The Boeing 737 MAX – What Needs To Be Fixed?

The Boeing 737 MAX is one of the most praised and also the criticized aircraft ever built. On one hand, it has been popular with airlines with plenty of orders for the American planemaker. However, since being grounded many airlines have become nervous about utilizing the type. How can Boeing move forward?

737 MAX
Boeing needs to solve two problems to fix the Boeing 737 MAX. Photo: Getty Images.

What is the problem with the Boeing 737 MAX?

As mentioned in the introduction, the Boeing 737 MAX is a fine aircraft if you look at the pure numbers. It has great fuel efficiency, very versatile thanks to its range and perfectly hits that sweet spot with passenger numbers.

But there is no escaping the elephant in the room, which is the grounding of the type last year after two crashes which left more than 300 dead. Boeing has been hard at work to find a solution to this issue (a software problem to fix) and will soon have a fix for the FAA and EASA to approve.

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This is only half the battle, as from here Boeing will need to encourage the type back into service.

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Boeing has two problems: the aircraft’s flaws and the reputation that is now stuck with the aircraft.

Boeing 737 MAX, Grounding, One Year
The first Boeing 737 MAX aircraft were grounded one year ago by Ethiopian Airlines. Photo: Getty

Stage one – fixing the aircraft design

This author makes no claim to be an engineer or even at best an amateur expert on aircraft design, but Boeing needs to put all effort into fixing the actual issue at fault with the Boeing 737 MAX.

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This will require a fix for the existing aircraft that are currently grounded, and implementing a fix into all new designs coming off the production line. Whilst airframe builders do quietly upgrade aircraft all the time, Boeing will need to be super transparent about what changes they plan to make and what they have done. This may include physically marking each 737 MAX with the fix so passengers feel confident that the aircraft has been overhauled.

Additionally, all pilots who want to fly the aircraft will need to be recertified. This will likely be on Boeing’s dime but will serve to put some faith back into the type.

Stage two – fixing the reputation

Some might argue that the physical fix is actually an easier task for Boeing compared to what comes next. Correcting or at least trying to fix the reputation of its Boeing 737 MAX is the harder mountain to climb.

Boeing will need to be very public with the aircraft and allow as many agencies to test it as possible. The public no longer blindly trusts Boeing or the FAA anymore after this event and will need at least one if not many third parties to rate the aircraft as ‘safe’.

Boeing will need to publish all the steps they have taken to prove the aircraft, including how many hours the type goes through to be completely recertified (in each region as well no less)

But the real challenge won’t be winning over the general public, but in fact, winning over its airline customers.

Boeing could:

  • Offer a discount on Boeing 737 MAX orders for those that were delayed.
  • Offer subsidies for its use for the first year or so, to encourage airlines to deploy them and shoulder the reputation risk.
  • Pay for all the pilot retraining to ensure that the crews can correctly operate the ‘new’ type.
  • Offer free upgrades (not offering safety features as an extra costly upgrade).
737 MAX factory
Boeing might have to give away the 737 MAX for cost. Photo: Getty

Should Boeing rename the Boeing 737 MAX?

One point that comes up again and again when discussing the Boeing 737 MAX is whether or not Boeing should rename the aircraft.

Personally, this author doesn’t think that Boeing should rename it. Sure when people look up what they will be flying on, they might be upset that its the Boeing 737 MAX. However with a positive PR campaign before the relaunch, it may not be an issue anymore. If Boeing was to rename the aircraft, it would be an insult to the victims, the general population’s intelligence and might draw far more attention to the aircraft than needed.

Whether or not Boeing follows these steps we are sure to see the MAX back in the skies by this summer. 

This article was written with help from fellow Simple Flying writers Chris and Jo.

What do you think? Are these the right moves? What do you suggest? Let us know in the comments.

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Jay Lord

I won’t fly in it. With the engines pushed forward and up on an old airframe. Surely this comprises the aircrafts centre of gravity which is all important. Cannot see how a computer programme can fix this.

Kenneth T Carter

So many mistakes in engineering with this aircraft! I would never fly on it.

Peter Ballantyne

What sticks in the throat is the sheer arrogance by Boeing. Design compromises are one thing, but it’s the covering up that is criminal. Now we have no one at the top management table prepared to shoulder responsibity. The smoke and mirrors that seems to be policy has also been showing up in the much delayed 787 Dreamliner and now 777X. When will it end?

Pingy

“The Boeing 737 MAX is one of the most praised … ” – what? Maybe in Boeing ads.

Lowflying

As a pro pilot, I can tell you not to worry about centre of gravity. Aviation law worldwide prohibits taking off with an incorrect centre of gravity, and no Captain would knowingly take off with the C of G out of limits.

I’ve flown military and airlines for 36 years, including 737-800’s.

I’d fly it, with my family on it.

Wynand Theron, South Aftica

Software fix for the Max? No, not the solution.
In my opinion it needs a STRUCTURAL change – something that should have been done originally. But Boeing, frightened by the competition from the Airbus A320, cut corners and just “fiddled” with the placing of the two egines on the much bigger Max – with devastating results.
Boeing and the FAA don’t have the guts to do it, but the only solution is a total new design of the Max. But, like I said, it will be a bridge too far…..

James Engineer

You cannot fix a basic aerodynamic design fault with software. The engines are in the wrong place. This aircraft was designed in the sixties and the replacement should have been a complete new design with higher ground clearance to accommodate the larger LEAP engines.

Dan

Need to first start with fixing the culture of the company. The current corporate management is filled with leftover GE management types who know nothing about the product they’re supposed to be managing. Bean counters are have more influence and control than the engineers and maintenance people do. Too many mid level and lower managers and micromanagers. Too worried about stock values. And worst of all, management is only concerned about how many aircraft are pushed out of the factory and not concerned about a quality product. The quality assurance function at the Renton factory is broken, hence the requirement to open up the fuel cells of all 400+ aircraft currently grounded, because of foreign object debris found in one of the aircraft in storage. There are numerous write ups of factory s***w ups that have to be fixed. It just goes on and on.
There are numerous self-inflicted mistakes Boeing has committed, the first fix is to completely replace the corporate level management then work your way down.

Daniel Barton

Need to first start with fixing the culture of the company. The current corporate management is filled with leftover GE management types who know nothing about the product they’re supposed to be managing. Bean counters are have more influence and control than the engineers and maintenance people do. Too many mid level and lower managers and micromanagers. Too worried about stock values. And worst of all, management is only concerned about how many aircraft are pushed out of the factory and not concerned about a quality product. The quality assurance function at the Renton factory is broken, hence the requirement to open up the fuel cells of all 400+ aircraft currently grounded, because of foreign object debris found in one of the aircraft in storage. There are numerous write ups of factory s***w ups that have to be fixed. It just goes on and on.
There are numerous self-inflicted mistakes Boeing has committed, the first fix is to completely replace the corporate level management then work your way down. That aircraft won’t be flying by summer, the FAA has yet to give approval and even if it does, airlines won’t be accepting aircraft as they’ve grounded most of their fleets.

Arthur Watanabe

I do not believe a hardware problem that changes an air frame’s aerodynamics should be fixed by outsourced software programming when safety of passengers are concerned. It is puzzling that the ex CEO, Board of Directors and upper management escape responsibility for the manslaughter of 346 people.

Frank Barbeau

The Max needs to be scrapped! Boeing should be be forced to buy back all they have sold and scrap those as well. No bail out for Boeing of any kind. Poor management does not deserve a reward in the firm of a bailout. I will never fly on one of these ever.

Trent

It was Boeing’s failed attempt to make a Max8 fly just like an 800 that was the issue. Th plane itself is just fine. If Boeing would have done some things different on the front end, even things like tell the pilots about a new system, require training on the new system, and not charge extra for safety features. Its not the Max that is the issue, it never was. It’s Boeing’s toxic cooperate culture that chases money over everything that is the issue.

Now to mentally prep for all the down votes.

DaH

Sorry to be the contrarian here…. I flew on MAX’s all the time, I’d fly in one today, unfixed, if flown by properly trained Western pilots.

No, there is no structural issue, no aerodynamic issue. There never has been. There’s been numerous articles detailing this on more technical/engineering aviation sites. That aspect of the aviation industry has never been well represented on this site.

The issue is primarily MCAS. If you read the accident reports, both crews and maintenance teams were poorly trained, didn’t follow protocols. Sure, if they new more about MCAS, especially it’s disengagement, this probably wouldn’t have happened. If Boeing was transparent about MCAS, listened to their own test-pilots about fine-tuning it’s over-aggressiveness, and made it’s use/disengagement part of the manual and training, this probably wouldn’t have happened. Boeing received all the blame, when the reports clearly showed it was a prefect storm of mistakes on all sides.

Boeing made a financial decision to avoid having to retrain NG pilots on a “new type”. MCAS made the MAX fly similarly to the NG. If it’s existence was widely known, Boeing reasoned, the FAA would balk, insisting on new-type training. That would add too much time, delay market entry against the A320/1 NEO. It’s really that simple.

The MAX’s other issues are relatively minor, similar to items found on all commercial airlines over time. When recertification happens, it’ll probably be the safest plane in the sky, if flown by properly trained pilots. Choose your airline carefully folks, that choice has as much merit as aircraft type…

Mick

Do what you use to do, build great plane’s. Start again and build the best plane you can, give up on the Max, cut your losses, and start again..

Len Cannon

Would never book a flight if this was the scheduled airframe, 1 crash is not acceptable but to know and let it continue to fly is no longer manslaughter and the company should be fined what ever amount puts them out of business. Under US law if your knowingly do not prevent a death you are culpable.

J comer

Have to agree with previous comment not for me tampered with a previous design for commercial gain not aerodynamily
Sound the words of several design engineers I WILL REFUSE TO FLY on this plane NO matter what software upgrade they do scrap it and build a new aircraft we will see if GREED wins and the public lose.jpc

James Hart

I have several thousand hrs as captain in all but the Max model. I have absolutely no fear of putting my family on any 737. The Max has a LOT of t****t which would tend to pitch the nose higher than would normally be expected. That’s evidently what is the MCAS is designed to negate. We didn’t see this problem in the West. Better pilot ability/training is the difference. Having flown with 3rd world pilots, as a training captain, I can tell you all “certified” pilots from these countries are genuinely qualified pilots! Once the inputs to the MCAS are sorted out, the plane should be good to go.

Michael

This reads like part of a propoganda campaign to justify the sale of a flawed aircraft design by minimising the design defects. The plane’s centre of gravity shifted giving it a tendency to stall. Boeing “fixed” it with a software patch – which didn’t work. The problem is more than can be fixed by sales spin

Ian Winstone

Just a thought .Could not the landing gear have been re-designed to give more ground clearance for the larger engine .The engine then would be in a more normal position .Not a structural engineer so unaware if this is possible .

WordsMatter

This article is spot on! Now if only something like this wold be released formally, publicly and in writing by Boeing itself, it would already go a very long way to address Boeing’s PR problem. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for Boeing is their unwillingness to identify and admit what is wrong with 1.) MAX product 2.) management and 3.) handling of the crashes and the aftermath. The public will never have full confidence in a supposed Boeing fix if Boeing is not seen by the public to fully understand what they’ve done wrong.

Keith Allum

A western (American) pilot broke the tail fin off his plane by stupidly overloading it in incorrect operation. Resulting in the deaths of all aboard. Nothing wrong with aircraft

Megastopheles

There is an old saying: “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”. Boeing cannot blame its own customers even though the (Low cost) operators were just as happy to ignore the lack of training and ease of integration into their fleet of a vastly more efficient and improved aircraft. Sight unseen, they asked no questions.(Customers need to demand better- this applies to Airbus too) MCAS information was there in the initial materials too. There is a ton of blame to go around. The FAA was overburdened and unmanned, and just as happy to ask no questions. Blame your government here too. The EU authorities were just as happy to do nothing as usual. My issue is that instead of asking “how can we improve and prevent these needless tragedies from happening”, all sides are posturing and looking for a payday. It is a testament to the evil nature of humans I suppose. And thus Megastopheles was born.

Kevin H

That man (Boeing CEO) stood at that podium and (…at VERY BEST… half-) BLAMED THE PILOTS. Literally hundreds of human lives literally in your (Boeing’s) hands and you have the fall to do what you did with your own integrity running on empty. I will NOT ride this aircraft…period.

Bufford Moore

Certainly the type should not be renamed. This would, I think, be seen as an attempt at deception.

Chris harris

Call it what you like it will still be a 737max and Joe public will not be fooled, better to be honest in the first place.
Don’t even try to pull the wool over customers eyes.

Chris harris

Call it what you like it will still be a 737max and Joe public will not be fooled, better to be honest in the first place.
Don’t even try to pull the wool over customers eyes.

Frequent Flyer

I would fly the Max today and would have flown it a year ago with a properly trained crew. Turn the electronics off and fly the dang plane.

Noor Adzman Baharudin

WHO have Green Card

Mohanoe Mohapi Abram

I believe engineers doing their best to fix the airline software and make people trust 737 MAX 8 taking them around world once again.

Megastopheles

Just for you angry “I Won’t Fly A Max” posters.. Airbus is no safer.. For the entire A320 family, 119 aviation accidents and incidents have occurred (the latest being Ural Airlines Flight 178 on 15 August 2019),[1] including 36 hull loss accidents,[2] and a total of 1393 FATALITIES in 17 FATAL ACCIDENTS (the most recent being EgyptAir Flight 804 on 19 May 2016).[3] (Wikipedia).
You won’t read this though because you are not real commenters, anyway.. paid shills.

James Rice

It is all good until you sit in the plane and they say there’s a delay due to a mechanical problem. That in itself will light up Twitter and Instagram.

James Rice

It is all good until you sit in the plane and they say there’s a delay due to a mechanical problem. That in itself will light up Twitter and Instagram.

Ian St. John

This is not just about the max. It is about a corporate culture that used to put safety and engineering first. Now it is all about profits and muzzling the internal warnings. Even the cozy relation to the FAA where they ignored safety entirely with simple “trust us, we’re experts hasn’t,t stopped as seen by their resistance to correcting faulty wire design.

Renaming it will just convince the public that they are ‘paint to cover, file to fit’ hiding the flaws. They have to regain trust by being open about the problems and return to making safety a “standard feature” at the top of the priorities.

Michael Heath

Nonsense, this aeroplane is fatally flawed. The engines were moved up & forward, thereby making it unstable. Something that should never be contemplated in a civil airliner. “Fixing” this fundamental problem with “software” is reprehensible. The FAA and Boeing need to grow up! I will never fly in this aeroplane no matter what it is called or how cheap it becomes.

Enrique Beracasa

One of my very good friends is a professional Pilot, has been flying all sort of 737s for more than 20 years. I know he has flown the MAX, he told me it’s the best 737 he has ever flown and he is really longing for that plane to be flying again. He says he has no fear whatsoever to fly the plane left seat whenever he would be required by his airline. Knowing the guy I would gladly fly as a passenger with him.

Roger Allen.

If you are going to rename the plain, then rename it what it is, The Boeing 737 New MAX. 737 has been put through the rigs, new software new certifications and the works. It is in fact now the Boeing 737 new Max.

Roger Allen.

If you are going to rename the plain, then rename it what it is, The Boeing 737 New MAX 8.the 737 MAX has been put through the rigs, new software new certifications and the works. It is in fact now the Boeing 737 New Max8.

John Pascoe

I can’t see how a software fix will cure MCAS which is in turn an add-on to a plane that is otherwise inherently unstable. This, I suspect, is the real “elephant in the room”. Concern for PR reveals a bias in the writer.

Joe

I do not really care if that thing flies again, because I’ll never be on one. You could pay me and I’d still refuse. Fact is, it’s a plane where an engineering issue was fixed with a poorly designed computer which pilots didn’t even know about.

JDE

It is the hubris of Boeing that will keep me from flying on their planes. I do not believe in rewarding bad behavior. Will it matter? Well, not really; but I vote with my dollars, and would prefer to support those being better corporate citizens

Kaveh

If Boeing and FAA approved 737 Max, who guarantees there are not similar problems in other planes?
There are something beyond 737 MCAS system that takes so much time to be fixed.

Axizan

Despite of all the grand spec. In airline industries, Boeing safety aspect fail miserably. Wit this the highest of death in new plane history.

David

They took a shortcut and now they are paying for it. Seems to me attempts to correct a physical design error with a software patch simply won’t cut it. Engines and weight distribution can’t be moved around like they that. This isn’t a military single seat fighter. The whole concept was wrong even to start with to try and beat the competition, then one only sensor, no pilot awareness, ignoring warnings, all inadmissible stupidity. Recovery of confidence may be very difficult even among pilots and cabin crews.

Michael Martinez

I will say to scrap the 737 Max. Cut your losses and start from scratch.
The management of Boeing needs to go and have new one that care.
The vision of money over safety needs to be corrected.
Changing the name of the aircraft won’t help any.
I think it should be no money from the bailout to fix the 737 Max. That was before the virus and all expenses should come from Boeing pocket.
So many things wrong here, that we can spend a lot of time talking about it.

Mick Russom

its not fixable. it should be clean sheeted along with a middle or market plane if that even needs to exist after the latest airline recession. boeing should get no money unless they clean sheet the 737. i complained about the max before any accidents happened – i was proven right. they could have spent a few billion for a clean sheet but now they are 20 billion in the hole with this pathetic piece of garbage max from the 1950s. it needs to be clean sheet redesigned period. i will not fly in it and the faa should ban it.

Jean-Louis Baron

I was in the aviation industry for over 50 years; as an electronic technician specialist in auto flight and navigation, then as an technical instructor and finally as a flight operations instructor. I have flown as a passenger on most commercial aircraft starting with the DC3. I only flew in a 737MAX once, before the crashes. Hated it. I found it uncomfortable, noisy, cramped.

In my view as a specialist in autopilots and stall protection systems, the MCAS is an afterthought to correct for a bad design. It will not prevent future accidents.

The best thing Boeing can do is salvage whatever parts it can scrap the rest and start over.

John Pascoe

People commenting on the 737Max and blaming the pilots for the two crashes should be ashamed of themselves. The world-wide grounding of the plane speaks for itself, as did the eventual resignation of the Boeing CEO. I believe the real elephant in the room is the supposed validity of any software fix of MCAS, together with the validity of any MCAS as a fix for an aircraft which has a unnatural tendency to pitch upwards and stall at least once per trip.

Azman Shah

B737 Max problem can be classified as 1 of the rear case among other Boeing aircrafts, especially B747 the queen of the skies and the outstanding old B737. Why not bring back the old version and solve the entire problems or build a new model to replace d faulty one.

Carlo

In my opinion redundency can improve the reliablity of boeing 737max, as if they add another sensor of angle and a conspicuous switch to override the sensors in the case they fail, job is done and safety is assured. Some people are talking about aerodynamics issue, I want to bring to their attention most of today’s vehocles stability issues have been solved by stability controllers which are softwares, If you do not believe in softwares you do’nt have to get onboard of any vehicle for their lack of safeties. Aviation class softwares are very vigorous and have a high safety integrity levels. In regard to passengers like me if there is not another accident we forget the past accident easily as 737max has so many advantages such as lower fuel consumption and maintenance costs. Good luck to Boeing engineers.

John Hall

The aircraft itself is one of the most uncomfortable airplanesI have ever been on . This was the American Airlines Version.I will go out of my way to never fly it again.