The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is keeping up its laser-like focus on Boeing. The safety watchdog and regulator has issued a new airworthiness directive concerning multiple models of Boeing aircraft. The new airworthiness directive deals with a potential problem with reduced fire suppression capabilities in the aircraft’s cargo hold.
FAA airworthiness directive impacts five aircraft types at Boeing
According to Reuters, the FAA issued the directive on Thursday. The directive targets 2,204 individual aircraft, including planes from the 737 MAX 8, 737 MAX 9, 737 MAX 8200, 737-800, and 737-900ER types.
The FAA is concerned about air conditioning packs that vent air into the cargo hold from other areas of the plane. They say the affected aircraft may have a faulty electronic flow control that manages the airflow.
Across the United States, 663 aircraft are impacted. The remaining 1,541 aircraft are located elsewhere. The airworthiness directive will prevent airlines from carrying cargo in these aircraft unless they sign off and verify the cargo is non-combustible and non-flammable. Airlines have 10 days to begin complying with the directive.
Setback takes the gloss off a good week at Boeing
The setback comes as Boeing records its first quarterly profit since 2019. The big aircraft builder earned US$567 million in the second quarter of 2021. In the comparable quarter in 2020, Boeing lost US$2.4 billion. Boeing’s Chief Executive Officer David Calhoun called it “important progress.”
Elsewhere, one of the world’s biggest aircraft markets, China, is finally showing signs of recertifying the MAX. A Boeing 737 MAX 7 seven recently arrived at Shanghai Airport for flight tests by Chinese authorities.
Thursday’s airworthiness directive from the FAA takes the gloss off an otherwise good week at Boeing. The reliable 737-800 and 737-900ER aircraft are the workhorse planes of many fleets. This is one of the few instances where either aircraft is adversely hitting the headlines. The airworthiness directive applies to NG versions of these two aircraft types.
However, with 4,061 737-800s and 505 737-900ERs delivered to date, most will escape Thursday’s airworthiness directive. The impacted 737-800s and 737-900ERs were likely manufactured at the same time as the affected MAXs.
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Another reputational hit for the 737 MAX
The FAA’s directive is another reputational hit on the higher-profile MAXs. Unlike the 737-800 and 900ER programs, the MAX program has been problematic for Boeing for some time. Most famously, two Boeing MAXs crashed in late 2018 and early 2019, leading to a 20-month global grounding.
Investigations after the crashes uncovered a scandal involving faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers and cover-ups at Boeing. But it wasn’t just Boeing in the firing line. The FAA came under intense criticism for its close ties to the aircraft manufacturer, particularly regarding the FAA’s lack of aircraft development at Boeing.
Boeing has had a new level of attention that continues to this day. Neither Boeing nor the FAA can afford another serious safety incident concerning the MAX.
The airlines flying the MAX are growing in number and they will also be keen to avoid any negative publicity surrounding their aircraft. Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines are all back flying the MAX in the United States.
Since the overhaul at Boeing following the MAX crashes, most airline bosses have gone on the record to support the aircraft type and Boeing itself.
But last week’s airworthiness directive is another dent in the MAX’s reputation. Unlike the 737-800 and 737-900ER, the MAXs do not have a lot of reputational wriggle room.
Thursday’s airworthiness directive comes into force on August 15.