Boeing bows to global sentiment, grounds the 737 Max globally

Best-selling aircraft to stay off air till fly-by-wire software is fixed

March 14, 2019 By Vishal Thapar Photo(s): By Boeing
Boeing has termed its action as "an abundance of caution", describing it as a temporary measure, but given the global backlash, the 737 Max is unlikely to fly till the fly-by-wire software is fixed

International concerns over the safety of the Boeing 737 Max forced the world's biggest airplane manufacturer to recommend grounding its best-selling new aircraft across the globe on March 13 following the catastrophic crash in Ethiopia three days earlier.

Options for Boeing, which so far resisted taking this step, ran out amidst the growing global backlash, with 50 countries, including India, suspending flying on the 737 Max. US President Donald Trump announced grounding of the 737 Max variant on Wednesday after the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) cited new crash data and satellite imagery to justify the action.

"The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision," the FAA declared in a statement.

"The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft's flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders," the FAA statement added.

This is the second time in six years that a Boeing fleet has been grounded. In 2013, the 787 Dreamliner was taken off air due to the problem of smoking batteries.

While emphasising its "full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max", Boeing fell in line with international sentiment, terming the suspension of flying as a temporary measure actuated by abundant caution.

"However, after consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, Boeing has determined - out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft's safety - to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft," a Boeing statement declared.

Boeing shares have fallen 10 per cent since the Ethiopian crash, wiping off an estimated $25 Billion from the company's market value.

"We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution. Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again," said Dennis Muilenburg, president, CEO & chairman of Boeing.

Preliminary investigations show similarities in the situation involving the Ethiopian Airlines crash with that of the Lion Air crash in the Java Sea on October 29, 2018 which killed all 189 persons on board. Reports on both investigations suggest huge fluctuations in altitude shortly after take-off, indicating a futile struggle by pilots to regain control of the aircraft after these were forced into fatal dives by an apparently flawed safety feature in the flight control system.

It is not clear yet how long it will take to fix the apparent software glitch, but what seems certain is that the 737 Max will not fly till this is done.

This development presents a big challenge to Boeing's efforts to position the 737 Max as the workhorse of the future for airlines across the world. More than 5,000 737 Max aircraft are on order, and this is central to its contest with its European rival Airbus