Tag Archives: Boeing 737 MAX

EASA lays out tougher conditions for the return of Boeing 737 MAX in Europe

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published a Proposed Airworthiness Directive (PAD) concerning the Boeing 737 MAX for public consultation, signalling its intention to approve the aircraft to return to Europe’s skies within a matter of weeks.

The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded by EASA on March 12, 2019, following two accidents with total loss of aircraft in which 346 people died. Intense work involving the dedicated attention from around 20 EASA experts over a period of around 20 months has now given EASA the confidence to declare the aircraft will be safe to fly again. The Federal Aviation Administration of the United States (FAA), State of Design for Boeing aircraft, published its final approval of the modified 737 MAX in the Federal Register on November 20, 2020.

“EASA made clear from the outset that we would conduct our own objective and independent assessment of the 737 MAX, working closely with the FAA and Boeing, to make sure that there can be no repeat of these tragic accidents, which touched the lives of so many people,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky.

“I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in our assessment of the aircraft with its changed design approach,” he added. “Each time when it may have appeared that problems were resolved, we dug deeper and asked even more questions. The result was a thorough and comprehensive review of how this plane flies and what it is like for a pilot to fly the MAX, giving us the assurance that it is now safe to fly.”

Investigations into the two accidents showed that a primary cause in each was a software function programme known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was intended to make the aircraft easier to handle. However, the MCAS, guided by only one Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor, kicked in repeatedly if that sensor malfunctioned, pushing the nose of the aircraft downward multiple times and leading finally in both accidents to a complete loss of control of the aircraft.

“EASA’s review of the 737 MAX began with the MCAS but went far beyond,” Ky said. “We took a decision early on to review the entire flight control system and gradually broadened our assessment to include all aspects of design which could influence how the flight controls operated. This led, for example, to a deeper study of the wiring installation, which resulted in a change that is now also mandated in the Proposed Airworthiness Directive. We also pushed the aircraft to its limits during flight tests, assessed the behaviour of the aircraft in failure scenarios, and could confirm that the aircraft is stable and has no tendency to pitch-up even without the MCAS.”

Human factor analysis was another focus area – to ensure that the pilots were provided with the right alerts in the cockpit if a problem arose, along with the procedures and training needed to know how to respond. A fundamental problem of the original MCAS is that many pilots did not even know it was there. In the accident version of the aircraft, there was no caution light to make a pilot aware that the AoA sensor was faulty, making it almost impossible to determine the root cause of the problem.

That is why EASA now proposes that the changes to the aircraft design which will be required by the final Airworthiness Directive will be accompanied by a mandatory training program for pilots, including flight simulator training, to ensure that the pilots are familiar with all aspects of the flight control system of the 737 MAX and will react appropriately to typical failure scenarios. 

The EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive is now open for a 28-day consultation period. Once that ends, EASA will take time to review the comments made, before publishing its final Airworthiness Directive. That final publication is expected from mid-January 2021 and will constitute the formal ungrounding decision of the plane for all 737 MAX aircraft operated by operators from EASA Member States. After the return to service, EASA has committed to monitor the plane closely in-service, to allow for early detection of any problems that may arise.

In conjunction with the Proposed Airworthiness Directive, EASA also issued a Preliminary Safety Directive for 28-day consultation. This will require non-European airlines which are holders of EASA third country operator (TCO) authorisation to implement equivalent requirements, including aircrew training. This will allow for the return to service of the 737 MAX when the aircraft concerned are operated under an EASA TCO authorisation into, within or out of the territory of the EASA Member States.

Additional information
In summary, the EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive mandates the following main actions: 

  • Software updates for the flight control computer, including the MCAS
  • Software updates to display an alert in case of disagreement between the two AoA sensors
  • Physical separation of wires routed from the cockpit to the stabiliser trim motor
  • Updates to flight manuals: operational limitations and improved procedures to equip pilots to understand and manage all relevant failure scenarios
  • Mandatory training for all 737 MAX pilots before they fly the plane again, and updates of the initial and recurrent training of pilots on the MAX
  • Tests of systems including the AoA sensor system
  • An operational readiness flight, without passengers, before commercial usage of each aircraft to ensure that all design changes have been correctly implemented and the aircraft successfully and safely brought out of its long period of storage. 

For details, see the text of the Proposed Airworthiness Directive.

EASA, and regulators in Canada and Brazil, worked closely with the FAA and Boeing throughout the last 20 months to return the plane safely to operations.

The EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive requires the same changes to the aircraft as the FAA, meaning that there will be no software or technical differences between the aircraft operated by the United States operators and by the EASA member states operators (the 27 European Union members plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The United Kingdom is until December 31, 2020 also treated as an EU member state.)

However, EASA’s requirements differ from the FAA in two main respects. EASA explicitly allows flight crews to intervene to stop a stick shaker from continuing to vibrate once it has been erroneously activated by the system, to prevent this distracting the crew. EASA also, for the time being, mandates that the aircraft’s autopilot should not be used for certain types of high-precision landings. The latter is expected to be a short-term restriction.

The mandated training for pilots is broadly the same for both authorities.

Before individual airlines can assign the plane to their flight schedules, they will need to complete all the software upgrades and maintenance actions described in the final Airworthiness Directive. They also need to train their 737 MAX pilots. As there are only a limited number of simulators, this may take some time to schedule. Some of this work can be started now, even in advance of the final Airworthiness Directive publication.

Some EASA member states issued their own decision prohibiting the operation of the 737 MAX last year for their sovereign airspace. These bans will need to be lifted before the aircraft can fly again in the airspace of these countries.  EASA is working closely with the relevant national authorities to achieve this.

EASA has also agreed with Boeing that the manufacturer will work to even further increase the resilience of the aircraft systems to AoA sensor failures so as to further enhance the safety of the aircraft. Boeing will also conduct a complementary Human Factor assessment of its crew alerting systems within the next 12 months, with the aim of potentially upgrading these to a more modern design approach.

Boeing responds to FAA approval to resume 737 MAX operations

Boeing issued this statement (note: Boeing is no longer using the MAX term in the designation):

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today rescinded the order that halted commercial operations of Boeing 737-8s and 737-9s. The move will allow airlines that are under the FAA’s jurisdiction, including those in the U.S., to take the steps necessary to resume service and Boeing to begin making deliveries.

“We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” said David Calhoun, chief executive officer of The Boeing Company. “These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity.”

Throughout the past 20 months, Boeing has worked closely with airlines, providing them with detailed recommendations regarding long-term storage and ensuring their input was part of the effort to safely return the airplanes to service.

An Airworthiness Directive issued by the FAA spells out the requirements that must be met before U.S. carriers can resume service, including installing software enhancements, completing wire separation modifications, conducting pilot training and accomplishing thorough de-preservation activities that will ensure the airplanes are ready for service.

“The FAA’s directive is an important milestone,” said Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide.”

In addition to changes made to the airplane and pilot training, Boeing has taken three important steps to strengthen its focus on safety and quality.

  1. Organizational Alignment: More than 50,000 engineers have been brought together in a single organization that includes a new Product & Services Safety unit, unifying safety responsibilities across the company.
  2. Cultural Focus: Engineers have been further empowered to improve safety and quality. The company is identifying, diagnosing and resolving issues with a higher level of transparency and immediacy.
  3. Process Enhancements: By adopting next-generation design processes, the company is enabling greater levels of first-time quality.

House Final Committee Report on the Boeing 737 MAX

Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) one September 16, 2020 released the Committee’s final report on the Boeing 737 MAX. This report, prepared by Majority Staff, lays out the serious flaws and missteps in the design, development, and certification of the aircraft, which entered commercial service in 2017 before suffering two deadly crashes within five months of each other that killed a total of 346 people, including eight Americans.

The Committee’s 238-page report, which points to repeated and serious failures by both The Boeing Company (Boeing) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), contains five central themes and includes more than six dozen investigative findings. These themes include:

  • Production pressures that jeopardized the safety of the flying public. There was tremendous financial pressure on Boeing and the 737 MAX program to compete with Airbus’ new A320neo aircraft. Among other things, this pressure resulted in extensive efforts to cut costs, maintain the 737 MAX program schedule, and avoid slowing the 737 MAX production line.
  • Faulty Design and Performance Assumptions. Boeing made fundamentally faulty assumptions about critical technologies on the 737 MAX, most notably with MCAS, the software designed to automatically push the airplane’s nose down in certain conditions. Boeing also expected that pilots, who were largely unaware that MCAS existed, would be able to mitigate any potential malfunction.
  • Culture of Concealment. Boeing withheld crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots, including internal test data that revealed it took a Boeing test pilot more than 10 seconds to diagnose and respond to uncommanded MCAS activation in a flight simulator, a condition the pilot described as “catastrophic.” Federal guidelines assume pilots will respond to this condition within four seconds.
  • Conflicted Representation. The FAA’s current oversight structure with respect to Boeing creates inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public. The report documents multiple instances in which Boeing employees who have been authorized to perform work on behalf of the FAA failed to alert the FAA to potential safety and/or certification issues.
  • Boeing’s Influence Over the FAA’s Oversight Structure. Multiple career FAA officials have documented examples where FAA management overruled a determination of the FAA’s own technical experts at the behest of Boeing. These examples are consistent with results of a recent draft FAA employee “safety culture” survey that showed many FAA employees believed its senior leaders are more concerned with helping industry achieve its goals and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions.

“Our report lays out disturbing revelations about how Boeing—under pressure to compete with Airbus and deliver profits for Wall Street—escaped scrutiny from the FAA, withheld critical information from pilots, and ultimately put planes into service that killed 346 innocent people. What’s particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes,” Chair DeFazio said. “On behalf of the families of the victims of both crashes, as well as anyone who steps on a plane expecting to arrive at their destination safely, we are making this report public to put a spotlight not only on the broken safety culture at Boeing but also the gaps in the regulatory system at the FAA that allowed this fatally-flawed plane into service. Critically, our report gives Congress a roadmap on the steps we must take to reinforce aviation safety and regulatory transparency, increase Federal oversight, and improve corporate accountability to help ensure the story of the Boeing 737 MAX is never, ever repeated.”

“The Committee’s thorough investigation uncovered errors that are difficult to hear, but necessary to confront about the 737 MAX certification,” Chair Larsen said. “This report, combined with the findings and recommendations from the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines investigations, National Transportation Safety Board, Joint Authorities Technical Review and other entities, serve as a roadmap for changes to the FAA certification process. The 346 victims of the two tragic crashes and their families, as well as the traveling public rightfully expect Congress to act. As the Committee moves into the next phase of oversight, I will continue to work with Chair DeFazio and my colleagues to address the significant cultural and structural deficiencies identified in the report in order to improve safety.”

Additional information:

At the direction of Chair DeFazio and Subcommittee Chair Larsen, the Committee launched an investigation into the design, development, and certification of the 737 MAX, and related issues, in March 2019, shortly after the second crash involving a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. As part of the 18-month long investigation, the Committee held five public hearings with more than 20 witnesses; wrote nearly two dozen oversight letters, obtained an estimated 600,000 pages of documents from Boeing, the FAA, and others; received information and insight from former and current employees who contacted the Committee directly through the Committee’s whistleblower link; and interviewed dozens of current and former Boeing and FAA employees.

To access the Final Report, newly released accompanying records, including transcribed interviews of both senior Boeing and FAA officials about the 737 MAX, as well as past statements, hearing video, and more, click here.

Boeing Statement on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Report on 737 MAX

Boeing cooperated fully and extensively with the Committee’s inquiry since it began in early 2019. We have been hard at work strengthening our safety culture and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators, and the flying public. The passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, as well as their loved ones, continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.

Multiple committees, experts, and governmental authorities have examined issues related to the MAX, and we have incorporated many of their recommendations, as well as the results of our own internal reviews, into the 737 MAX and the overall airplane design process. The revised design of the MAX has received intensive internal and regulatory review, including more than 375,000 engineering and test hours and 1,300 test flights. Once the FAA and other regulators have determined the MAX can safely return to service, it will be one of the most thoroughly scrutinized aircraft in history, and we have full confidence in its safety. We have also taken steps to bolster safety across our company, consulting outside experts and learning from best practices in other industries. We have set up a new safety organization to enhance and standardize safety practices, restructured our engineering organization to give engineers a stronger voice and a more direct line to share concerns with top management, created a permanent Aerospace Safety Committee of our Board of Directors as well as expanded the role of the Safety Promotion Center.

We have learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and from the mistakes we have made.  As this report recognizes, we have made fundamental changes to our company as a result, and continue to look for ways to improve. Change is always hard and requires daily commitment, but we as a company are dedicated to doing the work.

For more information on steps Boeing is taking to strengthen safety, visit our 2020 Proxy Statement and our 737 MAX Resources Page.

Reuters: FAA proposes requiring key Boeing 737 MAX design changes

From Reuters:

“The Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday it is proposing requiring four key Boeing 737 MAX design changes to address safety issues seen in two crashes that killed 346 people and led to the plane’s grounding in March 2019.

The agency is issuing a proposed airworthiness directive to require updated flight-control software, revised display-processing software to generate alerts, revising certain flight-crew operating procedures, and changing the routing of some wiring bundles.”

Read the full report.

Spirit AeroSystems furloughs 900 employees due to Boeing order to slow MAX production

Spirit AeroSystems made this announcement:

On June 4, 2020, Spirit AeroSystems received a letter from Boeing directing Spirit to pause additional work on four 737 MAX shipsets and avoid starting production on sixteen 737 MAX shipsets to be delivered in 2020, until otherwise directed by Boeing, in order to support Boeing’s alignment of near-term delivery schedules to its customers’ needs in light of COVID-19’s impact on air travel and airline operations, and in order to mitigate the expenditure of potential unnecessary production costs.

Based on the information in the letter, subsequent correspondence from Boeing dated June 9, 2020, and Spirit’s discussions with Boeing regarding 2020 737 MAX production, Spirit believes there will be a reduction to Spirit’s previously disclosed 2020 737 MAX production plan of 125 shipsets. Spirit does not yet have definitive information on what the magnitude of the reduction will be but expects it will be more than 20 shipsets.

The 737 MAX grounding coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging, dynamic and evolving situation. During this time, Spirit plans to work with Boeing to determine a definitive production plan for 2020 and manage the 737 MAX production system and supply chain.

Due to the matters described above, Spirit has elected to place certain Wichita hourly employees directly associated with production work and support functions for the 737 MAX program on a 21 calendar day unpaid temporary layoff/furlough effective Monday, June 15. In addition, Spirit will declare an immediate reduction of the hourly workforce in Tulsa and McAlester, Okla., effective Friday, June 12.

Nearly one year after launching its Boeing 737 MAX investigation, House Transportation Committee issues preliminary investigative findings

On March 6, 2020, nearly one year after launching its investigation into the design, development, and certification of the Boeing 737 MAX, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Majority Staff released its preliminary investigative findings.

The Boeing 737 MAX, which was certified by the FAA and entered revenue service in 2017, was involved in two fatal crashes within five months of each other that killed a total of 346 people, including 8 Americans. The aircraft remains grounded worldwide.

Copyright Photo: 737s in storage at Victorville, CA (Rainer Bexten).

The Committee’s preliminary findings, titled “The Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft: Costs, Consequences, and Lessons from its Design, Development, and Certification,” outlines technical design failures on the aircraft and Boeing’s lack of transparency with aviation regulators and its customers as well as Boeing’s efforts to obfuscate information about the operation of the aircraft.

The Committee’s investigation, as detailed in the preliminary findings, focuses on five main areas:

  • Production pressures on Boeing employees that jeopardized aviation safety;
  • Boeing’s faulty assumptions about critical technologies, most notably regarding the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS;
  • Boeing’s concealment of crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and pilots;
  • Inherent conflicts of interest among authorized representatives, or ARs, who are Boeing employees authorized to perform certification work on behalf of the FAA; and
  • Boeing’s influence over the FAA’s oversight that resulted in FAA management rejecting safety concerns raised by the agency’s own technical experts at the behest of Boeing.

To read the preliminary findings and see specific examples from the Committee’s investigation, click here.

“Our Committee’s investigation will continue for the foreseeable future, as there are a number of leads we continue to chase down to better understand how the system failed so horribly. But after nearly 12 months of reviewing internal documents and conducting interviews, our Committee has been able to bring into focus the multiple factors that allowed an unairworthy airplane to be put into service, leading to the tragic and avoidable deaths of 346 people,” Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said. “As we release this report to lay out our findings to date, my thoughts are with the families of the victims. Our search for answers continues on their behalf and for everyone who boards an airplane. The public deserves peace of mind that safety is always the top priority for everyone who has a role in our aviation system.”

“Nearly one year ago, the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 tragedy devastated families and communities across the globe. The victims of this tragedy and Lion Air Flight 610, their families, as well as the traveling public, rightfully expect Congress to act,” Chair Rick Larsen (D-WA) said. “The Committee’s preliminary investigative findings, combined with the findings and recommendations from the Lion Air investigation, National Transportation Safety Board, Joint Authorities Technical Review and other entities, makes it abundantly clear Congress must change the method by which the FAA certifies aircraft. As Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, I will work with Chair DeFazio and the Committee to address the issues identified in the certification process to improve safety, including the integration of human factors in aircraft certification. As the Committee enters the next phase of its oversight investigation, I will continue to keep the victims and their families at the forefront.”

In the coming weeks, Chairs DeFazio and Larsen intend to introduce legislation that will address failures in the certification process uncovered by the Committee’s investigation.

Background: As part of its ongoing investigation, the Committee has held five public hearings with more than a dozen witnesses; obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from Boeing, the FAA, and others involved in the aircraft’s design; heard from numerous whistleblowers who contacted the Committee directly; and interviewed dozens of former and current employees of both Boeing and the FAA. For information on past hearings, statements, and documents, click here.

Boeing statement on 737 MAX return to service

Boeing has made this announcement:

As we have emphasized, the FAA and other global regulators will determine when the 737 MAX returns to service. However, in order to help our customers and suppliers plan their operations, we periodically provide them with our best estimate of when regulators will begin to authorize the ungrounding of the 737 MAX.

We are informing our customers and suppliers that we are currently estimating that the ungrounding of the 737 MAX will begin during mid-2020. This updated estimate is informed by our experience to date with the certification process. It is subject to our ongoing attempts to address known schedule risks and further developments that may arise in connection with the certification process. It also accounts for the rigorous scrutiny that regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review of the 737 MAX’s flight control system and the Joint Operations Evaluation Board process which determines pilot training requirements.

Returning the MAX safely to service is our number one priority, and we are confident that will happen. We acknowledge and regret the continued difficulties that the grounding of the 737 MAX has presented to our customers, our regulators, our suppliers, and the flying public. We will provide additional information about our efforts to safely return the 737 MAX to service in connection with our quarterly financial disclosures next week.

Copyright Photo: Joe G. Walker.

Boeing statement on employee messages provided to U.S. Congress and FAA

Boeing has issued this statement in light of the release of internal company emails regarding the 737 MAX:

In December, Boeing proactively brought these communications to the FAA’s attention in furtherance of the company’s commitment to transparency with our regulator and strong safety oversight of our industry. We also provided copies to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in recognition of their oversight functions. These documents have been released publicly at the encouragement of Chairman DeFazio and Chairman Wicker.

Some of these communications relate to the development and qualification of Boeings MAX simulators in 2017 and 2018. These communications contain provocative language, and, in certain instances, raise questions about Boeing’s interactions with the FAA in connection with the simulator qualification process.

Having carefully reviewed the issue, we are confident that all of Boeing’s MAX simulators are functioning effectively. The qualification activities referenced in these communications occurred early in the service life of these simulators. Since that time, both internal and external subject matter experts have repeatedly tested and qualified the simulators at issue. Indeed, more than twenty regulatory qualifications of MAX simulators, performed by the FAA and multiple international regulators, have been conducted since early 2017. The specific Miami simulator that was used for the early qualification tests has been re-evaluated six times during this time period. The simulator software has been constantly improving during this time, through repeated cycles of testing, qualification, and revision of the software code.

These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable. That said, we remain confident in the regulatory process for qualifying these simulators.

In the context of providing these communications to the FAA, and having carefully considered the FAA’s perspective on these matters, we also decided to provide additional documents that were identified in the course of legal reviews of the 737 MAX program. We provided these documents to the FAA and Congress as a reflection of our commitment to transparency and cooperation with the authorities responsible for regulating and overseeing our industry. We welcome, and will fully support, any additional review the FAA believes is appropriate in connection with any of these matters, as well as the continued involvement of the relevant congressional committees with these issues.

We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture. The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.

Read the comments.

Boeing suspends 737 MAX production starting in January

Boeing has made this announcement:

Safely returning the 737 MAX to service is our top priority. We know that the process of approving the 737 MAX’s return to service, and of determining appropriate training requirements, must be extraordinarily thorough and robust, to ensure that our regulators, customers, and the flying public have confidence in the 737 MAX updates. As we have previously said, the FAA and global regulatory authorities determine the timeline for certification and return to service. We remain fully committed to supporting this process. It is our duty to ensure that every requirement is fulfilled, and every question from our regulators answered.

Throughout the grounding of the 737 MAX, Boeing has continued to build new airplanes and there are now approximately 400 airplanes in storage. We have previously stated that we would continually evaluate our production plans should the MAX grounding continue longer than we expected. As a result of this ongoing evaluation, we have decided to prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft and temporarily suspend production on the 737 program beginning next month.

We believe this decision is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health. This decision is driven by a number of factors, including the extension of certification into 2020, the uncertainty about the timing and conditions of return to service and global training approvals, and the importance of ensuring that we can prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft. We will continue to assess our progress towards return to service milestones and make determinations about resuming production and deliveries accordingly.

During this time, it is our plan that affected employees will continue 737-related work, or be temporarily assigned to other teams in Puget Sound. As we have throughout the 737 MAX grounding, we will keep our customers, employees, and supply chain top of mind as we continue to assess appropriate actions. This will include efforts to sustain the gains in production system and supply chain quality and health made over the last many months.

We will provide financial information regarding the production suspension in connection with our 4Q19 earnings release in late January.

Copyright Photo: Joe G. Walker.