The Boeing 737 MAX Could Fly Again Soon After 96 Test Flights

The Boeing 737 MAX has now been grounded for a month. However, with almost 100 test flights of the new software update, the aircraft could soon take to the skies once more.

Boeing 737 MAX
The Boeing 737 MAX has now been grounded for a month. Photo: Paul Weatherman – Boeing

The Boeing 737 MAX shook the world in March when Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 plunged into the ground shortly after takeoff. While the accident investigations are ongoing, preliminary data pointed out similarities with another Boeing 737 MAX crash which occurred back in October. As a result, airlines and aviation authorities around the globe began to ground their Boeing 737 MAXs. This eventually led to President Trump outright grounding the aircraft a few days later.

What is the problem?

The problem with the Boeing 737 is down to the aircraft’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The MCAS’s primary directive is the pitch the nose down if stall inducing flight characteristics are detected. Unfortunately, this is thought to be behind the two recent accidents. The MCAS system is required as the engines have been relocated on the Boeing 737 MAX due to their size.

Boeing 737 MAX
Boeing is working on a software fix to the MCAS system. Photo: Boeing

It was later revealed that despite disabling this system, the Ethiopian pilots were unable to avert disaster as the system was reactivated. Currently, it remains unclear whether the pilots or the aircraft accidentally reactivated the system.

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New software update

It seemed in late March as though the software update had been completed. American Airlines pilots were at Boeing’s Renton plant assessing the new update in some of the few 737 MAX simulators available. Additionally, representatives of other Boeing 737 MAX operators, such as Southwest Airlines, were present to meet with Boeing.

Boeing 737 MAX
The first MCAS incident involved a Lion Air aircraft. Photo: Boeing

Southwest has a fleet of 34 the aircraft, which it is storing in the Mojave desert. Earlier this week, Boeing delivered a brand new 737 MAX to desert storage for an American customer. Indeed, airlines are beginning to feel the financial stress of grounded fleets.

What next?

The next steps for Boeing to get the 737 MAX certified includes satisfying a number of aviation authorities. While the American manufacturing giant is working with the FAA to show the aircraft is safe, this won’t satisfy others. Indeed, EASA, among others would look to do their own tests on the aircraft before declaring it safe.

Following on from being declared safe, airlines would have to be satisfied with the authority’s rulings. This likely would not be a large hurdle. A more pressing issue would be convincing the general public that the aircraft is safe. This could prove challenging with many individuals online saying they would never knowingly fly on the aircraft.

Would your confidence in the aircraft be restored? Let us know in the comments down below!

  1. Some certification authorities may wish to wait for the full/final accident reports from the Lion Air and Ethopian crashes before re-certifying. That could be a long wait indeed…

  2. If FAA say it’s safe, this is meaningless, as they said it was in the first instance! But if EASA pass it, then I guess it’s fine. (Providing it isn’t just a paperwork exercise!!) The basic 737 is a proven aircraft, and it is only this additional software which has changed things, so as long as that is sorted, then it goes back to being a safe aircraft.

    1. The same by me. But even after easa certified 737, i will wait for two years.
      And you dont know if the only problem is this SW, there could be more problems, nobody knows what else has boeing certified themselves. What else they are hiding?
      Maybe because the engines are in different place as they should be, there can be some structural problem after years of flying.
      Anothoer thing for me is that I never like 737 🙂

      1. If the aircraft’s design is fundamentally flawed , a computer program is not going to fix it permanently. There will only be a recurring cycle of problem and computer intervention.

    2. The additional software (MCAS) is necessitated by an aerodynamical instability that is present in the MAX but not in previous 737s: the engines are moved forward and upward relative to their previous mounting position, so as to fit under the wing, with a change in center of thrust/pitch as a result. Some certification authorities may be unwilling to (continue to) overlook this underlying instability. For example, if there’s an electrical failure in the cockpit and MCAS stops running, what happens? Will the plane over-pitch and stall? Has this been simulated?

        1. Well, they might not know how to fly an aerodynamically unstable plane…you don’t have to be an idiot to fail on that point…

          1. I saw an excellent question recently on another forum: does anyone know how often MCAS has been validly triggered during actual (non-test) flights? If it is indeed triggering (without faulty AOA sensors), then it demonstrates that the instability referred to above is real…

    3. not just the software. the pitching up problem with the design is easily handled by pilots manually. The software relied on 2 antiquated angle of attack vanes which in a downdraft give high readings. With tilt meters and inertial navigation at their fingertips why they put an aggressive software linked to an antiquated AoA vane beggars belief. Also there should have been a one button shut off for the system. not three different buttons and switches. Further more it is possible for 2 angle of attack meters to give wildly different readings. They are notorious for getting snagged and fouled by debris and can get iced. Even if the software is toned down the basic problem still exists. I would propose a system based on AoA, tilt meter and IN. but even better if the shimmed the engines mounts to angle the engines down 1.5-3 degrees to reduce the pitchup problem with the engines being so far forward of the wing.

  3. No I wouldn’t fly with the 737 MAX until the cause of the erroneous data transfer from AoA probes to MCAS is known. Just updating the software and making the MCAS rely on combines AoA data from both probes won’t guarantee safety until the cause of the errors is known. It could for instance be a consequence of the new data communication protocol used on the 737 MAX (ARINC 717). If that were the case, then errors could also occur in engine power control. Perhaps the new protocol is more vulnerable to sporadic voltage surges or irregularities? It could be anything…. but if Boeing doesn’t know the cause then they can’t know how to fix it (even though Boeing CEO Muilenberg says they do know, which I suspect is a lie)…

    1. I agree. AoA vanes are notorious for fouling and giving false readings. and 2 can give wildly different readings ..a computer doesnt know the difference..and in updraft and downdraft silly readings. I used to use a piece of wool stuck to the side window in my cessna. With tilt meters, GPS and IN at their fingertips why would you use an antiquated AoA system alone. I would prefer it if they shimmed the engines down 2-3 degrees to prevent pitch up problems first.. then tone down the software correction to a stick shaker and have a one button disconnect for the system. ooh and put the system in all flight manuals.Duh?

  4. From reading the above article, the 737-MAXs have been available since 2011. But no accidents until just recently. And on very newly delivered aircraft. Not ones from 2011, 2012, 2013, etc. Has something else changed recently? Am assuming that MCAS was in the 2011, 2012, 2013, etc. planes also. Maybe something else recent is clouding the issue?

  5. I will gladly accept a position on a test flight. I prefer 1st class with drink service.
    Every time I piloted my own Cessna the odds were more against me that if I help test the 737MAX, one hop or ten.

  6. I have clocked many flying hours as a passenger on Commercial Airlines Worldwide, but never felt comfortable stepping on a B737 no matter how new it was. It is guaranteed I would never put foot in a B737 MAX, no matter how many Software updating it goes through. This aircraft has to be discontinued and replaced by a clean sheet aircraft, or the current one would have to go through serious Structural and Engineering modifications. If I were Boeing, with all the ??? hanging over the aircraft reliability, and considering there are no Quick solutions, STOP building ordered Aircrafts in the Mojave dessert which eventually will be recalled or cancelled. It is a pathetic joke Boeing is trying to shove the Airlines wit.
    Finally, I would have more trust in the International Pilots Union and Airlines today than BOEING who wants to continue capitalizing on still making their PROFIT!

  7. If Boeing’s entire board of directors, their families, Boeing’s entire executive staff and their families, plus Boeing’s entire engineering staff and their families flew on MAX 8s every day for a year, I would consider it. Until then, no way.

  8. High-speed stalls are rare but involve complicated aerodynamics that isn’t suitable for simulation. True certification should involve flight stalls over several different Mach and AoA configurations with MCAS on and off. I don’t see where Boeing details what flight testing was done. If the testing is not rigorous it doesn’t mean much due to the rare occurrence of the condition. I am a retired longtime flight control designer.

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