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Pressure Mounts On Boeing, FAA Despite Assurances of 737 MAX Air Worthiness

Pressure Mounts On Boeing, FAA Despite Assurances of 737 MAX Air Worthiness

Pressure Mounts On Boeing, FAA Despite Assurances of 737 MAX Air Worthiness

A growing list of countries and individual airlines have decided to ground their Boeing 737 MAX aircraft despite continued assurances from the aircraft manufacturer and the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) that the aircraft remains safe.  The drastic action follows two deadly crashes of Boeing’s next-generation 737 MAX 8 aircraft in the space of six months – at present, there is no official cause for why either aircraft crashed just minutes after takeoff.

Today, civil aviation authorities in Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom as well as Malaysia and Oman joined their counterparts in China, Indonesia and Mongolia by grounding all 737 MAX 8 aircraft in their respective regions.  The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said it was temporarily suspending the operation of all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to or from Australia while it awaits more information to review the safety risks.

While no Australian airlines currently operate the 737 MAX, the suspension will affect Singapore’s Silk Air and Fiji Airways who both currently fly the aircraft model to Australia.

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said it would also be suspending all 737 MAX operations in the country until more information was available.  Along with Silk Air, a number of foreign carriers who currently fly the aircraft model to Singapore are affected by the decision – those airlines include China Southern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Shandong Airlines and Thai Lion Air.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has decided to act indepedently of European regulator EASA to stop 737 MAX aircraft flying in British air space.  The measure will ground all five Boeing 737 MAX 8’s registered in the UK and prevent any from departing, arriving or overflying the UK.  In a statement, the CAA said it was grounding the plane’s as “precautionary measure” until further notice.

A number of airlines have decided to voluntarily ground their 737 MAX aircraft – those include South Africa’s Comair who currently have one 737 MAX 8 in British Airways livery, along with Cayman Airways, Brazil’s Gol Airlines, Aeromexico, Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines.  India’s Jet Airways has also suspended operations of its 737 MAX aircraft (although they have in fact been grounded because the airline failed to keep up with aircraft lease repayments).

South Africa's Comair has decided to voluntartily ground its only Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo Credit: BoeingSouth Africa's Comair has decided to voluntartily ground its only Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo Credit: Boeing
South Africa’s Comair has decided to voluntartily ground its only Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo Credit: Boeing

Late yesterday afternoon, Boeing took the unusual step of responding to concerns that both Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash and the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 was caused by a new angle of attack sensor and software update which was not shared with pilots before going into service.

The allegation is that should there be a fault, pilots don’t know how to remedy the situation because Boeing hasn’t given them the necessary information – the decision by Boeing to seemingly withhold information about the aircraft was heavily criticised and the Allied Pilots Union (APA) who questioned: “is that everything, guys?”

The full statement from Boeing…

“For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer. This includes updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.

Boeing has been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on development, planning and certification of the software enhancement, and it will be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks. The update also incorporates feedback received from our customers.

The FAA says it anticipates mandating this software enhancement with an Airworthiness Directive (AD) no later than April. We have worked with the FAA in development of this software enhancement.

It is important to note that the FAA is not mandating any further action at this time, and the required actions in AD2018-23.5 continue to be appropriate.

A pitch augmentation control law (MCAS) was implemented on the 737 MAX to improve aircraft handling characteristics and decrease pitch-up tendency at elevated angles of attack. It was put through flight testing as part of the certification process prior to the airplane entering service. MCAS does not control the airplane in normal flight; it improves the behavior of the airplane in a non-normal part of the operating envelope.

Boeing’s 737 MAX Flight Crew Operations Manual (FCOM) already outlines an existing procedure to safely handle the unlikely event of erroneous data coming from an angle of attack (AOA) sensor. The pilot will always be able to override the flight control law using electric trim or manual trim. In addition, it can be controlled through the use of the existing runaway stabilizer procedure as reinforced in the Operations Manual Bulletin (OMB) issued on Nov. 6, 2018.”

In a separate update, the FAA issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification for the 737 MAX, again citing flight control system enhancements that it anticipates to be completed by April.

With a month yet to go until an immediate fix has been implemented, most aviation authorities are still allowing the aircraft to fly.  Officials in Europe and Canada say they are continuing to monitor the situation and will only provide updates should something material change.

Following its decision to keep flying the aircraft, American Airlines said it continued to have “confidence in the safe operation of all of our aircraft, including the 737 MAX 8.”

Hours after telling us it would continue to operate its fleet of 737 MAX aircraft, low-cost airline Norwegian has now decided to suspend operations.  “We have taken the decision to not operate flights using this aircraft type until advised otherwise by the relevant aviation authorities,” explained the airline’s chief operating officer, Tomas Hesthammer.

Air Italy said it would continue to operate its four Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft and that it was “in full compliance with all the regulators’ instructions and manufacturer’s operating procedures.”

“Air Italy is in constant dialogue with the authorities and will follow all directives to ensure the maximum level of safety and security,” said a spokesperson in an emailed statement

We’ve also reached out to Ryanair and TUI Fly but had not received a response by the time of publication.