Boeing Suspends 737 MAX Production

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Boeing will “temporarily suspend production” of the 737 MAX in January as recertification issues drag on. Around 400 of the airliners have been built but not delivered since the grounding in March. The company trimmed production by 10 units a month (to a still heady 42) early in the crisis that has severely stressed Boeing’s reputation and impacted its market value.

In a statement, Boeing said, “Safely returning the 737 MAX to service is our top priority. We know that the process of approving the 737 MAX’s return to service, and of determining appropriate training requirements, must be extraordinarily thorough and robust, to ensure that our regulators, customers, and the flying public have confidence in the 737 MAX updates.” 

Expectations on when the MAX would be deemed airworthy and returned to service have slipped consistently as the drama has played out inside Boeing, within the FAA and in front of congressional committees. Current estimates are for the jetliner to be cleared in early 2020, but the stored aircraft will require considerable tending to before they can carry revenue passengers. Most airlines have removed the MAX from their schedules until March or April of 2020, though any further delays could easily push that shortage into the peak travel season.

“As we have previously said, the FAA and global regulatory authorities determine the timeline for certification and return to service. We remain fully committed to supporting this process. It is our duty to ensure that every requirement is fulfilled, and every question from our regulators answered,” Boeing said in a statement. “We believe [temporarily stopping production] is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health. This decision is driven by a number of factors, including the extension of certification into 2020, the uncertainty about the timing and conditions of return to service and global training approvals, and the importance of ensuring that we can prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft.” Industry watchers are predicting numerous business impacts throughout the supply industry, and the financial markets have responded as well: Boeing’s stock value fell more than 4 percent today compared to its closing value on Friday.

“During this time, it is our plan that affected employees will continue 737-related work, or be temporarily assigned to other teams in Puget Sound. As we have throughout the 737 MAX grounding, we will keep our customers, employees, and supply chain top of mind as we continue to assess appropriate actions. This will include efforts to sustain the gains in production system and supply chain quality and health made over the last many months. We will provide financial information regarding the production suspension in connection with our 4Q19 earnings release in late January,” the company said.

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36 COMMENTS

  1. Waiting on the FAA to do their job… really????

    Guess it’s time for congress to step in and vote on the 737 certification. They had to vote on Basic Med, Light Sport Pilot Certificate, Pilot Bill of Rights, Passenger Bill of Rights and there is other bills pending like passenger seat size and increasing the weight of the Light Sport Aircraft to 6000 lbs. I think they’re turning to the wrong agency for advancing Aviation. The FAA wants guns so they can enforce regulations with deadly force not certification of aircraft.

    • Let’s not forget that it was Congress that allowed and pushed for ODA. Not sure they’re the best course of action in general, at least historically. I think we need aviation folks with good business practices and background to look at this, not just business folks.

  2. It’s not getting any better for the 737 MAX as time goes on, it’s getting worse. This airplane is going to put Boing into chapter 11. It is becoming more evident that any attempt to band aid MCAS is just not going to fly. A complete redesign which must include completely ridding the MAX of MCAS is a must. The flying public is driving this and the carrier’s are listening to their customers because they have to if they want to survive.

    • A complete re-design of the Boeing 737? That would be a waste of resources. Boeing would be better off with a completely new airplane – or two. But that would cede 5 years and 5,000 airframes to Airbus. Never. Gonna. Happen.

      If this was 1942, Boeing could hang new engines on the 757, and crank them out like sausage. News bulletin: It ain’t 1942.

      This situation is a vivid example of another YARS-ism: “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

      Fly-by-wire would solve this issue. But again, how much sense would it make, to retro-fit FBW onto a design that’s more than 50 years old? It would take 3 years to get it designed, certificated, and into serial production.

      Nope. As long as the RULES allow a kludge like MCAS to exist – and the FAA already has said that they do – then MCAS v2.0 will be the approved solution. IMWO, this announcement is aimed directly at the Agency. It is INTENDED to draw comments like yours, that “this will bankrupt Boeing,” and, by extension, dozens if not hundreds of its suppliers. Remember the Archduke?

      I remember when “experts” asserted that battery fires were going to be the certain death of the 787. NOBODY ever would board one again. I still wouldn’t use Li-ion batteries, but Dreamliners ply the skies, filled with passengers who boarded voluntarilly. Go figure.

      MCAS? This, too, will pass – from a certification standpoint. The real damage? The supply chain, and the airlines customer list. THOSE consequences of this suspension-of-production decision could be catastrophic – and NOT just for Boeing. It’s arguably the biggest aviation story of the year. Bigger than Garmin’s autoland.

      Tighten your seatbelt, Will Robinson.

      • As a carrier with unfilled orders sitting in limbo, are you going to sit, wait and see how things shake out? Then when the dust settles, (whenever that may be) are you willing to accept all of the baggage that’s going to come with the new and improved MAX? Or, dump your orders, cut your loses, sue Boeing and move on to a platform with known stability before things get worse which I am willing to bet money they will?
        It’s hard enough to try and make money, or, not lose as much in addition to having to deal with the Boeing / FAA fiasco. You have to move fast to survive.

        • If only that were an option.
          The industry purposefully has capacity constraints. Order a new Airbus (or Boeing) today; take delivery in four years. Maybe.
          Presume that EVERY order – all 4,300 of them – for a new MAX gets cancelled tomorrow. What are you going to do? Wait EIGHT years or longer, to get a new Airbus?
          You can’t add airliners to your shopping cart at Wal*Mart. You can’t order them online at Amazon. Yet. 😉
          You have no choice OTHER than to wait – no matter what you order, or from whom. The MAX fiasco has the lease market tapped out. What airline action would help to solve this?

        • Yars is correct; the airlines have little choice other than to stick with their orders. Airbus cannot take up the slack of any mass cancellations. Plus, the airlines with already delivered MAX planes in their fleets can’t return them for a refund. Besides, by the time the airlines managed to get out of their contracts through the court system, the MAX will be back flying. It appears at this point that the main sticking points are procedural (pilot training, operational & maintenance documentation, etc.) rather than whether the modified MCAS system is working. Most of the agencies involved have signed off on the design changes. A phased-in program releasing airplanes for service based on the airlines ability to train pilots and mechanics could happen very soon.

          • This is when I wish Lockheed or another aviation OEM would pull out of its magic hat a rabbit. “Look at what we’ve been working on while those two were fighting for number one!” A brand new single-aisle, 200-seater, twin-engine aircraft. Tada!

            We really need to move away from having only two companies share the lion’s plate. We’ve seen thins in the automotive world and the consequences in aviation are even worse. Makes me wonder how valuable those buyouts and mergers were if we end up here. At the very least, these companies need to have exit strategies and seriously thought-out contingency plans.

    • Okay, once and for all, let’s dispense with the notion that the MAX is going to bankrupt Boeing. The MAX may be a large component of the civilian aircraft book of business, but they are still making plenty of 777 and 787 variants that are selling well. Plus, they are the largest supplier of military aircraft and other military hardware to our armed forces and most of our allies. This debacle may hurt their stock price and their bottom line for a few years, but it isn’t going to sink the company.

      • It’s true but I just read the 737 is 1/3 of their civilian aircraft profits. Which again leads me to question what their contingency plans were knowing the aircraft couldn’t indefinitely be stretched and upgraded. The question is where and how far is the 797 is. I know they are working on it from my sources. It’s being simulated as we speak.

        The problem with modern companies is they don’t clearly show or explain what their contingency plans are. It’s hard to invest in a company that doesn’t do that and it looks like its rampant everywhere.

  3. I’ve said it before…LET. IT. DIE.

    The confidence will never be restored. Take your lumps, scrap and/or sell what you can. Start over.

    They are losing business from other airframe sales too, most recently one airline bailed on their orders of the Dreamliner in favor of the Airbus line.

  4. Once upon a time it was thought GM was unsinkable, until they weren’t. Things change. Never say never. It’s usually when you get comfortable and complacent that the unexpected decides to show up.
    Usually in a not so subtle way.
    Old Tom C. Truism: Always look behind your back, because.🤓

    • You don’t have to be able to outrun the bear. You only have to be able to outrun the next-slowest runner.

      People could eschew GM because they had LOTS of alternatives. What is your alternative to Boeing? Airbus? Sure – get in line. You can get your A-321 in about 8 years.

    • That’s exactly it, Tom. I covered what GM did and it was fascinating. Behind the scenes, they swallowed their humility pill and restructured. It used to be GM and friends, now it’s a GMC, Chevy, etc. and GM way, way behind, almost hiding. It’s not perfect but it’s a much better structure than the old arrogant GM. I’m close to some of the folks who worked on the restructure. It was a gigantic task they undertook.

      I’m not sure what it would look like for Boeing though. They would need to change a lot of their corporate culture and the bottom line when investigating any company is to look at their business model, which in this case, hasn’t changed. I think give them another two months and it will be much clearer what their true options are. We also need to watch what Airbus does as they could as easily trip and then we’d be left with nothing. So it goes when you only have two companies with 95% of the market. A scary thought.

  5. Yars is absolutely spot on. When the Corvair, Pinto, Vega issues hit GM and Ford, you could simply get another car from a dozen other manufacturers. There are no alternatives for MAX customers other than get into the Airbus line. Leasing companies are tapped out. And if you have standardized your fleet to streamline parts, maintenance, and pilot training, like Southwest, not only do you now have to speak French, you will have to completely change how you run your business.

    Airbus would not want to handle this “extra business” because they can’t. They would have a PR nightmare doubling order backlog and not being able to produce. That would lead to the same end result of a disaster waiting to happen due to unreasonable and unattainable production rates causing all sorts of quality control issues even with a proven air-frame. In addition to all that mess, Airbus would have to expand their supply chain correspondingly which would be difficult to virtually impossible. And every other manufacturer of airliners would be and are in the same position. There is no excess airplane manufacturing capacity in military, commercial, and GA aircraft…anywhere on the planet. And the airlines know this.

    MAX will fly again, and Boeing will lose relatively few orders.

  6. The future for High speed Trains is beginning to looking brighter. We just need a few more kilometers of tracks. Just imagine the view out of the windows, while sipping a glass. By the way when I first traveled by Air we were served meals with real cutlery and china ware.

    • I don’t think high-speed trains can or will ever work in the US for anything shorter of 400 miles. I’ve been turning my attention to hyperloops, more like what Virgin Hyperloop is working on. It travels at the same speed as airliners. And yes, boring holes under cities is a nightmare but a lot of them are already functioning and have been for a very long time. There’s a lot more under that surface than meets the eye there.

  7. There is something that has bugged me since I read it and no good response was given. It started with the question, why not just remove MCAS period and train pilots how to fly without it. That got responses about why MCAS is there (simply put, to make it harder to stall since the engines make lift at high AoA and to feel like a regular 737) and why it is needed, but one person made a response that got me to wondering, why not?

    Instead of relying on a program and the weak link of sensors to establish the proper envelope for the plane at higher AoA, why not modify the horizontal stabilizers to better offset the lift coefficient created by the engines. Would this require a new certificate, because it makes it a “different” airplane? Why would moving the engines not do the same time?

    I agree that if put back into service people will fly on the plane because most won’t know it’s a MAX or they have no choice due to location/cost/time. However, Boeing is then putting the house that they fixed the issue. As a software developer (and ppl) I know that no code is perfect and that plane has not one, but two weak links in that system. One more crash of a MAX and for all your valid points YARS, Boeing would be done and the damage to the FAA would be deep. I guess if they cannot redesign the tail their only option is MCAS 2.0, but if I was on one of those planes it would not be a relaxing ride till we landed.

  8. Anyone know if the MAX was subject to this?

    Does the MAX have to use stab trim to achieve this?

    Below is the certification criteria for transport category aircraft,

    10/16/12 AC 25-7C

    5 Engine power or thrust at idle and maximum continuous.

    (b) Test procedure: The airplane must be trimmed at the speed for each configuration as prescribed in § 25.103(b)(6). The airplane should then be decelerated at 1 knot per second with wings level. For tests at idle power or thrust, the applicant must demonstrate that the nose can be pitched down from any speed between the trim speed and the stall. Typically, the most critical point is at the stall when in stall buffet. The rate of speed increase during the recovery should be adequate to promptly return to the trim point. Data from the stall characteristics testing can be used to evaluate this capability at the stall. For tests at maximum continuous power or thrust, the maneuver need not be continued for more than one second beyond the onset of stall warning. However, the static longitudinal stability characteristics during the maneuver, and the nose down control power remaining at the end of the maneuver, must be sufficient to assure that a prompt recovery to the trim speed could be attained if the airplane is slowed to the point of stall.

    https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/AC_25-7C.pdf

  9. In the first place – what was Boeing thinking.
    What I mean is – they figured that a pilot would NOT be able to compensate for a nose pitch up on a go-around WITHOUT the automatic trim aid??
    Like it would be too much to apply power with one hand & use your thumb for trim with the other.
    Heaven forbid to burden a pilot with such a workload!!

  10. Arrgghhhh! Is no one paying attention?
    The MCAS is NOT a stall-prevention device. It is an effort to meet EXISTING stick-force-vs-rate-of-change-of-pitch certification requirements.
    With apologies to Porky Pig, that’s all, folks!

    • Your reply doesn’t seem to address my question, which concerns the tendency of the MAX to continue a pitch up under certain conditions, and is this tendency at odds with the longitudinal stability criteria required for certification. Are you saying that the MAX conforms to this, and MCAS has nothing at all to do with it? If so, can the MAX be dispatched with MCAS inop per the MEL? If not, why not? Remember, Boeing has been hesitant to come clean about this whole subject, so that may not be all at all, folks.

      • Yours is a great question. Here’s what I’ve learned:

        The MCAS exists to mitigate the otherwise too-light-to-meet-certification-rules stick forces that exist under certain conditions of high load factor and aft CG.

        The rules allow the AUTOPILOT to deal with these conditions WITHOUT the “help” of MCAS. Not so, when humans are flying. Consequently, it would appear that the MAX requires a functioning MCAS, in order to comply with certification rules. However…

        My phone (I’m on the road) doesn’t support a by-word search of a document (find all instances of MCAS), but the B-737-8 MMEL (available online) refers to both an “evevator feel” light functionality (Section 27; item #31-01) and to a “maneuver load aleviation function” (Section 27; item #61-02). I’m not rated in the Boeing; I have no idea whether these two items refer to the MCAS. The MMEL permits dispatch without functionality of either of those two items, subject to restrictions as specified therein.

        Boeing thought – and the FAA agreed – that pilots would successfully deal with the failure mode that was common to the two crashes. Four pilots did NOT meet those shared expectations. Two of them never even reduced power from the takeoff setting.

        Understandably, much of the discussion in this space has been about whether the MCAS as designed – or as modified – is an appropriate (“the ‘best’ “) way to meet certification rules. Here’s the thing: the FAA said that it was. Based upon media reports, the dialog between Boeing and the Agency concerns how to “fix” the MCAS; not how to replace it.

        A comprehensive compendium of the MAX saga can be found at b737.org.uk

  11. “Boeing thought – and the FAA agreed – that pilots would successfully deal with the failure mode that was common to the two crashes. Four pilots did NOT meet those shared expectations. Two of them never even reduced power from the takeoff setting.”

    How could Boeing and the FAA be so wrong concerning pilot reaction to a runaway stab when non MAX pilots react appropriately in a similar situation? My thought is that along with a lack of knowledge that MCAS even existed on the MAX, these pilots lacked the extra protection that’s afforded to non MAX 73 pilots, the mechanical stab trim brake. If a runaway pitched the nose down, the natural reaction of the pilots would be to pull back on the yoke, engaging the mechanical stab trim brake, stopping the runaway, and giving the pilots time to sort out the problem (stab trim switches off). This also would stop the stab from getting so far out of trim that the mechanical trim wheel couldn’t be used effectively. So, if MCAS exists strictly for elevator feel, why did Boeing remove the stab trim mechanical brake, as one should never interfere with the other? Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out.