How quickly good things can turn to a nightmare overnight. That was the story of Boeing’s best selling aircraft, the B737 MAX, as the beleaguered airplane gets reprieve. Wole Shadare writes
From best seller to the grave
The Boeing 737 is the best-selling airliner of all time with over 15,000 aircraft ordered.
The Max is the most recent model of Boeing’s 737, a type of aircraft with many variants over the decades. More than 10,000 737s have been built. The Max was released in 2017 in four lengths to accommodate up to 230 seats. The Max is larger and more fuel efficient.
Boeing has introduced four distinct generations of the 737 since the 1960s. The latest is the 737 Max that entered service in 2017. Two nearly brand new Boeing 737 Max airliners have crashed since October with the last of it being Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302, which crashed near the town of Bishoftu l, six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people aboard.
As a sequel to the crash, airlines and safety regulators around the world grounded the 737 Max.
It’s the second nearly brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner to be involved in a fatal crash. In October, 2018, Lion Air Flight JT610 crashed in the Java Sea shortly after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. The B737 is ubiquitous.
For anyone who has taken a commercial flight in the past 50 years, there’s a good chance it was on a Boeing 737. That’s because Boeing has sold a whole lot of them. Since 1965, the American aviation giant has taken orders for a whopping 15,000 units of 737s. In April 2018, Boeing delivered the 10,000th 737, a new Max 8 model, to Southwest Airlines.
To put that into perspective, Boeing’s second-best-selling plane, the wide-body 777, has received a little fewer than 2,000 orders. But it should be noted that the long-haul B777 costs several times more than the 737 and is used in different segments of the airline market.
Over the years, Boeing had introduced four distinct generations of 737. The latest is the 737 Max that entered service in 2017. Thus far, Boeing has sold roughly 5,000 737 Max jets, making it the fastest selling plane in company history.
On July 1, 2020, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it had completed recertification test flight of the aircraft type after several test flights over the course of three days.
The action demonstrated that it can fly safely with new flight control software. Global airlines also had over 370 of the planes that were delivered between the 737 MAX’s May 2017 introduction and March 2019 grounding that were parked at airports and at desert storage around the world.
The economic toll
Airlines missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue after aviation authorities ordered them to ground the planes. Southwest Airlines, which had 34 Boeing 737 Max jets in its fleet of about 750 planes, said the grounded jets contributed to $200 million in lost revenue during the first three months of the year. American Airlines, which had 24 Maxes, canceled at least 15,000 flights through August.
The cancellations due to the grounded Max each day equal about two per cent of Ameri-can’s daily summer flying and reduced the airline’s pre-tax earnings this year by $350 million, the carrier said on April 26, 2020.
Boeing said its costs in the first quarter rose by $1 billion from the groundings, though it can’t predict its financial performance for the rest of the year because deliveries of Max jets are on hold.
It has a backlog of over 4,000 orders for the jet and recently cut monthly production of it from 52 to 42 planes in April. Analysts have speculated that the company faces billions of dollars in payments to airlines and families of crash victims.
Scrambling to restore trust
Boeing had scrambled to persuade airlines and passengers to rally behind the Max jet following the company’s clumsy response to the two fatal crashes. In an effort to win back public trust, Boeing is reportedly hiring some major public relations firms to help reintroduce the jet.
On an earnings call in April, Muilenburg said that pilots would act as key messengers. “We think a key voice in all of this will be the pilots for our airlines and their voice is very important,” he said.
“That bond between the passenger and the pilot is one that’s critical and so, we’re working with our airline customers and those pilot voices to ensure that we can build on that going forward,” it noted.
Nations lift ban on beleaguered airplane
Just last week, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) lifted a near two-year ban on Boeing 737 Max, meaning the aircraft is clear to return to service in the UAE.
“Lifting the ban on the aircraft is the result of the intensive efforts by the authority’s technical committee to evaluate all the technical requirements by the US Federal Aviation Authority, Boeing and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which led the committee to identify the technical conditions that all airlines must address to guarantee the plane’s return to the skies,” said Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of GCAA.
Boeing’s 737 Max was grounded in March 2019 following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people. The saga of investigations that followed are thought to have cost Boeing some $20 billion.
Nigeria follows suit
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), on Sunday, announced the lifting of ban on Boeing 737 Max aircraft and has been certified to operate in Nigeria’s airspace.
The approval is effective February 12, 2021. NCAA recognised that a Joint Authority Technical Review (JATR) that comprised of International Aviation Authorities such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Transport Canada (TC) and the Singapore Civil Aviation Authority amongst others carried out a joint review of the Boeing 737 MAX safety system alongside FAA and NASA. Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, in a statement lifting the ban on B737MAX, said the aviation regulatory body recognised the joint review of the Boeing 737 Max Safety System and came up with the following actions required of all foreign and domestic operators.
The re-launch of 737 Max operations during the pandemic will be indeed a very tough challenge in the short-term. In addition to all legal, technical and operational aspects (e.g. pilots need to be retrained and familiarised with improved MCAS function), the customer confidence in flying on that aircraft needs to be restored first.