737 MAX will be recertified for passenger flights.

Fiji Airways 737 MAX
Airlines like Fiji Airways are closely watching the timeline for reentry. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Will the public fly on the 737 MAX?

Civil aviation regulatory agencies and authorities definitely have this question on their mind. It is not just important for the aircraft to be recertified, but it has to be recertified with complete confidence too.

Another major source of support will be unions. If unions sign off on the aircraft and are satisfied with the changes, this can be a huge boost of confidence for both airlines and Boeing. As of now, however, the 737 MAX still has to receive certification from any entity.

Once the 737 MAX returns to the skies, will you fly on the aircraft? Do you still have confidence in the aircraft? Let us know in the comments!

60 comments
  1. Wishful thinking by Boeing it’s going to fly again in Sept.
    New flaws are being found faster than Boeing can attempt to correct the many, many old ones.
    It was already the 3rd time Boeing said the 737 Max was safe when it was not.
    Clearly safety is not a priority at Boeing at all.
    What else is wrong with it?
    1st time was when Boeing said it was safe originally with a hidden, flawed MCAS system.
    2nd time was after two crashes Boeing insisted it was safe and tried to prevent it being grounded in the US when all other countries had already grounded it.
    3rd time is now when Boeing told the FAA the flaws were corrected and the FAA found another catastrophic flaw unrelated to MCAS.
    How many outs does Boeing get before it’s game over for the 737 Max?
    They keep striking out attempting to make the 737 Max safe.
    Just book Delta. They don’t have any 737 Max aircraft.

    1. no, Delta as and airline sucks, and any any 737 is TOTALLY safe., wether its a MAX or a NG, its safe, an A 350 can fall out of the sky just a quick, so can a A330.

      1. I think that’s a mischaracterization of the issue with the 737 MAX. No, the A350 or A330 did not suffer two entirely fatal crashes after launch. No, there were no hidden flaws in the design of the A350 or A330 that led to pilots being unable to work with the aircraft to save it. The same is true for the 737 NG and the 777. With the 737 MAX, we know now that there were several flaws with the aircraft and its design. That is why this whole thing is an issue. It is very uncommon for fatal accidents like this to occur- especially with new planes in today’s advanced modern world. To say that any old airplane can fall out of the sky just as quick trivializes the matter. It sends the message that air travel is incredibly unsafe (which it isn’t) and aircraft manufacturers should just focus on getting planes out of production and design quickly with only profitability in mind.

      2. YES of course the 737 MAX is safe it has only had 2 crashes in 6 months killing 346 people , so what is the Big deal. Problem is all the global safety authories disagree with you. The 737 MAX is where it belongs….grounded, probably well into 2020

        GO BOEING!!!

      3. That’s right – run down airlines that don’t fly the type. Blame the pilots. Blame the competition. Point the finger anywhere but at Boeing. It’s too bad that in this Time of Trump, it only seems to work for him; when lives are lost, when there are other options, when there are courts to deal with, when the world has 90% of the order book and don’t buy the BS – it doesn’t work, as well..

        You can’t fool all the people, all the time.

    2. Totally agree – Delta in the US is the ideal airline. Boeing and the airlines that “might fly” the 737 Max have no idea what social media is going to do to this plane. My prediction is #ban737max will be a very BIG social tag or it might simply be #neverfly737max !
      It seems no one is asking or answering this question… why does a new aircraft have worse aerodynamics than the older version?
      The real issue is an aircraft based on the Boeing test pilots that they say is “prone to stall” is not good for aviation and throwing a piece of software on top to “control” the aircraft in the event that it does is just not good.
      The best thing Boeing could do is revert back to building 737NG (it’s a good aircraft) and work on the new single isle jet they were going to produce last decade.
      Boeing does know how to produce a great plane – give their engineers the freedom to make it happen!

    3. I will never fly on this disaster of an airplane. My trust in Boeing is shattered. I will delay travel to fly on reliable equipment.

      1. After Boeing has been forced to remedy absolutely every single one of techno glitches B737 Max (and derivatives) will suddenly become the safest jetliner around hopefully serving as a template for other manufacturers and certifying authorities.
        New aircraft certification laws are needed as well to avoid cutting corners in order to push the sales before safety.

        1. I’m not one hundred percent in favor of the thinking that when the 737 MAX is recertified, it will be the safest aircraft out there. The aircraft should have been airworthy and safe from the get-go. It shouldn’t take two fatal crashes for Boeing and regulatory agencies to acknowledge a problem and start to fix it. Safety should always be a number one priority. Nothing about this even remotely indicates that safety was always number one at Boeing when it came to the 737 MAX.

    4. As history says that some flaws in Boeing 7 max were left aside and was allowed to flight during initial certification process.May be still some problem are hidden and can lead to any major incidence.So I will never ever fly with this aircraft and also recommend all not to fly even it returns to service.

  2. Don’t be surprised there are more delays as the FAA finds other catastrophic flaws in the 737 Max. They are finally doing their job, not just rubber stamping Boeing’s shoddy work.
    Instead of engines too far forward and up Boeing could have just extended the landing gear creating more ground clearance for the bigger engines so MCAS wasn’t needed.
    In fact the 737 Max 10 (not flying yet) has telescopic landing gear to create 9.5″ more ground clearance not because of the engines but because the 10 is so long the tail would hit the ground on takeoff unless the fuselage was raised.
    For the 737 Max 8 and 9 MCAS software was cheaper than extending the landing gear. So long as you don’t count the cost of 346 lives.

    1. Actually the gear is engineered higher for the bigger engines. and theres usually growing pains with any airplane, and issues there wasn’t anything catastrophic here the ethiopian aircraft plain should never have taken off with one pilot haveing only 500 hours in type and first flight in new plane . the other two weren’t experienced either. and thats proven fact.

      1. The crashes had nothing to do with the pilots. Do you follow the news at all?
        Is Boeing paying you to make comments that blame the pilots?
        “At the hearing into the MAX crashes… Sullenberger strongly rejected the suggestion that pilot error was to blame for the accidents.” “according to Sullenberger, the original version of the MCAS, “was fatally flawed and should never have been approved”.
        346 dead are growing pains? What is wrong with you?

      2. Two crashes and 346 dead is not catastrophic? Just “growing pains”? What is wrong with you?
        Obviously it wasn’t pilot error or they wouldn’t all be grounded until Boeing fixes many, many flaws.

    2. The new landing gear only extends during takeoff aircraft rotation using forward momentum it does not provide additional ground clearance for larger engines. There is no room on a Max for stowing permanent longer gear.

      1. Longer telescopic gear that compresses to a smaller size before retracting is not unusual. Far superior design to MCAS and would allow correct engine positioning. No pilot training required. Would have been a cheaper design now as well after the multi-billion cost of the crashes and groundings. A clean sheet modern composite aircraft design with longer gear to allow modern engines is even better. That’s what Boeing engineers wanted to do originally but it would have taken too long. Eventually a design like that will replace the very outdated 737 and be far more efficient. Any “new” 737 will have a short life. They will be permanently grounded when a proper, modern design is available.

        1. A smaller, single aisle aircraft following the modern 787 design techniques would have been far more logical than more versions of the ancient 737. At this point it could have been less expensive for Boeing as well after the multi-billion dollar 737 Max disasters and 346 passengers would be alive.

        2. My company sells sensor products to aerospace customers including Airbus and Boeing.
          There are engineering costs and the associated “re-qualification” costs, and of course the time commitment to do both.
          Boeing and Airbus both shy away from re-qualification which can take years, IMHO both try to push grandfathering rights to keep selling different versions of older designs.
          Two weeks ago I spent some time introducing a new cheaper more accurate and reliable product in Europe to a customer there, while they were impressed they won’t even consider it on a current as it would require qualification.

          That’s why we have Intel 286 processors on the 737.

          We need a better way to introduce new better tech in a more timely manner, its exactly the same problem with our military products. Our outdated military components cost 3 times as much as commercial versions and have lower performance.

  3. I’ve called the 737 Max the Christine as a it reminds me of the Plymouth Fury in the move called Christine. It too had a mind of its own and ended up killing people. Boeing was once a great engineering company. Now bean counters and marketing spin run it. For years Boeing knocked Airbus over its automation. Now they are playing catch-up by outsourcing their code writing to the cheapest bidder rather than accepting that aircraft engineering has no room for error… let alone the systematic errors Boeing have made.

    1. So valid – there are so many poor decisions in the process that this whole Boeing debacle will be a business ethics case study for years to come. I guess the FAA has to be looking at code that was outsourced and seeing what impact it has.
      I don’t know about you, but when there’s a software update typically it creates a new set of problems!
      At the moment all this testing is happening on the ground in simulators – the real test is who wants to fly this, crew this and pay for a ticket to fly on it!

  4. The simple answers to your questions are…
    Once the 737 MAX returns to the skies, will you fly on the aircraft? NO
    Do you still have confidence in the aircraft? NO

    And this once the aircraft returns needs to change to if the aircraft returns. From the grounding with what the regulators are finding it will be next year before the 737 Max “might fly”. The best thing is that key safety authorities globally are not taking the FAA’s word as this doomed jet is “safe”.
    Start again Boeing it’s time to rip the bandaid off – I think everyone knows there’s a lot more dirt to come from whistle blowers about bad decision on top of bad decision.

  5. The question now is becoming not when the MAX will be ungrounded but whether – ever. If ungrounded and more crashes occur that could be the end of Boeing and US leadership in the commercial aviation industry.

    Recalling the 1952 UK Comet, the first jetliner had 3 crashes in a year. No one would fly it or buy it, even though metal fatigue problem was fixed. Who will fly the MAX if another crash kills hundreds more?

    Boeing needs to axe the Max and design a new plane before it’s too late.

    1. That is not true.

      As the Comet was grounded its silly to say no one would, or course they would not if they could until it was either sorted out or not.

      The Comet went onto have a mildly successful career. Its demise was due top its low pax count not the aircraft, nor great range.

  6. To regain confidence, Boeing can do only one thing, buy back all MAX aircraft and together with the ones on the line send them to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the biggest scrapyard aircraft storage area in the world. After that, build a new plane from scratch. Also ,the whole management team ncluding Mr Muilenburg should also be sent tothe same place.

  7. Boeing and Volkswagen have at least one thing in common – if you’ve got an engineering problem let the IT boys hide it, much cheaper than a redesign.

  8. I think the EASA will become the only reliable way to certifify an aircraft.
    Boeing can’t fix the 737 Max because there is nothing to fix;This aircraft was conceived badly that’s all.
    I doubt it will become 100% safe ever.

    1. Nothing is ever 100% safe

      Its got the listed issue to work through and we will see if it can be certified again.

  9. In mechanical engineering, there are basically two approaches to addressing a problem:
    (1) You attempt to alleviate the CAUSE of the problem, using mechanical means; or
    (2) You attempt to alleviate the SYMPTOMS of the problem, using software (control theory).
    Although most engineers would opine that approach (1) is a more sound approach, it appears that Boeing have been favoring approach (2) in their recent designs — with horrendous consequences in the case of the MAX.

    A lot of people don’t know that the 747-8 has a serious problem with wing flutter — discovered AFTER certification/introduction. The traditional way to address flutter is by placing little corrective vanes along the wing (approach (1) above), but this is a difficult task for a plane that’s already been delivered to customers. So, instead, Boeing used approach (2), and developed software that constantly adjusts the stance of the outboard ailerons so to mitigate the effects of the flutter. So, if the software fails, the flutter is still there, and it can cause serious problems.

    It seems that the relative success of this approach with the 747-8 made Boeing a little cocky, and they decided to try a similar approach with the MAX. So, instead of using approach (1) [raise the plane higher on its landing gear, so that the new engines will fit under the wing in a dynamically optimal position], they opted for approach (2) [try to use MCAS to correct the tendency of the plane to pitch up during climb-out]. And, as we now know, the consequences were disastrous. Interestingly, the costs associated with the grounding / bad publicity of the MAX probably far outweigh what it would have cost to use approach (1) in the first place.

    I agree with the opinion that the MAX is beyond salvation — both from a design point of view, and from a PR point of view. Sooner or later, someone at Boeing may have to take the decision to scrap the project and either do a mechanical re-design [approach (1)] or a clean-sheet aircraft [NSA].

    1. Nig – given the constraints imposed by aeronautics, I’m not sure that there is a cost effective way to mechanically fix the problem. Any thing mechanical would necessitate a redesign, which is why they wanted a clean sheet in the first place.

    1. 30 plus 20 options. Jet Air of India (225 – bankrupt), 49 Garuda, 50 Flyadeal…the dyke is starting to crumble.

    2. Flyadeal and others prefer to buy planes, you know, you can use.
      Not sit on the ground for months while Boeing fixes many, many flaws. New flaws are being found faster than Boeing can fix the old ones.

      1. Flydeal was an Airbus customer, for their operation they did the smart thing and stayed with Airbus.

        Airbus clearly was holding slots for them.

        Its not a position that a lot of airlines are in.

  10. Two crashes and 346 dead is not catastrophic? Obviously it wasn’t pilot error or they wouldn’t all be grounded until Boeing fixes many, many flaws.

  11. If the MAX has another problem with their autopilot now how can American Airlines be selling tickets already on this plane from Miami to most of it’s Central American locations and Medellin. I am rethinking my trip my trip to Medellin if this is case. It needs to 100% certified by all continents.

    1. It’s because real-life events have overtaken American’s hopes (and those of other airlines).
      The MAX won’t be flying anytime soon…if it ever flies again.

  12. Boeing tried to milk the 737 cash cow once too many times. I’m an aerospace engineer and I understand the technical issue — and I can categorically say that I would never set foot in this inherently aerodynamically unstable deathtrap, software “fix” or no. You blew it, Boeing. Scrap it, open your desk drawer, and take out a clean sheet of paper, like (as the world now knows) you should have done all along.

  13. Why was the Boeng 737 landing gear so low in the first place? Back in the 60is the Douglas DC9 was its competitor and there the engine was on the fuselage. The advantage was, easier loading and unloading freight and baggage saving time and money. Boeing had to come up with a solutionn to compete. Well, McDonnell Douglas is history. Airbus came 30 years later and had a clean sheet of paper latest technology and a clear vision. Boeing, like many other American aircraft manufacturers produced a great product at one stage but never moved forward with the times in the belief, we are always the best. 6 years ago Boeing had the chance to develop the NMA (B797). Shareholder value, greed, and short term thinking took the overhand. Airbus might have sold a few aircraft over the past few years, but Boeing would now be in a position to present a state of the art aircraft: the B797 (NMA) and not fight for its survival and reputation. Boeing will no longer be able to compete in the single aisle aircraft market with the MAX. There are at least 4 competitors out there with a good reputation and aircraft with the latest technology and innovation.

    1. The answer is that the tubes under the wings works better.

      Engines in the tail are no longer made (since the MD-11)

      As the 737 was a short range regional aircraft, it was going to be at friled that had no frills.

      Baggage and pax loading were easier and doable (remember the rear stairs on a 727?)

      It just does not translate well in the the latter years and should have been replaced.

  14. After all these repairs the 737 MAX will be one of the safest plane out there. Its nice and better when more flaws are being identified so that they repair all before it flies again. no matter all the crap you writing here I will still fly it because I still got that confidence..If you lost your trust with it we cant force you, the ‘black shades’ planes are there for you…

    1. There is a fatal design flaw built in to this aircraft. It can’t be repaired because it means to start again from zero. Modifying software is not a repair, it is a patch up. To attempt to circumnavigate the inherent design flaw with software is ridiculous. They were in such a rush to build this particular model, common sense and engineering excellence went out the window. The new engines were way too big for the original 30 year design, so for financial and timeline expediency they had to be mounted well forward and higher than any previous version. This gave it a nose up attitude. How are pilots supposed to trim this thing?
      I will not travel on this flawed aircraft ever.

  15. If i were able to choose, i wont fly in 737 max ever. It’s not their sloppy job that turned me off, its their disrespect to people’s live. I’ll only change my opinion if all boeing BOD agree to fly the next first hundreds flight of 737 max (if it ever fly again)

  16. My concerns are back to why the whole design changed with the NG as well as the legacy manual wheel not being able to be used due to high forces (and the breakout forces needed to get a frozen motor clutch free to let the drive gear on the stab turn )

    Prior to NG the 737 had two motors and gears. Being stuck with one (per the MD-80 AK Airlines crash) is stupid as there is no redundancy.

    And then the yo yo was no longer in the book and then the true forces on the wheel were no longer in the Sims.

    I will have no issues flying the MAX if they get it fixed, but I do have concerns on what those fixes will be (patched over – back to yo you ) and how this got to be the debacles it is)

    Keeping in mind this is not uncommon. Flaws often are allowed years to be fixed no when they are found. Its true of all aircraft.

    The A320NEO was allowed to fly with a major and very quick occurring seal issue on the PW GTF version.

    The fix was to not fly one with both engines with the bad seal.

    So you voluntarily give up one engine with known issue when you should have two good ones?

    India Authorities called BS on that one and said it had to have two good engines.

    Same was true of the 787 with the bad RR engines. You just ground it until it has two good engines.

  17. I read somewhere that the primary reason for the MCAS is not to prevent from stalling (due to the engines, etc..) but rather to give the pilot the same “feel” as the NG during T/O and climbout, therefore eliminating the need for pilot training and $$$.
    Which is true?

    1. MCAS was not in the original design for the 737 Max – it was added when the test pilots (not simulators) found the aircraft was prone to a nose up stall. Slight problem for a commercial airliner! So instead of fixing the root cause, let’s add some software so that little stall issue (that we haven’t told anyone outside of Boeing about) isn’t an issue – we at Boeing would hate to see an aircraft stall and fall out of the sky!

      1. Pretty sure not, as these were designed from the ground up to have those engines. The MAX issue is due to trying to fit bigger engines to an old airframe that was never intended to have those units.

  18. Seems that no one is recognizing a glaring deficiency in Boeing management’s decision-making: to outsource the programming to $9/hour coders in India who, it has come out, have 0 experience in developing aviation software. It’s been revealed that the Indian company’s management leaves much to be desired n speaking understandable, clear English. US software developers w/experience in writing code for aviation would’ve cost Boeing $30/40 hour, which Boeing wasn’t interested in. Boeing’s unwillingness to spring for development of a flight simulator for cockpit crew is another disastrous decision–instead, pilots were handed an iPad w/an hour-long tutorial on it about dealing w/the new MCAS software. That, for me, is what sticks in my craw–Boeing management’s utterly stupid decisions on software development & cockpit crew training for it. Boeing richly deserves all the castigation & criticism it’s getting for its incredibly stupid decisions–it deserves everything it’s getting.
    That said, Dennis Muilenberg has said that once the FAA certifies this plane again, he & every other executive/manager in the company will b the FIRST to fly the plane, to prove to the flying public that the plane is safe. When that happens, I’ll book a nonstop from ATL-SNA pronto.

  19. I will never fly on The Boeing 737 Max regardless of who certifies it or who endorses it. I fully expect Boeing to attempt to ‘re-brand’ this aircraft in an attempt to create some artificial confidence in the aircraft. No matter what they call it, it is an unsafe aircraft. How to tell if you’re about to board a 737 Max? Look for the chevrons on the trailing edge of the engine nacelles. That should be your tip-off that you are boarding a Max, assuming it is not an Airbus A320 family aircraft.

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