A new chapter has been added to the Boeing 737 Max saga, and it’s pretty bleak. When the new aircraft was grounded worldwide in March following two fatal crashes in a five-month span, Boeing promised to fix the software at the heart of the malfunctioning aircraft and have Maxes back in the air by the end of the year. That, however, was before the dual bombshells that dropped on Boeing this week.
Not only did Boeing lose a $5.9 billion deal to make a fleet of 30 737 Maxes for Saudi Arabian budget airline Flyadeal, but they’re also being sued, along with Southwest Airlines, for allegedly conspiring to hide flaws in the aircraft’s system. And it’s only Thursday.
Needless to say, this does not bode well for the future of the 737 Max. But does this spell outright doom for Boeing’s trouble-plagued aircraft? We break it down.
Why are the 737 Max planes grounded?
A quick refresher: the 737 Max took its first flight in 2016 and came to market in 2017. The new model of the 737 was wildly and immediately popular, thanks to its ability to fly farther and more efficiently than past models. Boeing reported that they had received approximately 5,000 orders from over 100 customers worldwide (of which they’ve built and sold more than 750). Another part of the appeal? A promising a new flight-control software system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), an anti-stall system that would detect dangerous movement (such as ascent at a precarious speed or angle) and automatically maneuver the aircraft in order to avoid stalling and other fatal mistakes. That software, however, seems to be at the heart of what caused two deadly crashes in a five-month span.
First, in October 2018, a Lion Air 737 Max 8 flight taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia crashed into the Java Sea shortly after take-off, killing all 189 people on board. Then, in March, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 flight from Addis Ababa crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 157 people on board.
Investigators, government agencies (including the U.S.’s Federal Aviation Administration), and industry watchdogs scrambled to figure out what had happened as cries for the global fleet to be grounded grew louder. China and Indonesia were the first countries to ground their Max fleets, making their respective announcements on March 11, just one day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash. On that same day, the FAA issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community — a memorandum in support of continued use of the 737 Max.
Boeing also issued a statement, assuring the public that they would issue a software update to be approved by the FAA by April. But several countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, and Canada, proceeded to ground their fleets in the following days, and, eventually, the U.S. fleet was also grounded after the Trump administration succumbed to public pressure.
Both flights, according to investigators, crashed when the craft’s MCAS malfunctioned and pushed both planes into nosedives in order to compensate for what the plane’s sensors wrongly recognized as dangerous ascent patterns.