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Boeing, FAA Find New Issues With the 737 MAX

Boeing’s 737 MAX 7 lifts off for the first time. EASA says the aircraft family could be approved for European operation by the end of 2020. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Chuyi Chuang)

After closing one of the worst years in its history, Boeing Corporation is not starting this 2020 under the best auspices. According to the New York Times, citing multiple anonymous sources inside the company, more problems related to the Boeing 737 MAX have surfaced during the past few weeks and could delay the return to commercial service of the aircraft type, as well as potentially require interventions on other Boeing aircraft types currently in service.

The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded last March following two deadly accidents claiming the lives of 346 people and caused by a malfunction of the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), a new stabilization software introduced for MAX models. According to people familiar with the matter who spoke to the New York Times, a Boeing internal audit also revealed problems related to the wiring that helps control the tail of the MAX. Two bundles of critical wiring seem to be too close together and that could represent an issue should a short circuit interest that area.

Boeing is evaluating the severity of the risk and whether a physical modification may be needed on the over 800 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft already built. The company is saying that, should a fix be needed, it would be rather simple. Boeing will also investigate whether the issue would also interest the over 6,800 737 Next-Generation aircraft currently in service.  

“We are working closely with the F.A.A. and other regulators on a robust and thorough certification process to ensure a safe and compliant design,” said Gordon Johndroe, a Boeing spokesman, in a statement. “We identified these issues as part of that rigorous process, and we are working with the F.A.A. to perform the appropriate analysis. It would be premature to speculate as to whether this analysis will lead to any design changes.”

As representatives of foreign regulators are preparing to travel to Seattle to test the new MCAS software prepared by Boeing, the MAX’s engines manufactured by CFM International have also fallen under scrutiny. One of the engine’s rotors in now being investigated as it is found to be potentially weak and prone to shattering.

Furthermore, the FAA has recently informed Boeing that modifications to the outer shell of the engines introduced for the MAX model are leaving the aircraft more vulnerable to lightning strikes. Boeing is already preparing a solution to the issue.

A statement from the FAA stated that “the F.A.A. and Boeing are analyzing certain findings from a recent review of the proposed modifications to the Boeing 737 MAX. As part of its continuing oversight, the agency will ensure that all safety-related issues identified during this process are addressed before the aircraft is approved for return to passenger service.”

According to airline schedules, the earliest date MAX operators expect the aircraft type to return to service is next April, although it is not sure whether regulators will require type-rated pilots to undergo simulator training to get acquainted with the new MCAS software.

Vanni Gibertini

Author

  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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