Two deadly crashes within five months have left Boeing in a serious legal and financial predicament, due in part to the design of the Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jet. Introduced in 2017, the Boeing 737 Max 8 was originally intended as part of a series of newer models that would eventually replace several older 737 models. It’s larger size was implemented so that the Max could be the answer to Boeing’s corporate rival, Airbus.
Concerns surrounding the 737 Max 8 stem from the fact that its design is built upon the original 737 introduced in 1967. Rather than create new plane designs from scratch, Boeing instead chooses to update on previous designs; though this proved to be more efficient in both production and cost, it would later prove to have severe safety ramifications.
The first crash, which occurred in October 2018, resulted in the deaths of all 189 passengers and crew on board. The was the first major incident involving an aircraft model from the 737 Max series. Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was the second major accident which occurred in March 2019. Again, all passengers were killed as a result of the accident. Investigations have reported a major similarity among the two accidents being a faulty automated design system called MCAS that pushes the plane’s nose down in order to stabilize it. A 737 Max has larger engines than the traditional 737 model and as a result is known to stall in some conditions; while the system was intended to help the planes avoid stalling, it was later found that this system may have actually helped to cause the accidents.
Issues with the 737 design can also be attributed to what can only be described as a stretched design. As it is larger than a normal 737 model, Problems also arise from the fact that the model lacks proper safety precautions included in most other modern plane designs. The company, which is known to have a close relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), often takes over regulatory responsibilities from the administration itself, thus allowing itself to regulate its own flight systems. As a result of this, the US Department of Transportation as well as the US Department of Justice have both begun investigations into the relationship between the FAA and Boeing.
Improper training could also be a major cause of these incidents. As these planes were all part of the same series, pilots were never required by the FAA to undergo new training should they move from one 737 model to the next. According to reports, some pilots had no knowledge that the anti-stalling system was active as it was omitted from its training materials, and therefore would likely employ their own countermeasures if they found themselves dealing with a stalling engine. Though the investigation is still ongoing, it is thought that conflicting countermeasures could have resulted in the accidents.
In regards to the March 2019 crash, investigators in Ethiopia found that the pilots implemented the recommended process to disengage the Anti-Stalling system; despite this, they could not prevent the crash from occurring. Key figures from Boeing have stated that MCAS did in fact play a role in the resulting accidents. The system was made to rely on a single censor, as the use of multiple censors was thought to read conflicting information and thus would struggle to know what information was accurate—despite other flight systems usually implementing multiple censors. Investigators believe the system to have malfunctioned and tilted a tail flap forward, which resulted in the plane plunging forward before the pilot could have reacted accordingly. It is believed that the pilots cut power to the stabilizer’s motor thinking it would grant them more control.
The 737 Max was known to lack many modern safety features, among them an automatic preflight checklist implemented in previous Boeing 737 models. 737 Max pilots would be required to complete these checklists manually, increasing the likelihood of overlooking a faulty system. Another system that is lacking in a 737 Max would alert pilots to potentially hazardous flight conditions and instructs them and how to proceed. The reason for these omissions is thought to be in connection to further pilot training; should these systems have been implemented, it likely would have required new training to take place.
Following these instances, all models of the 737 Max 8 have been grounded indefinitely as ordered by several transit authorities globally. The mass grounding, as well as the resulting delay in production and delivery of new planes, is proving to be a major setback for Boeing. In order to rectify the issue, Boeing has recently begun working on a software update for the MCAS; however, an unexpected delay in this update has extended the grounding period for at least several more weeks.
The families of the victims have all begun to pursue legal action against Boeing. This, along with the grounding and production delay of 737 Max models and several federal investigations, could eventually prove severely consequential for the company as a whole.
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