FAA Clears 737 MAX For Flight

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Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX has been cleared to fly after a tortured 20-month recertification process that saw more than 400 aircraft parked. The approval announcement was expected from the FAA Wednesday morning, according to Bloomberg News. However, the aircraft won’t be returned to service immediately and airlines that own them will relaunch them into a pandemic-battered travel market suffering the lowest airline revenues in decades.

The FAA will require modifications to the MAX’s controversial MCAS flight control enhancement system and correction of numerous other flaws found during the recertification effort. It will also require type-specific training related to the two accidents that prompted the grounding and recert. The first was a Lion Air crash off Jakarta in October 2018 that killed all 189 aboard. A second crash of an Ethiopian Airlines MAX near Addis Ababa in March 2019 killed all 157 people aboard. In both crashes, faulty sensors in the MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) were implicated for having caused full nose-down trim that the crews were unable to counter. MCAS was designed to enhance control feel at high angles of attack and rearward CG.

Fixes for MCAS include redundant angle-of-attack sensors, dual computers and a limitation that MCAS can only activate once, rather than continuously as it did on the accident aircraft. Additionally, the system will activate only if the dual sensors agree that it’s needed. MCAS was intended to mimic the same control feel found in previous 737 models by automatically rolling in nose-down trim at high angles of attack and rearward CGs. After the crashes, pilots complained that they weren’t given any details about how the system worked or even that it existed. The recertification calls for simulator training focusing on the MAX crash scenarios.

With more than 400 airline-owned MAXes parked and another 450 built by Boeing but not delivered, market uptake of the revised model is likely to be anemic. Thus far, only American Airlines has put the MAX back on its schedule, on a single Miami to New York route on Dec. 29, Bloomberg reports. Southwest and United expect to put the airplanes back in service sometime in 2021.

They’ll return to dismal market conditions. “It’s Boeing’s most important program and the United States’ most important manufactured product, but you couldn’t ask for a worse market right now,” Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with Teal Group, told Bloomberg in an interview. “It’s not a question of opening the floodgates and watching the cash pour in the way it would’ve been a year ago,” he added.

Other regulators throughout the world haven’t acted yet. The European Aviation Safety Agency says it’s satisfied with the MAX modifications but official approval is still pending. EASA and Canada have asked Boeing for additional changes. China, which represents a significant growth market for Boeing, has not yet announced MAX approval.

Boeing’s stock, which sagged to five-year lows last spring, recovered slightly, rising 5.8 percent to a $222.40 opening-bell expectation, off from a five-year high of $440.62 set just before the Ethiopian crash last year.

30 COMMENTS

    • Unless they had some way to simulate a failed AoA or other parts that were involved in the original system, the MAX that the Administrator flew would have flown just fine. I’ve never read whether or not they demonstrated TO him — in flight — a failed system and the ability of the updated software to accomodate it. Hopefully so,

      • The MAX was built and sold with a system that had greater-than-originally-designed authority, and a single point of failure that kept silent if it did fail. Yah, win-win. I mean, what could go wrong?
        Many FAA inspectors checked the software and its effects, failed sensor alerts, etc. That has been documented. You’ll need to ask the admin if they failed both AoA’s during his sim time.

  1. Not reported: All of the 737 from the 300 on have a characteristic where aerodynamic forces exceed the human or electric trim to return to a usable flight range once past a certain Aircraft nose-down (AND)setting.
    In order to recover, the nose needs to be pushed down to reduce the normal g-forces experienced in flight. This requires fast corrective action and a lot of altitude.
    It’s worth noting that the Ethiopia crew allowed the trim to run AND for more than 9 seconds at one point in the flight.

  2. I look forward to new releases and news from AVweb. Usually Great articles and well presented content.
    However, yup you knew there would be a however, I am disappointed in the use of the following phrase, “tortured 20-month recertification process that saw more than 400 aircraft parked.” After hundreds dead, due to cover up and misleading information from Boeing, the use of the word “tortured” with regard to the re-certification process Boeing went through is offensive.

  3. How about some positive comments about the results of the combined efforts of the agencies (FAA, EASA, etc.) industry (Boeing, airlines, pilots, etc.) and the aviation public.
    Advances will obviously continue on this and other aircraft as always, but the significant work listed above on the Max seems like a superlative job by and for the USA and for our international customers.

  4. My brother flies for United, and he says he would be very reluctant to fly it as it needs at least another AOA and another redundancy system. He says the Jet Blueand American pilots he has spoken with are very unhappy with possibly having to fly it.

  5. Looks like Alaska Airlines is in with the MAX BY March 2021. First revenue flight.

    “As a safety professional with decades of experience, including many years with the FAA, I’ve had the opportunity to stay very close to the FAA and Boeing through the grounding and recertification of the 737 MAX. I’m very confident with all the steps the FAA and Boeing have taken and the steps we’re taking at Alaska to prepare us to safely bring this aircraft into our fleet.”

    — Max Tidwell, Alaska’s Vice President of Safety & Security

    • Then there is a “cover your ass statement”

      WASHINGTON (Reuters) – “U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson is “100% confident” in the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX but says the airplane maker has more to do as it works to improve its safety culture.”

      Sorry, sounds like torturous BS to me. And, this is on top of Mr. Covid.