What Is Happening With Boeing’s 737 Max?

There is cautious optimism at Boeing that the 737 MAX may be back flying early in the fourth quarter of 2019. If so, it will mark a milestone in a saga that has dragged on since March 2019, when the aircraft was grounded. Initially, no one expected the 737 MAX grounding to be so protracted – April, May, June were variously given as benchmark dates for resumption of flying. But it is now mid-August and nearly 400 MAXs sit idle at airports around the world.

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The Boeing 737 MAX remains grounded around the world. Photo: Liam Allport via Flickr.

With fresh rumors being milled every week, Simple Flying reached out to Boeing today to ask what is happening with their 737 MAXs.

What Boeing has to say

Paul Bergman, a spokesman for Boeing, today told Simple Flying that;

“Boeing has been working closely with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other global regulators on the certification of the software update and training package

Our best current estimate is a return to service of the MAX that begins early in the fourth quarter. Our focus is on safety and ensuring the trust and confidence of customers, regulators and the flying public. Timing on return to service will be driven by the FAA and global regulators.”

What to make of this? Boeing has had a torrid year and knows from bitter experience to be cautious in its statements. Not unduly raising expectations is public relations 101. You might reasonably assume that Boeing wouldn’t say they were estimating a return to service in early fourth quarter 2019 unless they were reasonably confident it would happen.

Recently, reports have emerged that Boeing’s boss, Dennis Muilenburg, has gone on a couple of 737 MAX test flights recently. Boeing has conducted more than 500 737 MAX text flights since the grounding.

Regulators around the world will need to give the 737 MAX the okay to fly

Of course, it isn’t just up to Boeing. Aviation safety regulators around the world are each going to need to give the 737 MAX the tick of approval to fly in their airspace. You might also reasonably assume that the regulators will go over the aircraft and its software updates with the finest of fine-toothed combs.

boeing-737-max-update
Grounded MAXs near Boeing Field. Photo: SounderBruce via Wikimedia Commons

While the effects of the MAX groundings have tended to focus on the United States and the travails of Southwest, American, and United, the 737 MAX was flying for 45 other airlines around the world too. The 737 MAX also flew into airspaces whose home airlines did necessarily operate the aircraft. For example, two Fiji Air 737 MAXs were stuck at Sydney Airport even though no Australian airline operates the plane.

Every jurisdiction that either houses or hosts the 737 MAX is going to have to clear the aircraft to fly. While many regulators often follow the lead of the FAA, local regulators may be loathe to be perceived locally as toeing the FAA line and not exercising their own independence.

boeing-737-max-update
It’s not just the FAA who will need to clear the MAX to fly. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr

While life would be easier for Boeing, airlines, and passengers if there was a degree of co-ordination in giving the 737 MAX to okay to fly, assuming that will occur should not be a given.

No-one wants another 737 MAX incident and most definitely no-one wants an incident in their airspace. The consequences for local regulators, governments and airlines would be dire. You can reasonably expect a pretty thorough approvals process for the 737 MAX around the world. That might take longer than some people assume.

But Boeing seems cautiously confident. Other aircraft types have survived serious incidents and fatalities. With a bit of time, some good luck, and a thorough vetting process, there is no reason to assume the 737 MAX cannot do the same. 

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Sam Samalin

This reporter neglects to mention the likelihood that the Max will never fly again. Hedge fund managers don’t make airplanes. Sorry, They can’t use more passengers lives as yelps until the next crash, They just want to pump up their stock options so they can dump them and disappear with the loot. They don’t care when the next crash ends this crime wave for good.

Atlas

A lot of articles about max, but im missing articles about who is responsible for mcas and for those crashes and who will stand before court, or at least be fired(ceo should hve resigned a long time ago) or really nobody will get punished for death of 300 people?

Steven Richards

The article should have stated the real reason why local governing bodies are be reluctant to follow the FAA lead – the reluctance of the FAA to ground the aircraft in the first place, despite the vast majority of other countries having already done so. This cost the FAA a lot of credibility, and increased the perception that it is unduly influenced by big business (namely Boeing).

Nigel

Meanwhile, among all the MAX misery, there’s now more misery for Boeing: the slow-selling 777-8 has been put on ice:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-boeing-airplane/boeing-delays-delivery-of-ultra-long-range-version-of-777x-idUSKCN1V503W?il=0

Hardly surprising: it has a total of 35 orders, from just 2 customers.

jsfgj

That has nothing to do with the orders. If you’d actually read the article you’ve quoted, you’d understand that the delay is due to engine problems which is caused by GE not Boeing. As for the orders, what is the purpose of picking out a smaller version of the main model in play (-9)? You appear to have cherry picked the -8 variant as a way to highlight “misery” for Boeing. The -8 is just a variant of the main -9 model which has over 300 orders. Should we say that the A330NEO caused misery because the -800 model only… Read more »

Nigel

Just because the article doesn’t explicitly state that the icing of the project is due to the poor orders situation doesn’t mean that that isn’t (at least part of) the underlying rationale. You don’t actually expect that Boeing would admit such an underlying motivation, do you? And why shouldn’t it be qualified as misery? The whole 777X project has so far had low orders (zero orders from US carriers), it’s delayed due to engine problems, and now one portion of it has been shelved…and all of that in the middle of Boeing’s other multiple woes at the moment. If you… Read more »

jsfgj

777X has several hundered orders. It has plenty of orders. It probably already has enough to see it financially break even. It doesn’t make any difference whether the orders come from US carriers or not (What? Do US carriers pay more money or something?), an order is an order. There is no misery on the 777x, just normal circumstances that happened on projects as big as this. The media likes to play up situations such as the engine problems as there are plenty of members of the general population with a certain level of mental ability that get wound up… Read more »

Tony

While you state there is no misery regarding 777X orders jsfgj there is probably concern that over 60% of orders are from Middel Eastern airlines and over 40% from just one. This is not too disimilar to where Airbus found themselves with the A380. Should there be a reduction in orders from Emirates for reasons like late delivery Boeing may find themeselves in a bit of a pickle. Great plane though.

Shapes

I hear that because of problems with the ge9x the 777x will be retrofitted with four of the max engines when that plane is scrapped.

Nigel

Here’s the same subject on Flight Global. Note, in particular, the text:
“The airframer gave no indication of how long the development will be put on hold for, and did not elaborate further when asked by FlightGlobal”

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/boeing-delays-777-8-development-460286/

Both Reuters and Flight Global cited the low orders numbers for the 777-8…so it’s not just me 😉

Nigel

With regard to the fact that regulators other than the FAA also have to re-certify the MAX, a commentator on a previous article here (Frank, I think?) astutely remarked that the Chinese will probably drag their feet. It provides interesting leverage for them in the current trade dispute, particularly in view of this morning’s announcement by Mr. Trump that he’ll only strike a trade deal with China when a “humane solution” has been found for Hong Kong. Perhaps China will concurrently accelerate the test and certification program for their own C919, so as to fill the void left by blocking… Read more »

Frank

Yessir – twas me.

I agree – the Max situation has taken on a political life of it’s own now and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. There is no way that China, after dropping all agricultural products from the US recently, all of a sudden says “Sure – Max is good to go, here”

As well, Wilbur Ross has recently come out and said that the economy will recover when the Max is back in service (as if)

Depending if Trump backs down – things might get resolved. If not, Boeing better hunker down…

Nigel

Wilbur Ross’ interview — in which he made that assertion — is here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNaE-bfomlM

Well, now it’s a done deal: if the US Commerce Secretary sees an economic benefit to having the MAX back in the air (he cites 0.4% of GDP), then one can imagine that the FAA will feel pressured to get the thing back in the air…

Frank

Problem is Nigel, 90% of the Max ‘s orders are overseas. If they don’t get the world onside, it’s a hard slog for Boeing…

Hein

So, little to do with MAX, but all to do with giving COMAC’s C919 a headstart. Who could blame the Chinese, with Trump handing them revenge opportunities on a silver platter. But, at least Nigel has, this time, been very tempered in his often irrationally vicious attacks on Boeing. Yes, the 778 is a bit of a niche aircraft, QANTAS being keen but not having so far committed, and, regardless of other headaches (and Boeing has some), manufacturers are not keen to spend precious engineering resources for a likely small return: vide Airbus A338neo. Neither are airlines keen to buy… Read more »

Frank

No Hein – if you read Nigel’s post, he specifically added in the 919 as an afterthought: “Perhaps China will concurrently accelerate the test and certification program for their own C919, so as to fill the void left by blocking the MAX; the C919 won’t have the same fuel economy as the MAX, but it will have much lower acquisition costs, and fuel prices are currently dropping anyway.” The current political climate is now much larger then just Boeing and their 737 order book. This is now next level hardball involving industries countrywide, with the Max just being a piece… Read more »

Nigel

It must be great for his Hein-ness to sit on a marble throne on Mount Olympus and propound forth who is rational and who is not. All because junior works at Boeing, and daddy doesn’t want naughty things being said about junior’s employer 😏

Nigel

Southwest is ordering extra MAX simulators, with the first scheduled to go online in October:

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/southwest-ups-737-max-sim-order-first-to-go-online-460278/

Nigel

Incidentally, that front photo of the Canadian 737 MAX neatly shows how high the engines sit on the wing…which is the underlying cause of the whole MAX debacle…

zzz

“Other airline types have survived serious incidents and fatalities.” The article should be proofread before being published.

Ian

The engine position looks ridiculous! It seems like a crazy decision to go with a design that has such serious flawed flying characteristics that are constantly corrected by software and sensor(s)!! Fine for unstable fighter aircraft with 1 or 2 guys and an Ejector Seat, but not for passenger aircraft. I really hope I’m wrong, but I fear this fatal design flaw will continually come back to haunt this aircraft in many other disguises even if MCAS is fixed. I for one will avoid this Aircraft at all costs for at least 2 or 3yrs.

Nigel

Yes, indeed…the engines look outrageous!
In this photo of the 737 MAX, note that the outer periphery of the nacelle is tangential to the top surface of the wing, and the inner diameter of the nacelle is tangential to the median/inflection line of the wing.
https://binged.it/2KyYiUW
In this photo of the A320 NEO, both the outer and inner periphery of the nacelle are clearly below the median/inflection line of the wing:
https://binged.it/31KbBrp

Michael Sheargold

Thanks Nigel – love your comments and insights… keep them coming!

Cees van Heemert

Ian, I don’t know much about airplanes but agree with what you say. If flying characteristics need to be corrected by software then this software will constantly process corrections to keep the plane within the desired characteristics. That on itself can make the CPU fail and a second processor is needed to make the system safe. I also wonder if two censors end up in a fault position the same way, so no different reading but false what will happen then? Does the computer then conclude no difference in reading so everything is ok? The engine position needs to be… Read more »

Blair

No one cares what Boeing thinks anymore. Their oft announced confidence in the MAX aircraft carries little currency these days, especially in the wake of problems discovered by FAA test pilots this past June. Their myriad quality control and FOD problems with the 787 and the 767 tankers are further indications that Boeing is no longer the safety driven, venerable engineering leader it once was. I do feel that many experienced travelers will avoid the 737 MAX. I for one, will never fly it.

Abe

Yes, other aircraft types have survived crashes (I’m talking of planes with problems, not hijackings, accidental crashes, etc). But none were in today’s digital age, in which every online publication, blog, social post and YouTube video keep repeating that 346 people died, that Boeing hid MCAS at first, and still refuse to accept any responsibility other than vague “we own it” comments. The problem is not the plane, I’m sure engineers can fix it. The real problem is Boeing’s behaviour. I find it amazing that VW could be fined billions for faking emissions tests, while Boeing gets off Scot free… Read more »

hafh

I find it ddd that you use VW as an example. VW sales increased following the exposure of the emissions scandal. They’ve also made a lot of very unreliable cars in the last two decades. This has all been during the “digital age”. But they’ve been increasing sales and so far this year, they are the biggest selling car manufacturer (globally). Hyundai/Kia have also been exposed in multiple countrys for faking fuel economy figures and they’ve been hit with big fines too. Want to guess who’s the fastest growing major car manufacturer and is about to overtake GM? LG/Samsung have… Read more »

Intheairwego

“I for one won’t ever fly it”, “I’ll never fly your airline again”. All statements I’ve heard over and over and over in my 45 years employed by a major carrier. However you see the same faces that make that statement , the next week boarding your aircraft. Loads factors on our dc10 s were as high as ever , even after the AA , may 25 1979 , ord, incident. Passengers board 737-900 s even when they see the tipping pole attached to the rear of the aircraft due to the tipping issue it has. Boeing went sloppy ,… Read more »

Never Fly 737 Max

Watch social media go crazy! My prediction is those that know this is a poor design will not let Boeing get away with it. Once airlines see the wave – they will look at their fleet planning in a whole new light!
#everfly737Max

Matthias Penzlin

One should also mention the cables that control the empennage and are not designed to be redundant. Even the own engineers from Boeing have warned against this mistake. And yet, the FFA has sided with the Boeing menagers (and against the engineers at Boeing) to install secure cable connections. Probably just so that Boeing does not have to cope with further delays in construction.

Matthias Penzlin

http://www.travelweekly.co.uk :
The FAA engineers expressed concern about engine pieces breaking off and severing cables controlling the aircraft rudder. They suggested couple of fixes.
The NYT reports: “Boeing did not want to make a change. A redesign could have caused delays. Most of the FAA engineers insisted the change was necessary for safety reasons. But their supervisors balked.
“FAA managers conceded that the Max ‘does not meet’ agency guidelines ‘for protecting flight controls’.”
But the managers wrote: “It would be ‘impractical at this late point in the programme . . . to resolve the issue.”

ExPatBrit

Boeing and the FAA really screwed this up. That said, customers like Southwest, Ryanair , American Airlines pushed them into building the MAX to get the aircraft to market sooner and control training costs. Boeing is guilty of not saying “NO” . I work in a related industry and sometimes you have to do that regardless of how much $$$ they have. MAX will fly again and will probably be the safest airplane in the sky after all the scrutiny. FAA now has to prove it can be trusted. The MAX logos on the aircraft will be removed and customers… Read more »

Kaden

Rushing the 737max into service despite the problems Boeing knew it had, was completely illogical and 100% Boeing’s fault. Putting money over lives and not grounding the aircraft immediately after the Lion Air crash (since they didn’t know what had caused it at the time) was also senseless. BUT I believe Boeing has finally learned a lessen–that they should have learned decades ago–with the whole 737max ordeal and I think the 737max will be what it originally was meant to be….The safest aircraft….

Frank

“BUT I believe Boeing has finally learned a lessen–that they should have learned decades ago–with the whole 737max ordeal and I think the 737max will be what it originally was meant to be….The safest aircraft…. ”

Yah – I wouldn’t bet on that, Kaden:

FAA Poised to Say Pilots Don’t Need Fresh 737 Max Simulator Training

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-15/faa-poised-to-reject-new-simulator-training-before-737-max-flies

Once again, it all comes down to the almighty dollar – not safety, not passenger lives.

Nigel

Thanks for that stunning link, Frank.
It looks like the FAA is still in Boeing’s pocket…but I don’t think Boeing will get off so lightly with regulators in other countries.
Maybe the US Congress will overrule the FAA on this point: Congress heard in detail from Mr. Sullenberger (the Miracle of the Hudson) about why he thinks that simulator training is essential…

Frank

You are welcome, sir. Does Congress have the authority to over rule the FAA? Interesting idea – seeing as how they’ll all be in the country now that some have been refused entry into certain places in the middle east. That Donnie guy sure knows how to make friends. I’m all for letting the FAA go it alone and allowing the Boeing fans to be guinea pigs for a year or two, while the world watches. BTW – was it you who posted that the deadline for getting out of a purchase agreement for airlines was 6 months – no… Read more »

Nigel

Nope…that wasn’t me…sorry 😏

Tony

LEMON. I say ban it. But what do I know, I’m neither a pilot nor an engineer.

Michael Wheeler

How can you use software to “fix” a bad design. By placing the engines in the position on the wing as they did Boeing knew it would cause problems. As the Max 10 has the longer landing gear that raises the aircraft so the engines are placed in the correct position. I understand there are other problems besides the MCAS. One problem that we know about it a flight computer that if the computer fails will also make the nose go down. I think that the max 737 -8 should be scrapped as it is a poorly designed response (… Read more »

RC20

That is all being addressed.

You miss the MCAS only kicks in at stall.

Seldom if ever do LCA stall (there are incident where stall is involved but its where pilots lost situational awareness and were not flying instruments the way they should and the stall was secondary to all sorts of other gyration before they hit the ground or (more often) water)

That does not excuse Boeing for a lethal implementation of MCAS 1.0

Kaden

Michael, are you an engineer? How do you know its a bad design? Boeing’s engineers would not have designed it like that if it was a bad design. The MCAS system was the problem which sent those 737’s to the ground.

KP

No he is not an engineer just an Airbus troll spitting out the same info he hears over and over — its a bad thing — all the people at Boeing are bad — from the CEO to the Engineers to the Test Pilots — they are all BAD BAD PEOPLE — meanwhile over at Airbus — all things are peachy and great – if a plane crashes — its the pilot’s error always and you would think that in the next 2 or 3 years – Airbus will design the CRASH_PROOF aircraft —

Michael Sheargold

The BIG issue here is speed, profit and competitive pressure leading to a series of poor decisions. Boeing’s decision making process around the 737 Max will be used in leadership programs for years to come. It was a series of poor decisions that lead to outcomes that are truly devastating in so many ways.

Hein

Sorry Michael, my reply was not to you but to a number of preceding ones.

Hein

Oh dear, tempers running very hot again. What is needed, from the airworthiness authorities and Boeing, as well as from our correspondents on this site, are cool, rational heads. Boeing screwed-up, severely, and was more than a little duplicitous (the latter under pressure from their airline customers, and thus from Joe Sixpack wanting $20 flights to places once pristine but now permanently defaced by Joe Sixpack’s behaviour and detritus) in keeping mumm about the electronic aids – in themselves an appropriate solution though poorly executed – and has paid the price along with hundreds of PAX. They and certifying authorities… Read more »

Nigel

Just because comments made here don’t suit your particular point of view or disposition, doesn’t mean that those comments are not objective. The furore here and in other press is based on multiple disclosures made by the FAA, and/or brought to light by Boeing whistleblowers, for example. I’m an engineer, and I suspect that several other commentators here are also, based on their remarks; if I wish to comment on shoddy engineering, then I’ll do so. I’ve worked for large corporations with corrupt, inefficient management; if I wish to comment on management actions or inactions, then I’ll do so. The… Read more »

Hein

As an aviation medical and safety consultant I’m pretty sure that I’m on solid ground in saying that temperamentally you’re not suited for your chosen profession, but then again such is usually the way with bullies. Obviously, educationally you have never seriously been involved in e.g. a university debating team. I’ll leave you to it, bigshot. Have fun.

Frank

Kaden – what seems to be coming out in the wash (as it always does) is that the engineers were over ruled by the bean counters to ‘make it work’, as long as the cost was low and the process was quick. MCAS was put there in the first place, because the bosses wanted bigger, more fuel efficient engines on a design that basically didn’t support their size. The original plan was for a clean sheet design, but when the Airbus A320Neo’s started selling like hotcakes, they took the shortcut. The only people who could ever sign off on the… Read more »

Nigel

Specifically: MCAS goes against all good practices in control theory / software architecture; an undergraduate IT student would have recognized it as shoddy. Someone at Boeing approved it…despite its overtly bad design.
On a similar note: someone at Boeing in Charleston is approving shoddy 787s rolling off the production line. This matter has been public knowledge for months, and Boeing STILL haven’t got it under control. The person involved seems to be either incompetent or indifferent.

Frank

“Someone at Boeing approved it…despite its overtly bad design.”

I disagree – someone ORDERED it. These kind of corporate decisions get made much higher up then the simple engineers doing the design/programming. This is VP level and higher stuff, which essentially is a billion dollar gamble ($5 billion a quarter, as it turns out).

Perhaps some eager beaver down below might have come up with the idea, but it’s the bosses who pushed it – and the rush job, through. Company culture starts at the top…

RC20

You don’t understand how this works. Its the wink wink nod nod of the Mafia. The head guy says, I want this to be low cost, wink wink and then at a lower level with plausible deniability *for the top mgts these decision take place. *: much like China using their Coast Gurad to take over the South China Sea, it does not have to make sense just a fig leaf to throw out. What Corporate has done along with the make it cheap, is to cut the links in the organization that would normally talk to each other (flight… Read more »

RC20

What is being missed is the Manual Trim for the stabilizer that is impossible to turn in some modes of flight.

That and how it got removed from the Simulator so that when they trained on it it did turn easily at all times (that is being corrected).

The system has been corrupted and its going to take a major re-do if that happens at all to claw back.

Muhammad Hussain Ali

What is the source of this news?

Joanna Bailey

You, sir, are reading Simple Flying.

Jean-Louis Baron

Boeing may want to rename the aircraft to a more suitable moniker. How about CHRISTINE