Boeing 737 MAX: A premium brand in the dock

According to James Altucher:”Your competition is not other people but the time you kill, the ill will you create, the knowledge you neglect to learn, the connections you fail to build, the health you sacrifice along the path, your inability to generate ideas, the people around you who don’t support and love your efforts, and whatever god you curse for your bad luck”.

The above quote paints a clearer picture of the Boeing Company, which is right now battling a monumental image crisis following the unfortunate crashes involving two of its Boeing 737 MAX series. The plane crashes that occurred in Indonesia and Ethiopia within a space of five months triggered a backlash from across the globe.

According to reports, Boeing was in a haste to outdo its major rival, Airbus with its premium aircraft brand; the Boeing 737 MAX that was launched on August 30, 2011 as the fourth generation of the Boeing 737, succeeding the Boeing 737 Next Generation (NG).

The Boeing 737 MAX series which include: B737 MAX 7, B737 MAX 8 and B737 MAX 9 were manufactured in a hurry and without due diligence all in a bid to beat competition as Boeing was said to have allegedly reduced the timeframe for the production of the aircraft after American Airlines, an exclusive Boeing customer, placed an order for Airbus, A320neo, fuel-efficient jets from Boeing‘s rival, Airbus, which is also a leading aircraft maker.

The Boeing Company was said to have fast-tracked the production of the Boeing 737 MAX series knowing that it could lose market share to its arch rival, Airbus, which has been out producing Boeing for years.

The Boeing Company opted to upgrade its Boeing 737, patching the plane with a  software meant to compensate for bigger, more fuel-efficient engines and ensure the plane flew the same way as an earlier version.

This, therefore, saved the company the stress of having to build a new airplane from the scratch.

According to a report by The New York Times, Engineers were pushed to submit technical drawings and designs at roughly double the normal pace – a production that was slated for six years was built months later. This was done to avoid costing the manufacturer billions in lost sales to Airbus and potentially thousands of jobs.

“They weren’t going to stand by and let Airbus steal market share,” said Mike Renzelmann, an engineer who retired in 2016 from Boeing’s flight control team on the 737 MAX.

Boeing began production late because the company did not see Airbus‘A320neo as a threat. The Chief Executive of Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes Division, Mr. James Albaugh, said Airbus would probably go over budget creating a plane that carriers didn’t really want; but all that changed when American Airlines made an order.

Despite meeting up to the timeframe, Boeing had to share the sales with Airbus as American Airlines decided to make deals with both manufacturers.

But, since the recent crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 which crashed six minutes after takeoff with 157 passengers and crew; attention has been focused on an automated anti-stall flight control system, “MCAS”, newly introduced on the 737 MAX as the major deficiency of the aircraft.

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea twelve minutes after takeoff with 189 passengers and crew. On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after takeoff with 157 passengers and crew.

In each accident, the aircraft was less than four months old. Satellite tracking data showed similar flight profiles, which indicated that soon after takeoff both airplanes pitched down multiple times and experienced extreme fluctuations in upward and downward speed, as the pilots evidently struggled for control.

The Boeing 737 MAX series had since been grounded by several countries including Nigeria for safety reasons as the Boeing Company has stated that it would reduce the production of B737 MAX by 20%.

According to the preliminary report, the flight data recorder information indicated that the airplane had an erroneous angle of attack sensor input that activated the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) function during the flight, as it had during the Lion Air 610 flight.

To ensure unintended MCAS activation will not occur again, Boeing has developed and is planning to release a software update to MCAS and an associated comprehensive pilot training and supplementary education program for the 737 MAX.

While reacting to the preliminary report on ET flight 302, Boeing’s CEO, Mr. Dennis Muilenburg, said: “We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX accidents. These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds, and we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.”

“All of us feel the immense gravity of these events across our company and recognize the devastation of the families and friends of the loved ones who perished.”

“The full details of what happened in the two accidents will be issued by the government authorities in the final reports, but, with the release of the preliminary report of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accident investigation, it’s apparent that in both flights the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information.”

“We remain confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 MAX. All who fly on it—the passengers, flight attendants and pilots, including our own families and friends—deserve our best. When the MAX returns to the skies with the software changes to the MCAS function, it will be among the safest airplanes ever to fly.”

“Again, we’re deeply saddened by and are sorry for the pain these accidents have caused worldwide. Everyone affected has our deepest sympathies.” Muilenburg added.

It is expected that due diligence should be put into consideration in making all the necessary corrections to the Boeing 737 MAX series so that it can win back the confidence of stakeholders and passengers in the aviation industry worldwide when it is eventually rolled out by the Boeing Company.


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