April 9th local time, Boeing said that it had found a potential electrical problem in some 737MAX passenger planes, and had advised 16 customers to stop flying the model of the airliner.
Why did the pride of the past become a nightmare of today?
In December 2010, Airbus announced that it would launch a more fuel-efficient A320NEO aircraft, and to compete with it, Boeing hurriedly approved the 737MAX plan in August 2011 and said it would save 4% of fuel than the former.
In order to speed up production, Boeing completed the technical drawings and design scheme in only three months, which is comparable to the emergency design speed of wartime weapons and equipment.
The 737MAX lived up to expectations. In less than a year after its first flight, it received more than 4,700 pledged orders from 100 customers around the world, making it the fastest-selling model in Boeing history.
In addition to being more fuel-efficient, the biggest selling point of the 737MAX is that pilots of the previous generation of 737 aircraft can “fly without training”. To achieve this effect, Boeing equipped the new aircraft with MCAS (Maneuverability Enhancement System) to reduce the control difference between the two generations of aircraft, but this system became the “Achilles Heel” of the 737MAX.
In October 2018 and March 2019, two Boeing 737MAX aircraft of Indonesian Lion Airways and Ethiopian Airlines crashed one after another, killing a total of 346 people. According to the investigation, both air crashes were related to the wrong activation of the MCAS system. Because Boeing concealed the relevant information about the system from the pilot, the crew could not keep abreast of the reality at the time of the accident.
The former best-selling model became a lethal passenger plane, and the 737MAX was grounded worldwide, causing Boeing to lose more than $20 billion.
The twists and turns of the road to return to flight
After the global grounding, Boeing has repeatedly promised to improve the system as soon as possible to achieve a return flight, but the reality is always “slapping in the face”.
The initial resumption time is set for June 2019, so that it can catch up with the summer transportation market in 2019. However, the suspension time of major airlines has been continuously extended. Boeing faced with a liquidity shortage, and finally announced the temporary suspension of 737MAX in January 2020.
At the same time, through internal investigations, Boeing has found short-circuit problems with wires at the tail of the 737MAX, system defects that hinder the start of the aircraft, and even flammable “fragments” in the fuel tank, which delayed the re-flying process again and again.
After the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the review of 737MAX’s resumed flight was also suspended until May last year.
On November 18, 2020, the Boeing 737MAX finally obtained a re-fly permit from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is 616 days after its suspension. Subsequently, Brazil, Canada, the European Union and other civil aviation agencies successively agreed to fly the aircraft again. However, has the long grounding dispelled people’s doubts? Negative news continues to be rebuilt, and trust has a long way to go.
On January 7 this year, the U.S. Department of Justice asked Boeing to compensate Lion Airways and EgyptAir for two air crashes, totaling more than $2.5 billion. Two days later, Indonesia’s Sanfozi Airlines Boeing 737-500 crashed, and preliminary investigation reports said that the automatic throttle failure may be the reason why the plane fell into the sea out of control. The successive air crashes have plunged Boeing into a crisis of confidence again.
The Federal Aviation Administration said that as early as 2016, Boeing employees had found serious problems with the MCAS system of Boeing 737MAX series passenger planes, and Boeing chose to deliberately conceal it.
U.S. transportation officials warned that “if the design defects of the MCAS system in the 737MAX are not corrected, up to 15 fatal accidents can be caused throughout the fleet’s service.” So far, Boeing has not given a clear answer to how much the MCAS system has improved or other solutions.
Although the most emerging electrical problems have nothing to do with the control system that caused the 737MAX to be grounded, it undoubtedly made Boeing’s road to rebuild trust worse. After the news was exposed, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines immediately announced the suspension of related aircraft.
Boeing said on the 9th that it is expected that the repair time of this electrical failure will last for a few days or hours. But rebuilding trust is the biggest problem Boeing faces compared with solving aircraft failures.