Boeing will ground the 737

Boeing 737 MAX: Neverending story with no happy ending

After lifting a two-year flight ban in November 2020, Boeing had delivered over 90 more 737 MAXs by April. Because they are not needed during the pandemic, most of them just moved where they are parked.

But now at least a quarter of all 500 737 MAXs shipped to date have been relegated to the ground after a new potential problem with the on-board electronics was discovered. This led to a halt in further deliveries of new aircraft - and the processes also illustrate the now tougher standards of the American aviation authority FAA for the approval of new types of aircraft.

Still in the air: An Air Canada Boeing 737 Max in Vancouver

Short circuit in the system

The agency had come under severe pressure for its too close cooperation with Boeing in the hasty initial approval of the 737 MAX. Only shortly after the problem with the electrical system emerged, new reports of corrosion findings in parts of the engines came at the beginning of May, a consequence of the long service life of the floor. In both cases, the FAA issued so-called airworthiness instructions, which tell all 24 airlines affected by the electrical problems and / or the users of the 158 engines with signs of corrosion what to do. But that leads to further delays and costs.

It remains unclear how many aircraft are at risk of on-board electrics, the FAA estimated 109 while other sources told Reuters up to 300, and it is also unclear when these 737 MAXs can take off again after modifications have been implemented were.

The production problem with electrical grounding appeared for the first time in April in a reserve unit for the power supply in the cockpit of freshly assembled aircraft. It was later found in two other areas, in the control unit bracket and in the instrument panel in front of the pilots. These potentially dangerous deficiencies can be remedied relatively easily, as Boeing suggested, by installing ground cables that connect each two of the surfaces.

On the ground: Newly produced 737 MAX, parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington (October 2020)

Early lifting of the flight ban?

But the discussion resulted in the FAA digging deeper and asking more questions, further delaying operations and potentially damaging the reputation of this type of aircraft further. But the role of the FAA is very much in focus, especially because its boss Steve Dickson had previously certified the re-approved 737 MAX it was "the most screened airliner in history". Critics, on the other hand, had already complained back then that the lifting of the flight ban for the 737 MAX was premature.

The problems now discovered appear to have no connection with the deficits that initially plagued the guy. At that time it was about the software of the automatic MCAS trim system, which was the main cause of the two accidents. Nevertheless, the new errors cast a dubious light on the current state of Boeing's production processes. Massive quality problems well beyond the 737 MAX have dominated the headlines for a long time, ranging from forgotten tools in the wings of 767 tanker aircraft to fundamental problems in the manufacture of the 787 Dreamliner at the South Carolina location.

A source told Reuters that the electrical grounding problem was the result of changing production methods, such as changing holes to speed things up. Ed Pierson, a well-known whistleblower and formerly the leading manager of the 737 production line, described the situation there in a congress hearing in 2018 as "chaotic and dysfunctional". He claims the reauthorisation process failed to change the impact of production standards at Boeing's Renton facility near Seattle.

Is that where the problem lies? A Boeing manufacturing facility, here in Wichita, Kansas

Words vs deeds?

The BBC quoted him as saying that it was "no surprise that new discoveries related to production defects in the 737 MAX are constantly coming to light." Other experts agree that old and new problems do not technically belong together, but that all deficits in the 737 MAX arose from the same corporate culture at Boeing, which is more focused on saving time and reducing costs than on maintaining quality standards.

This finding is not new and was part of the $ 2.5 billion fine between investigators and manufacturers agreed earlier this year. What alarms industry observers, however, is the fact that the situation does not seem to have fundamentally changed since then, despite announcements from Boeing that they are revising and reorganizing the processes. The aerospace giant still pats itself on the shoulder and boasts of "fundamental changes" while looking for ways to improve and "be determined to regain trust".

Did you lack the courage to make radical cuts?

Is it possible that Boeing will at some point lose patience with the previous bestselling 737 MAX? After it became the company's biggest nightmare after two crashes in 2018 and 2019? Would Boeing develop a newly designed successor model as soon as possible, a completely new, modern design for an aircraft with only one central aisle after the base model of the 737 first started passenger service at Lufthansa in 1968? Boeing CEO David Calhoun only rejected this outright in January: "The MAX will do very well in the competition for another generation," he insisted.

Boeing had been considering starting all over again for many years, but they did not dare to jump into the deep end, it would be extremely costly and always a risk. Instead, the long-time market leader relied on simply another derivative of its own To produce the seemingly immortal 737 while feeling the immense competitive pressure from Airbus.

Its A320neo, as a comparable offer, was virtually torn from the manufacturer's hands, and Airbus also had it much easier to adapt its existing aircraft design to new engines than Boeing. This approach almost toppled the Americans, both financially and reputationally. Some Boeing executives, at least those few from the time who are still there, may regret choosing the 737 MAX today. Because the saga of disasters and newly emerging problems with the type of aircraft seems to go on and on.

  • The end of the giant aviators

    Farewell to Sydney

    Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has retired the last Boeing 747 in his fleet. The last trip leads to the California Mojave Desert. Qantas was once the only airline in the world with a 747 fleet. A total of 30 Jumbos are currently still in use around the world, most of them as freighters.

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    Bye Bye Jumbo in London too

    At the end of last week, British Airways announced that it would shut down its entire 747 fleet early and with immediate effect. "With the decline in travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unlikely that our 'queen of the skies' will ever again offer commercial services to British Airways," the airline said.

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    Crowds on the first flight

    The first commercial flight of the Boeing 747 with PanAm was on January 21, 1970 from New York to London. Around 9,000 people had registered for the premiere, in the end only 360 could fly with them and only with obstacles. After one engine overheated, everyone had to transfer to a replacement machine, which then started almost seven hours late.

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    Glamor of the queen of the skies

    Until the end of the 1960s, flying was something for the wealthy. Now, thanks to cheaper tickets, normal wage earners could also afford flights. Still, the 747 wasn't easy to fill. Since air prices were still set by the state at the time, the airlines lured people with luxury such as cocktail lounges with sofas and kidney-shaped tables in the rear. To date, the 747 has carried almost six billion people.

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    The oil crisis also slowed the Boeing 747

    A few years after the glamorous start, the 1973 oil crisis stifled enthusiasm for the Jumbo. Many airlines have had to leave their 747s on the ground because it was simply too expensive to get in the air. Aircraft orders have been canceled. It was not until the mid-1970s that the jumbo jet became the dominant long-haul aircraft.

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    Long-haul icon revolutionized aviation

    Over the past five decades, the 747 has helped transform global air travel. Airports were expanded into huge hubs, because the huge jumbo jet could transport many passengers over long distances at the same time, in order to be flown on to regional airports in smaller planes.

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    Assassinations, technical problems, human error

    There were also tragic events in the jumbo jet era, such as the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 (picture) or the collision of two 747s on the runway of Tenerife Airport in 1977, in which more than 500 people were killed. Several Boeing 747s lost a complete engine in flight. As a result, a freight version fell on a house in Amsterdam.

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    747 hardly asked for in the end

    The industry is now relying on smaller machines with two engines that use less fuel. According to industry circles, Boeing ordered the last parts for the 747 from its suppliers at least a year ago. With a construction rate of half an aircraft per month, the program still has more than two years ahead of it, according to a company spokesman.

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    The US President continues to fly 747

    According to Bloomberg, the dozen or so aircraft ordered from Boeing are all freight versions of the 747, and in the passenger area no new jumbos have been ordered for years. The last order came from 2017, according to the Reuters news agency. The US government ordered two 747-8s as Air Force One for the president.

  • The end of the giant aviators

    Airbus no longer produces either

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    Author: Insa Wrede, Henrik Böhme