Boeing 737 MAX: Unsuccessful Successor of a Successful Aircraft

By: Suad Čobo


In 1967, the original Boeing 737 saw the light of day with its first-ever flight. 52 years later, more than ten thousand aircraft of different variants of this model were built. However, the future is not as bright now as it used to be.

Turkish Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX arriving at Sarajevo International Airport (SJJ/LQSA) [Photo: Anur Džafović @sjj.aviation] [1]


History of Boeing 737 MAX

In 2006, Boeing started considering a replacement for the 737 with a "clean-sheet" design that could follow the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.


On August 30, 2011, Boeing's Board of Directors approved the launch of the re-engined 737, expecting a fuel burn 4% lower than the Airbus A320neo. Studies for additional aerodynamic drag reduction were performed in2011, including a revised tail cone and other improved parts. However, Boeing abandoned the development of a new design and firm configuration for the 737 MAX was scheduled for 2013. The company expected the 737 MAX to meet or exceed the range of its competitor, theA320neo. The company also introduced a new system to this type, the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The system’s main purpose is to automatically lower the aircraft nose without pilot action when it determines that the aircraft is too nose-high, based on inputs from airspeed, altitude, and angle of attack sensors. However, it was subject to many controversies, which are described in the next paragraphs.


Sparks that Ignited the Failure

However, the Boeing 737 MAX quickly became a cause for concern as two crashes occurred: the Lion Air Flight JT610 (October 29, 2018) and Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 (March 10, 2019). Investigators believe that both flights are believed that they had a software problem with the aforementioned MCAS as both flights crashed shortly after takeoff due to a high angle of attack recognized by MCAS.


On November 7, 2018, Boeing published a supplementary service bulletin prompted by the first crash. The bulletin described the warnings triggered by the erroneous angle of attack data, which referred pilots to an emergency procedure as resolution specifying a narrow window of a few seconds before the system’s application. A December 2018 report from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US predicted fifteen more crashes if the aircraft was not grounded, or the MCAS was not fixed immediately.


Aftermath


The Civil Aviation Administration of China in the People’s Republic of China was the first authority to order all airlines operating on the Boeing 737 MAX to suspend all operations by on March 11th, thus grounding 96 aircraft (around 25% of all delivered by Boeing) in China. This decision was soon followed by Indonesia and Mongolia on March 11, and other countries and authorities (see map). Nevertheless, Boeing still continued to produce the aircraft, even after FAA’s ban, until they eventually paused further productions in January 2020. Unfortunately, a new software issue was discovered during a technical review of a proposed update to the grounded Boeing 737 MAX in early January 2020, further delaying the plane’s return to service. According to a U.S. official, the FAA is unlikely to approve the plane’s return until March 2020.


References

[1] Boeing 737 MAX. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia (English): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737_MAX

[2] Boeing 737 MAX Groundings. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia (English):https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737_MAX_groundings

[3] Boeing 737. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia (English): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737

[4] Boeing 737 Next Generation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia (English): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737_Next_Generation

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