Hundreds of Boeing 737 MAX 8 passenger airplanes remain grounded across the world pending conclusion of an ongoing investigation into two fatal crashes, only months apart, in 2018 and 2019. Some airlines are finding it difficult to cope with their diminished fleets. If you find your flight delayed, this may be why.
The crashes and causes
Shortly after takeoff on 29 October 2918, Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 passengers and crew on board. The plane was reported to have entered the sea at a sharp angle, and an investigation pointed out that a likely flaw in an automated system that controlled the aircraft’s pitch, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
On 10 March 2019, just over four months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, traveling from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, crashed under similar circumstances. Two minutes after takeoff, the plane’s MCAS engaged, sharply pitching the aircraft back towards the ground. Over the course of the next four minutes, the pilots struggled to disengage the MCAS while retaining other forms of automated/assisted control. Flight data shows drastically fluctuating rates of climb, descent, and air speed. The MCAS engaged a second time; shortly after, the aircraft struck the ground at nearly 1100 kilometers per hour, killing all 157 persons aboard.
Boeing’s new best-seller..
The Boeing 737 was developed in the 1960’s and is the most popular commercial passenger aircraft. The 737 MAX was introduced in 2011, featured larger engines, and became Boeing’s fastest-selling plane ever. Put briefly, the engine’s increased weight made stalling more likely in some ascent conditions. The MCAS was designed to detect these stalls and adjust engine and tail fin angles to push down the plane’s nose to counteract them.
..and how it was (allowed to be) made
The MCAS directly caused both flights. This having been established, inquiries into the development and implementation of the system are now underway, with Boeing currently under investigation by the Justice Department and FBI. A former Boeing engineer has reported that developers were under explicit commands to minimize the cost of the 737 renovation (to the 737 MAX) as well as to downplay changes in design and features in order to more smoothly pass Federal Aviation Administration standards. FAA certification processes are partially outsourced to airline producers, one of those being Boeing.
Much of the reignited discussion of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor explosion focuses on how a country could knowingly (the fail switch that actually sparked the temperature spike was discovered, but not revised, due to anticipated costs) endanger its citizens and the world. How reckless of them!
We now have a crater in Ethiopia, with debris reaching up to nine meters into the ground, made by a plane that was hastily created, certified, and sold by a company across the world. Take it from there.