Remind Me – The Boeing 737 MAX Saga So Far

This year, we’ve witnessed one of the biggest aviation scandals in history – the Boeing 737 MAX scandal. It has all the hallmarks of a true saga, with its endless twists, turns, and drama. But it’s easy to forget the events which unfolded up to this point. So, let’s have a quick recap.

Boeing 737 MAX
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded worldwide since 13 March. Photo: Boeing

The saga began almost exactly a year ago with the first of two tragic crashes involving a Boeing 737 MAX. On 29 October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea shortly after take-off from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 people aboard were killed.

At first, it was not clear what caused the crash, but preliminary investigations revealed that there were abnormalities in the aircraft’s airspeed indicators and angle of attack (AoA) sensors. Shortly after this, Boeing issued a bulletin outlining correct operating procedures for pilots in the event of an abnormal AoA reading.

Information about the real cause of the crash soon became apparent, as Boeing issued documentation instructing pilots how to deal with the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

This caused anger and confusion among US pilots’ unions. They were angry that they had not been informed about the MCAS system. Namely, they weren’t told how it could affect the handling of the Boeing 737 MAX under certain circumstances.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

A few months after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, the second fatal crash involving a Boeing 737 MAX occurred. On 10 March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All 157 people aboard were killed.

A Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX
The grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX affected hundreds of aircraft. Photo: Bathara Sakti via Flickr

Immediately, the similarities with Lion Air Flight 610 were recognized, with unstable vertical speeds after take-off and an aircraft that seemed in full working condition. Both aircraft were also under six months old at the time of their respective crashes, making the possibility of some sort of fault with the Boeing 737 MAX much more likely.

Just a day after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, China ordered all Chinese carriers to ground the Boeing 737 MAX because it was now a safety hazard. Other aviation authorities followed suit, and the US became the last major country to ground the Boeing 737 MAX on 13 March.

The aftermath of the Boeing 737 MAX groundings

As the investigation into the crashes progressed, the technical details and similarities between the two became more apparent. In both cases, the pilots had been unable to correct the abnormalities in the aircraft’s ascent after take-off.

Airlines began asking for compensation from Boeing almost immediately after the groundings, as many had banked on the Boeing 737 MAX to become an integral part of their future fleets. A software fix from Boeing was too little, too late and the full investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX, particularly the MCAS system, continued.

Despite successful test flights with the new software, Boeing continued to hold off applying for re-certification of the type. It was also revealed that the Boeing 737 MAX simulator was unable to replicate real flight conditions.

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX
Boeing amassed record losses in Q2 of 2019. Photo: LLBG Spotter via Flickr

Other controversies continued to sour public opinion against Boeing, and an autopilot problem with the Boeing 737 MAX also emerged.

Eventually, claims of an ‘unprecedented cover-up’ began to appear. But unfortunately for Boeing, it seems the worst is yet to come. Yesterday, it was revealed that Boeing executives had discussed the MCAS problems before the Boeing 737 MAX was originally certified.

It seems the Boeing 737 MAX saga is far from over. Let us know what you think in the comment section.