• Dr. Herpy

FAA clears 737 MAX to return to service

United 737 MAX 9s sit in long-term storage at Houston’s Hobby Airport. Photo credit: @iowa_pilot (Joe Chapman)

 

By Robert Phillips

 After one year and eight months, the FAA has cleared the 737 MAX to return to service. The Boeing 737 MAX is the 737 of the future. It is a far cry from the early 737-100s that could only seat 85 people. The 737 MAX was developed from the highly successful 737 Next Generation series (737-600/-700/-800/-900). The 737 MAX differs from her Next Generation sisters in many ways, the CFM-56-7 engines on the Next Gen aircraft were replaced with new CFM LEAP-1B engines. The 737 MAX also features several new aerodynamic changes including new split-tip winglets. It also integrated new larger landing gear to accommodate the new larger CFM LEAP-1B engines. Some of the aircraft’s systems were changed and Boeing added the new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The 737 MAX was developed to compete with the Airbus A230neo family. The 737 Max first flew in January of 2016, and entered service with Malindo Air in May, 2017. The trouble began on October 29th, 2018 when the Lion Air 737 MAX 8 (PK-LQP), operating as Lion Air 610 crashed into the Java sea. The crash killed all 189 passengers and crew on board. The cause of the accident was determined to be erroneous information being fed to the MCAS. Boeing attributed the crash to poor pilot training. On March 10, 2019, another 737 MAX 8 (ET-AVJ) operating as  Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed killing all 157 people on board. The cause was once again determined to be an issue with the MCAS system. As a result China became the first country to ground the 737 MAX. 3 days later, the Federal Aviation Administration also issued an order requiring all 737 MAXs in the country to be grounded. This ban on the 737 MAX series was world-wide. After the crashes Boeing’s stock prices dropped rapidly and many airlines opted to buy A320neos instead of the 737 MAX. So many undelivered 737 MAXs piled up at Boeing’s Renton factory that employee parking lots had to be turned into makeshift parking spots for the 737s. Many airlines were forced to put their 737 MAX fleets in long term storage. Southwest Airlines was severely impacted by the grounding and had to cancel many flights. As a result of the decrease in income and inconvenience caused by the grounding Southwest Airlines decided to sue Boeing.  Throughout 2019 and 2020 Boeing worked to fix the flawed MCAS system and had to cancel or postpone several high profile projects including the New Midsize Airplane (NMA). Boeing made several test flights following modifications to the MCAS system, in order to ensure the 737 MAX is safe to return to service. After proving to the FAA that the MAX was safe, the FAA announced that the 737 MAX was cleared to return to service as long as the airlines make maintenance and system updates before flights can resume. The grounding of the 737 MAX lasted 20 months, the longest ever flight ban of a U.S. airliner.