Sucks to be Boeing Right Now

Boeing added new flight modes for the 737 MAX, and this was justified: The new engines are larger and further forward, and so they can induce a pitch up moment under certain circumstances.

With the recent crash in Ethiopia, facing flight operations bans in much of the world, the problem seems to be a business decision to minimize these changes when selling the plane to airlines, and minimie transition costs:

Has the world’s aviation community lost faith in the FAA? Country by country and airline by airline the past 48 hours have seen more than half the global 737 MAX fleet grounded in response to the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 on Sunday. Both Boeing and the FAA say it is still too soon to act; they lack confirmed and compelling data to determine the cause of the crash and any potential remediation efforts. But the world is not willing to wait.

China was first to act, a strong play given that the country is home to the largest active fleet of the type with 93 flying. Indonesia followed shortly thereafter. That country was already on edge with respect to the type, with the Lion Air crash the first hull loss for the MAX just months ago. Ethiopia joined as well, grounding the remaining four frames in its flag carrier’s fleet.

And many other countries, including all of the EU.

On Tuesday morning in Chicago, after half the world’s 737 MAX planes were grounded either by regulators or the airlines that operate them, Boeing issued an updated statement. It implies that the actions are premature, but acceptable as a response to local sentiment.

Safety is Boeing’s number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX. We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets. The United States Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators


In the meantime, a global revolt of sorts is calling both Boeing and the FAA’s judgement into question. Is the regulator effective or is it granting the companies it oversees too much control of the process? Can the manufacturers be trusted to place safety above profits? Can the regulators?

This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the willingness of the Agency to make tough regulatory calls that adversely affect businesses in the name of safety. And there is absolutely a balance that it must strike. Proving a negative – the plane will never crash – is impossible and there are very real costs with every ruling it makes. But a growing collection of nations believes that inaction by Boeing and the FAA is a mistake.

Gee, you think?

There has to be an MBA at the bottom of this.


  1. Jim Belfiore says:

    After safety, China has another reason to ground the 737 Max, Comac's C919. These two incidents with the 737 provide a unique opportunity for the state-owned Comac to get a wider foot in the door in luring narrow-body customers away from Boeing and boost orders at a time when the engine technology being sourced (via a joint venture with GE and other partners) is under investigation from the US.

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