Boeing 737 MAX groundings

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Boeing 737 MAX groundings
Boeing 737 MAX grounded aircraft near Boeing Field, April 2019.jpg
A parking lot at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, filled with undelivered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft
  • Lion Air accident: October 29, 2018
  • Ethiopian Airlines accident: March 10, 2019
  • First grounding: March 10, 2019 (2019-03-10) by Ethiopian Airlines
  • Effectively a worldwide grounding: March 13, 2019 (2019-03-13) by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Duration 11 months and 12 days since March 10, 2019 (349 days ago)
Cause Precautionary measure following two similar crashes less than five months apart
Deaths 346:

In March 2019, aviation authorities around the world grounded the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner after two new airplanes crashed within five months, killing all 346 people aboard. After the first accident, Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018, investigators determined that the MAX's new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was omitted from flight manuals and crew training, automatically and repeatedly forced the aircraft to nosedive. In November 2018, Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent airlines urgent messages to emphasize a flight recovery procedure, and Boeing started to redesign MCAS. In December 2018, the FAA and Boeing privately concluded that MCAS posed an unacceptable safety risk. On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 experienced another MCAS malfunction and crashed, even as the pilots attempted the recovery procedure. Ethiopian Airlines grounded its MAX fleet that day.

On March 11, the Civil Aviation Administration of China was the first regulator to ground the MAX, and most regulators followed in quick succession. The FAA publicly reaffirmed the airworthiness of the aircraft on March 11, then grounded it on March 13 after receiving new evidence of accident similarities. By March 18, all 387 airplanes were grounded, disrupting 8,600 weekly flights by 59 airlines. Affected airlines canceled thousands of flights. Boeing suspended MAX deliveries, but continued to produce and store hundreds of the aircraft.

After the second accident, the U.S. Congress, federal agencies and ad hoc panels began investigating FAA certification of the MAX, especially the delegation of self-approval authority to Boeing. Investigations found that Boeing did not adequately analyze the safety of MCAS or inform the FAA of late design changes. In April 2019, Boeing admitted that MCAS played a role in both accidents. In October, the Indonesian NTSC concluded that problems with airplane design, certification, maintenance, and flight crew actions contributed to the Lion Air accident. In November 2019, the FAA revoked Boeing's authority to issue airworthiness certificates for individual MAX airplanes. In December 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives criticized the FAA and Boeing for their inaction despite known risks.

The grounding became the longest ever of a U.S. airliner as a result of increased regulator scrutiny and newly discovered problems. In December 2019, Boeing ousted its CEO over mismanagement of the crisis. Airlines canceled 183 orders for the MAX in 2019. In January 2020, Boeing halted production until regulators clear the airliner to fly again. Boeing revealed derogatory messages between its employees, sent during certification, about the MAX design, FAA regulation, and Lion Air's request for flight simulator training. Boeing reversed policy and now recommends simulator training for MAX pilots. Boeing estimated the grounding and production suspension will result in an additional $6.3 billion to produce the aircraft, reducing the margin of the 737 program in the future, with $18.4 billion in total future losses arising from the grounding.


     Grounded by government regulator
     Voluntarily grounded by all operating airlines

Ethiopian Airlines grounded its fleet on March 10.[1] The Civil Aviation Administration of China ordered all 96 MAX aircraft grounded in the country on March 11, the largest fleet in a country, stating its zero tolerance policy and certain similarities of the accidents. On March 12, the EASA suspended all flight operations of MAX in Europe citing similarity between the accidents and additionally published a Safety Directive to close its airspace to the airliner. Most other regulators and airlines individually grounded their fleets in the next seven days.[1][2][3][4]

On March 11, the FAA issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) for operators. The CANIC noted "external reports drawing similarities" between the accidents, but said the FAA had "no information" to support groundings. The notice described activities the FAA had completed after the Lion Air accident in support of continued operations of the MAX and listed the 59 affected operators of 387 MAX aircraft around the world.[5][6][7] On March 12, amid growing calls from US lawmakers to ground the MAX, a Boeing spokesman confirmed that the company's CEO called President Trump and stated "Muilenburg reiterated to the President our position that the MAX aircraft is safe.".[8]

On March 13, Canada received new information suggesting similarity between the crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao of his decision to ground the aircraft. Hours later, President Trump announced U.S. groundings, following consultation among Chao, acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. The FAA issued an official grounding order, citing the new evidence and acknowledging the "possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents".[9][10] The U.S., Canadian, and Chinese regulators oversee a combined fleet of 196 aircraft, more than half of all 387 airplanes delivered.[11]

As of February 22, 2020, the grounding has lasted for 11 months and 11 days, the longest in history of any U.S. airliner.[12][13] In another grounding event, Boeing solved battery problems on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner and service resumed three months later.[14]


Boeing 737 MAX 8s of Shenzhen Airlines grounded at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport in March 2019

Although regulators typically follow guidance from the plane maker and its national certifying authority, in this case, Boeing and the FAA, non-U.S. regulators cited safety precautions as a reason to ground the 737 MAX in their jurisdictions; some regulators also closed their airspace to ferry flights.[15]

  • March 11
    • China: The Civil Aviation Administration of China orders all domestic airlines to suspend operations of all 737 MAX 8 aircraft by 18:00 local time (10:00 GMT), pending the results of the investigation, thus grounding all 96 Boeing 737 MAX planes (c. 25% of all delivered) in China.[16][17]
    • United States: The FAA issued an affirmation of the continued airworthiness of the 737 MAX.[105] The FAA stated that it had no evidence from the crashes to justify regulatory action against the aircraft.[106]
    • Indonesia: Nine hours after China's grounding,[107] the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation issued a temporary suspension on the operation of all eleven 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Indonesia. A nationwide inspection on the type was expected to take place on March 12[108] to "ensure that aircraft operating in Indonesia are in an airworthy condition".[109]
    • Mongolia: Civil Aviation Authority of Mongolia (MCAA) said in a statement "MCAA has temporarily stopped the 737 MAX flight operated by MIAT Mongolian Airlines from March 11, 2019."[110]
  • March 12
    • Singapore: the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, "temporarily suspends" operation of all variants of the 737 MAX aircraft into and out of Singapore.[42]
    • India: Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) released a statement "DGCA has taken the decision to ground the 737 MAX aircraft immediately, pursuant to new inspections.[111]
    • Turkey: Turkish Civil Aviation Authority suspended flights of 737 MAX 8 and 9 type aircraft being operated by Turkish companies in Turkey, and stated that they are also reviewing the possibility of closing the country's airspace for the same.[112]
    • South Korea: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) advised Eastar Jet, the only airline of South Korea to possess Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to ground their models,[113] and three days later issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) message to block all Boeing 737 MAX models from landing and departing from all domestic airports.[114]
    • European Union: The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended all flight operations of all 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX in the European Union. In addition, EASA published a Safety Directive, published at 18:23,[115] effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all commercial flights performed by third-country operators into, within or out of the EU of the above mentioned models[26] The reasons invoked include: "Technical decision, data driven, precautionary measure: Similarities with the Lion Air accident data; Application of EASA guidance material for taking corrective actions in case of potential unsafe conditions; Additional considerations: no direct access to the investigation, unusual scenario of a 'young' aircraft experiencing 2 fatal accidents in less than 6 months".[115]
  • March 13
    • Canada: Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, prompted by receipt of new information,[119] said "There can't be any MAX 8 or MAX 9 flying into, out of or across Canada", effectively grounding all 737 MAX aircraft in Canadian airspace.[120][121]
    • United States: President Donald Trump announced on March 13, that United States authorities would ground all 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft in the United States.[122][123] After the President's announcement, the FAA officially ordered the grounding of all 737 MAX 8 and 9 operated by U.S. airlines or in the United States airspace.[82] The FAA did allow airlines to make ferry flights without passengers or flight attendants in order to reposition the aircraft in central locations.[124][125]
    • Hong Kong: The Civil Aviation Department banned the operation of all 737 Max aircraft into, out of and over Hong Kong.[126]
    • Panama: The Civil Aviation Authority grounded its aircraft.[127][128]
    • Vietnam: The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam banned Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from flying over Vietnam.[129]
    • New Zealand: The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand suspended Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from its airspace.[130]
    • Mexico: Mexico's civil aviation authority suspended flights by Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft in and out of the country.[131]
    • Brazil: The National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) suspended the 737 MAX 8 aircraft from flying.[132]
    • Colombia: Colombia's civil aviation authority banned Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes from flying over its airspace.[133]
    • Chile: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation banned Boeing 737 MAX 8 flights in the country's airspace.[134]
    • Trinidad and Tobago: The Director General of Civil Aviation banned Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes from use in civil aviation operations within and over Trinidad and Tobago.[135]
  • March 14
    • Taiwan: The Civil Aeronautics Administration banned Boeing 737 Max from entering, leaving or flying over Taiwan.[97]
    • Japan: Japan's transport ministry banned flights by Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft from its airspace.[136]
  • March 16
  • June 27
    • Belgium issued a NOTAM extending the 737-8 MAX and -9 MAX ban until 2020.[138]


After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, some airlines proactively grounded their fleets and regulatory bodies grounded the others. (This list includes 6 more MAX aircraft than the official FAA record; these aircraft may have powered on their transponders, but not delivered to an airline. Some pre-delivered aircraft are located at Boeing Field, Renton Municipal Airport and Paine Field airports).[96]

Effect on MAX flights

At the time of its grounding, the MAX was operating 8,600 flights per week.[160]

About thirty Boeing 737 MAX aircraft were airborne in U.S. airspace when the FAA grounding order was announced. The airplanes were allowed to continue to their destinations and were then grounded.[161] In Europe, several flights were diverted when grounding orders were issued.[162][163] For example, an Israel-bound Norwegian 737 MAX aircraft returned to Stockholm, and two Turkish Airlines MAX aircraft flying to Britain, one to Gatwick Airport south of London and the other to Birmingham, turned around and flew back to Turkey.[164]

On June 11, 2019, Norwegian Flight DY8922 attempted a ferry flight from Málaga, Spain to Stockholm, Sweden.[165] However, the aircraft was refused entry into German airspace, and diverted to Châlons Vatry, France.[166][167]

In a rare exemption, Transport Canada approved eleven flights in August and September 2019, partly to maintain the qualifications of senior Air Canada training pilots, because the airline has no earlier-generation 737s within its fleet. The airline used the MAX during planned maintenance movements, and ultimately flew it to Pinal Airpark in Arizona for storage.[168]

In early October 2019, Icelandair moved two of its five MAX 8s for winter storage in the milder climate of northern Spain, making the entire flight with flaps extended to prevent MCAS activation.[169][170][171]

Effect on air transport safety

In December 2019, the German aviation audit company Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Center (JACDEC), which is based in Hamburg, reported using the "Safety Risk Index" method that casualties in air crashes in 2019 nearly halved over 2018: 293 fatalities in 2019 compared to 559 in the previous year.[172] On January 1, 2020, the Dutch aviation consultancy, To70, published its annual "Civil Aviation Safety Review", which recorded that in 2019 there were 86 accidents, 8 of which were fatal, resulting in 257 fatalities.[173] Both results showed that the death toll of 157 in the MAX crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 made more than the half of the fatalities.

Jan-Arwed Richter, head of JACDEC said: "The sharp reduction in fatalities compared to 2018 is—at the risk of sounding macabre—due to the grounding of the 737 MAX in March."[172] Whilst Adrian Young, the author of To70's report, said: "Despite a number of high profile accidents this year's fatal accident rate is lower than the average of the last five years."[173]

Historical parallels

The Boeing 737 series had suffered from rudder issues in the past, resulting in several accidents. A previous model of the 737 also experienced a similar mix of questionable safety assessment, insufficient pilot training, and automated system malfunction when Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 crashed.[174][175] In February 2020, Boeing and NTSB officials refused to cooperate with a new Dutch lawmakers inquiry.[176]

The grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX has been compared with the grounding of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 in the wake of the American Airlines Flight 191 accident. A safety panel was convened by the FAA under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences to investigate both the design of the DC-10 and the regulatory system itself. In its report, published in June 1980, the safety panel highlighted the FAA's reliance on the manufacturer during the certification process and the fact that in most cases it performs only a "cursory review" of the manufacturer's information.[177][178] The New York Times noted that the panel found "critical deficiencies in the way the Government certifies the safety of American-built airliners".[179]

For Marian Pistik, head of asset management at International Airfinance Corporation, the case of the MAX is unprecedented due to allegations of wrongdoings. The groundings of the DC-10 and of the Dreamliner could not be directly compared to the global B737 MAX grounding: "there was no suspicion that Boeing or any OEM knew of the problem and tried to disguise it or […] any suspicion of wrongdoing or not being compliant or forthcoming with the issues of the 737 Max."[180] In November 2019, the online media "The Air Current" reviewed historical parallels of public trust between the DC-10 and the MAX.[181]

Return to service

Aviation authorities

By convention, aviation regulators worldwide accept the certification of aircraft from the country of manufacture and do not review those certifications in much detail.[182] However, since the fatal accidents and grounding of 737 MAX several aviation authorities, particularly the European EASA, will conduct their assessments and validation tests of the MAX prior to authorizing it in their controlled airspace. As of October 2019 the disagreements over various system revision details as well as Level of Involvement (LoI) between the two leading aviation authorities, FAA and EASA, could delay the 737 MAX return to service.[183]


In August 2019, reports of friction between Boeing Co. and international air-safety authorities emerged. A Boeing briefing was stopped short by the FAA, EASA, and other regulators, who complained that Boeing had "failed to provide technical details and answer specific questions about modifications in the operation of MAX flight-control computers."[184][185] A U.S. official confirmed frustration with some of Boeing's answers.[186]

On September 18, 2019, FAA administrator Stephen Dickson (who had succeeded Daniel Elwell) said that he would not certify the MAX until he flew the aircraft himself (Dickson had previously been a pilot for Delta Air Lines and operated the Boeing 737).[187][188] He said he will fly the plane using the new software following the certification flight.[189]

In October 2019, the FAA has requested Boeing to turn over internal documents and explain why it did not disclose the Forkner messages earlier.[190] The FAA is aware of "more potentially damaging messages from Boeing employees that the company has not turned over to the agency".[191]

On December 11, 2019, Dickson announced that MAX would not be recertified before 2020, and reiterated that FAA did not have a timeline.[192][193] The following day, Dickson met with Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg to discuss Boeing's unrealistic timeline and the FAA's concerns that Boeing's public statements may be perceived as attempting to force the FAA into quicker action.[194]

In January 2020, Boeing targeted mid-2020 for recertification, but the FAA expressed that it was "pleased" with progress made and may approve the aircraft sooner within the United States.[195]

In February 2020, the FAA explained why the agency waited for empirical evidence to draw a common link to the crashes before grounding the airplane.[196] It also set out the remaining steps in the process to ungrounding the aircraft: after remaining minor issues are resolved, a certification flight will be conducted and flight data will be assessed. Operational validation, including assessment of Boeing's training proposals by international and U.S. crews, as well as by the FAA administrator and his deputy in person, will then proceed, followed by documentation steps. The grounding order is expected to be rescinded no less than 30 days after the certification flight, though the FAA stressed again that it was working to a process, not a timeline. U.S. airlines will then need to obtain FAA approval for their training programs. Each aircraft will be issued with an airworthiness certificate and will be required to conduct a validation flight without passengers.[197]


The EASA and Transport Canada announced they will independently verify FAA recertification of the 737 MAX.[182][198]

For product certifications, the EASA is already in the process of significantly changing its approach to the definition of Level of Involvement (LoI) with Design Organisations. Based on an assessment of risk, an applicant makes a proposal for the Agency's involvement "in the verification of the compliance demonstration activities and data". EASA considers the applicant's proposal in determining its LOI.[199][200][201]

In a letter sent to the FAA on April 1, 2019, EASA stated four conditions for recertification: "1. Design changes proposed by Boeing are EASA approved (no delegation to FAA) 2. Additional and broader independent design review has been satisfactorily completed by EASA 3. Accidents of JT610 and ET302 are deemed sufficiently understood 4. B737 MAX flight crews have been adequately trained."[115]

In a May 22 statement, the EASA reaffirmed the need to independently certify the 737 MAX software and pilot training.[202] In addition to system analysis mentioned above, EASA raised concerns with the autopilot not engaging or disengaging upon request, or that the manual trim wheel is electronically counteracted upon, or requires substantial physical force to overcome the aerodynamic effects in flight.[203]

In September 2019, the European Union received parliamentary questions for written answers about the independent testing and re-certification of critical parts of the Boeing 737 MAX by the EASA:[204]

  • Could the Commission confirm whether these tests will extend beyond the MCAS flight software issue to the real problem of the aerodynamic instability flaw which the MCAS software was created to address?
  • Does the Commission have concerns about the limited scope of the FAA's investigation into the fatal loss of control, and is EASA basing its re-certification of the 737 Max on that investigation?
  • What assurances can the Commission give that the de facto delegation of critical elements of aircraft certification to the same company that designed and built the aircraft, and the practice of delegated oversight, does not exist in Europe?

EASA stated it was satisfied with changes to the flight control computer architecture; improved crew procedures and training are considered a simplification but still work in progress; the integrity of the angle of attack system is still not appropriately covered by Boeing's response. The EASA recommends a flight test to evaluate aircraft performance with and without the MCAS.[205][115][206] EASA said it will send its own test pilots and engineers to fly certification flight tests of the modified 737 MAX. EASA also said it prefers a design that takes readings from three independent Angle of Attack sensors.[207] EASA's leaders want Boeing and the FAA to commit for longer-term safety enhancements. Mr. Ky is said to seek a third source of the angle of attack. EASA is contemplating the installation of a third sensor or equivalent system at a later stage, once the planes return to service.[183]

On 18 October, EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said: "For me it is going to be the beginning of next year, if everything goes well. As far as we know today, we have planned for our flight tests to take place in mid-December which means decisions on a return to service for January, on our side".[208]

Other authorities

Canada accepted FAA's MAX certification in June 2017 under a bilateral agreement.[209] However, Canadian Minister of Transport Garneau said in March 2019, that Transport Canada will do its own certification of Boeing's software update "even if it's certified by the FAA.".[209] On October 4, 2019, the head of civil aviation for Transport Canada, said that global regulators are considering the requirements for the 737 MAX to fly again, weighing in the "startle factors" that can overwhelm pilots lacking sufficient exposure in simulation scenarios. He also said that Transport Canada raised questions over the architecture of the angle of attack system.[210] On November 19, 2019, an engineering manager in aircraft integration and safety assessment at Transport Canada emailed FAA, EASA and Brazil's National Civil Aviation Agency, calling for removal of key software from the 737 MAX by stating "The only way I see moving forward at this point is that Boeing's MCAS system has to go," although the views were at the working level and had not been subject to systematic review by Transport Canada.[211]

India's regulator DGCA will conduct its own validation tests of the MAX before authorizing it in India's airspace. Arun Kumar, Director General of DGCA, said India will adopt a "wait and watch" policy and not hurry to reauthorize the plane to fly. He also said an independent validation will be performed to ensure safety and MAX pilots will have to train on a simulator. India's SpiceJet has already received 13 MAX jets and has 155 more on order.[212][213]

The UAE's director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Said Mohammed al-Suwaidi, announced GCAA will conduct its own assessment, rather than follow the FAA. The UAE regulator had yet not seen Boeing's fixes in detail.[214] He did not expect the 737 MAX to be back in service in 2019.[215]

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority said that the FAA decision would be an important factor in allowing the MAX to fly, but CASA will make its own decision.[216] In October 2019 SilkAir flew its six 737 MAXs from Singapore to Alice Springs Airport for storage during Singapore's wet season.[217]

According to the first Brazil's government statement on the MAX issue, the National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil (ANAC) has been working closely with the FAA on getting the airplane back into service by the end of 2019. It is worth noting that Brazil's largest domestic airline, Gol Transportes Aéreos, is a major MAX customer with an order over 100 aircraft.[218]

Certification activities

In early October, CEO Muilenburg said that Boeing's own test pilots had completed more than 700 flights with the MAX.[183] As of October 28, Boeing had conducted "over 800 test and production flights with the updated MCAS software, totaling more than 1,500 hours".[219]

Certification flight tests, because of the ongoing safety review, are unlikely before November.[220]

Boeing made "dry runs" of the certification test flights on October 17, 2019.[221]

In December 2019, The Air Current reported on pilots attempting the procedure with "inconsistent, confusing" results.[222]

The FAA has identified new risks of failure during thorough testing. As a result, Boeing will make the overall flight-control computer more redundant and both computers will operate on each flight instead of alternating between flights. The planes were said to be unlikely to resume operations until 2020.[223][224][225] On October 8, Boeing was fixing a flaw discovered in the redundant-computer architecture of the 737 MAX flight-control system.[226]

As of October 8, the FAA and the EASA were still reviewing changes to the MAX software, raising questions about the return to service forecast. The FAA will review Boeing's "final system description", which specifies the architecture of the flight control system and the changes that Boeing have made, and perform an "integrated system safety analysis"; the updated avionics will be assessed for pilot workload.[220] The FAA is specifically looking at six "non-normal" checklists that could be resequenced or changed. The assessment of these checklists with pilots could happen at the end of October, according to an optimistic forecast.[227]

Final simulator-based assessments are expected to start in November.[189] On October 22, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in news conference that the agency has received the "final software load" and "complete system description" of revisions; several weeks of work are anticipated for certification activities.[228]

As of mid-November, Boeing still needed to complete an audit of its software documentation. A key certification test flight will follow the audit. In a memo and a video dated November 14, FAA's Steve Dickson instructed his staff to "take whatever time is needed" in their review, repeating that approval is "not guided by a calendar or schedule."[229][230]

On December 6, 2019, the FAA posted an updated Master minimum equipment list for the 737 MAX; in particular, both flight computers must be operational before flight, as they now compare each other's sensors prior to activating MCAS.[231]

Accident investigations

As per ICAO Annex 13—Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation—following states may participate in the investigation of both MAX accidents:[232]

  1. The States of Occurrence, which were also the States of Registry and Operator: Indonesia for Lion Air and Ethiopia for Ethiopian Airlines
  2. the States of Design and Manufacture: the United States for Boeing 737 MAX

The state accident investigations are conducted by their ad hoc committees and respectively State/National Transportation Safety Bureaus, the NTSB for the US, the NTSC for Indonesia, etc. Additionally, Australia and Singapore expressed interest shortly after the first 737 MAX accident by offering support to Indonesia, particularly in the data recovery from the new generation flight recorders (FDR). Ethiopia delegated the investigation to France, a member of EASA, due to the complexity of the investigation work. With the exception of Ethiopia, all investigating or participating countries are directly and indirectly members of the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR).

Lion Air Flight 610

PK-LQP, the aircraft involved in the crash of Flight 610

Preliminary investigations revealed serious flight control problems that traumatized passengers and crew on the aircraft's previous flight, as well as signs of Angle of attack (AoA) sensor and other instrument failures on that and previous flights, tied to a design flaw involving the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) of the 737 MAX series.

The Lion Air aircraft flight recorders were retrieved with assistance from Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB), which sent on October 29, 2018, three specialists and an underwater locator beacon detector to help recover the devices.[233] The Australian Transport Safety Bureau sent two of its personnel to assist the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) with the downloading process of the FDR. An engineering team from the NTSB and a Boeing technician arrived in Indonesia to assist with the Lion Air accident investigation on October 31, 2018, two days after the Singaporean team.[234] The preliminary report tentatively attributed the accident to the erroneous angle-of-attack (AoA) data and automatic nose-down trim commanded by MCAS.[235][236] The defective angle-of-attack vane was a "dubious" used part that had been replaced on the captain's side, according to the aircraft's maintenance records.[237]

The NTSC final report on October 23, 2019. It was prepared with assistance from the U.S. NTSB. NTSC's investigator Nurcahyo Utomo identified nine factors to the accident, saying: "The nine factors are the root problem; they cannot be separated. Not one is contributing more than the other."The final report has been shared with families of Lion Air Flight 610, then published on October 25, 2019.[238][239][240][241]

The contributing factors, section 3.2 of the final report, are quoted below:[241]

Contributing factors defines as actions, omissions, events, conditions, or a combination thereof, which, if eliminated, avoided or absent, would have reduced the probability of the accident or incident occurring, or mitigated the severity of the consequences of the accident or incident. The presentation is based on chronological order and not to show the degree of contribution.

  1. During the design and certification of the Boeing 737-8 (MAX), assumptions were made about flight crew response to malfunctions which, even though consistent with current industry guidelines, turned out to be incorrect.
  2. Based on the incorrect assumptions about flight crew response and an incomplete review of associated multiple flight deck effects, MCAS's reliance on a single sensor was deemed appropriate and met all certification requirements.
  3. MCAS was designed to rely on a single AOA sensor, making it vulnerable to erroneous input from that sensor.
  4. The absence of guidance on MCAS or more detailed use of trim in the flight manuals and in flight crew training, made it more difficult for flight crews to properly respond to uncommanded MCAS.
  5. The AOA DISAGREE alert was not correctly enabled during Boeing 737-8 (MAX) development. As a result, it did not appear during flight with the mis-calibrated AOA sensor, could not be documented by the flight crew and was therefore not available to help maintenance identify the mis-calibrated AOA sensor.
  6. The replacement AOA sensor that was installed on the accident aircraft had been mis-calibrated during an earlier repair. This mis-calibration was not detected during the repair.
  7. The investigation could not determine that the installation test of the AOA sensor was performed properly. The mis-calibration was not detected.
  8. Lack of documentation in the aircraft flight and maintenance log about the continuous stick shaker and use of the Runaway Stabilizer NNC (non-normal checklist) meant that information was not available to the maintenance crew in Jakarta nor was it available to the accident crew, making it more difficult for each to take the appropriate actions.
  9. The multiple alerts, repetitive MCAS activations, and distractions related to numerous ATC communications were not able to be effectively managed. This was caused by the difficulty of the situation and performance in manual handling, NNC execution, and flight crew communication, leading to ineffective CRM application and workload management. These performances had previously been identified during training and reappeared during the accident flight.

"Unlike NTSB reports that identify the primary cause of accidents and then list contributing issues determined to be less significant, Indonesia is following a convention used by many foreign regulators of listing causal factors without ranking them".[242][243][244]

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

ET-AVJ, the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that crashed as Flight 302

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) is leading investigations for Flight 302. The United States Federal Aviation Administration will also assist in the investigation.[245] Both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder were recovered from the crash site on March 11, 2019.[246] The French aviation accident investigation agency BEA announced that it would analyze the flight recorders from the flight.[247] BEA received the flight recorders on March 14, 2019.[248]

On March 13, 2019, the FAA announced that new evidence found on the crash site and satellite data on Flight 302 suggested that the aircraft might have suffered from the same problem which the aircraft operating Lion Air Flight 610 had suffered from. Investigators discovered the jackscrew that controlled the pitch angle of the horizontal stabilizer of Flight 302, was in the full "nose down" position. The finding suggested that, at the time of the crash, Flight 302 was configured to dive, similar to Lion Air Flight 610.[249] On March 17, 2019, the Ethiopia's transport minister Dagmawit Moges announced that "the black box has been found in a good condition that enabled us to extract almost all the data inside" and that the preliminary data retrieved from the flight data recorder show a "clear similarity" with those of Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed off Indonesia.[250][251][252] Due to this finding, some experts in Indonesia suggested that the NTSC should cooperate with Flight 302's investigation team.[253] Later on the evening, the NTSC offered assistance to Flight 302's investigation team, stating that the committee and the Indonesian Transportation Ministry would send investigators and representatives from the government to assist with the investigation of the crash.[254]

Initial reports for Flight 302 said that pilot struggled to control the airplane, in a manner similar to the circumstances of the Lion Air crash.[255] A stabilizer trim jackscrew found in the wreckage was set to put the aircraft into a dive.[256] Experts suggested this evidence further pointed to MCAS as at fault in the crash.[257][258] After the crash of flight ET302, Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Biniyam Demssie said in an interview that the procedures for disabling the MCAS were just previously incorporated into pilot training. "All the pilots flying the MAX received the training after the Indonesia crash," he said. "There was a directive by Boeing, so they took that training."[259] Despite following the procedure, the pilots could not recover.[260]

United States

In December 2018, months before the second accident in Ethiopia, the FAA had conducted an internal safety risk analysis, which was not revealed until the U.S. House hearing in December 2019. The report predicted fifteen more crashes with no repairs to MCAS. FAA's administrator, Stephen Dickson, who assumed the position during the accident investigations, said in retrospect that the accident risk was unsatisfactory.

On September 26, 2019, the NTSB released the results of its review of potential lapses in the design and approval of the 737 MAX.[261][262](p1)[263] The NTSB report concludes that assumptions "that Boeing used in its functional hazard assessment of uncommanded MCAS function for the 737 MAX did not adequately consider and account for the impact that multiple flight deck alerts and indications could have on pilots' responses to the hazard". When Boeing induced a stabilizer trim input that simulated the stabilizer moving consistent with the MCAS function, "... the specific failure modes that could lead to unintended MCAS activation (such as an erroneous high AOA input to the MCAS) were not simulated as part of these functional hazard assessment validation tests. As a result, additional flight deck effects (such as IAS DISAGREE and ALT DISAGREE alerts and stick shaker activation) resulting from the same underlying failure (for example, erroneous AOA) were not simulated and were not in the stabilizer trim safety assessment report reviewed by the NTSB."[262][262][264]

The NTSB questioned the long-held industry and FAA practice of assuming the nearly instantaneous responses of highly trained test pilots as opposed to pilots of all levels of experience to verify human factors in aircraft safety.[265] The NTSB expressed concerns that the process used to evaluate the original design needs improvement because that process is still in use to certify current and future aircraft and system designs. The FAA could for example randomly sample pools from the worldwide pilot community to get a more representative assessment of cockpit situations.[266]

Type certification

On March 11, 2019 a U.S. federal grand jury issued a subpoena on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department for documents related to development of the 737 MAX.[267][268][269][270] On March 19, 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation requested the Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit on the 737 MAX certification process.[271]

Type rating

In the U.S., the MAX shares a compatible type rating with all the other Boeing 737 families.[272] The impetus for Boeing to build the 737 MAX was serious competition from the Airbus A320neo, which was a threat to win a major order for aircraft from American Airlines, a traditional customer for Boeing airplanes.[273] Boeing decided to update its 737, designed in the 1960s, rather than designing a clean sheet aircraft, which would have cost much more and taken years longer. Boeing's goal was to ensure the 737 MAX would not need a new type rating, which would require significant additional pilot training, adding unacceptably to the overall cost of the airplane for customers.

The 737 was first certified by the FAA in 1967. Like every new 737 model since then, the MAX has been approved partially with the original requirements and partially with more current regulations, enabling certain rules and requirements to be grandfathered in.[274] Chief executive Dai Whittingham of the independent trade group UK Flight Safety Committee disputed the idea that the MAX was just another 737, saying, "It is a different body and aircraft but certifiers gave it the same type rating."[275]

On May 15, 2019, during a senate hearing, FAA acting administrator Daniel Elwell defended their certification process of Boeing aircraft. However the FAA criticized Boeing for not mentioning the MCAS in the 737 MAX's manuals. Representative Rick Larsen responded saying that "the FAA needs to fix its credibility problem" and that the committee would assist them in doing so.[276][277]

Crew manuals

In 2013, a Boeing meeting urged participants to consider MCAS, (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), as a simple add-on to the existing stability function: "If we emphasize MCAS is a new function there may be greater certification and training impact".[278] Boeing also played down the scope of MCAS to regulators. The company "never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to FAA officials involved in determining pilot training needs".[279]

On March 30, 2016, Mark Forkner, then MAX's chief technical pilot, requested senior FAA officials to remove MCAS from the pilot's manual. Boeing had presented MCAS as being existing technology, but inquiries and certification authorities have raised doubts about its technology readiness. The officials had been briefed on the original version of MCAS but not that MCAS was being significantly overhauled.[279] Because Boeing offered Southwest Airlines a $1-million-per-plane rebate if training was ultimately required, pressure on Boeing executives and engineers increased. In 2017, as the airliner's five-year certification was nearly completed, Forkner wrote to an FAA official, "Delete MCAS".[280] Boeing considered MCAS part of the flight control system, based on the fundamental design philosophy of retaining commonality with the 737NG.[273] However, MCAS was left in the glossary of the 1600-page flight manual.[281] Top Boeing officials believed MCAS operated only far beyond normal flight envelopes, that it was unlikely to activate in normal flight. [282]

After the Lion Air accident, Boeing published a service bulletin on November 6, 2018, in which MCAS was mentioned as a "pitch trim system." In reference to the Lion Air accident, Boeing said the system could be triggered by erroneous angle of attack information when the aircraft is under manual control, and reminded pilots of various indications and effects that can result from this erroneous information.[283][284] Only four days later, Boeing acknowledged the existence of MCAS in a message to operators on November 10, 2018.[237][285]

From November 2018 to March 2019, months between the accidents, the FAA Aviation Safety Reporting System received numerous U.S. pilot complaints of the aircraft's unexpected behaviors, and how the crew manual lacked any description of the system.[286] Most air regulatory agencies, including the FAA, Transport Canada and EASA, did not require specific training on MCAS. Brazil's national civil aviation agency "was one of the only civil aviation authorities to require specific training for the operation of the 737-8 Max".[287] Pilots of the 737 Next Generation received an hour-long iPad lesson to fly on the MAX.[288]

Simulator training

On May 17, after discovering 737 MAX flight simulators could not adequately replicate MCAS activation,[289] Boeing corrected the software to improve the force feedback of the manual trim wheel and to ensure realism.[290] This led to a debate on whether simulator training is a prerequisite prior to the aircraft's eventual return to service. On May 31, Boeing proposed that simulator training for pilots flying on the 737 MAX would not be mandatory.[291] Computer training is deemed sufficient by the FAA Flight Standardization Board, the US Airline Pilots Association and Southwest Airlines pilots, but Transport Canada and American Airlines urged use of simulators.[292][293] On June 19, in a testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Chesley Sullenberger advocated for simulator training. "Pilots need to have first-hand experience with the crash scenarios and its conflicting indications before flying with passengers and crew."[294][295] The "differences training" is the subject of worry by senior industry training experts.[296] Textron-owned simulator maker TRU Simulation + Training anticipated a transition course but not mandatory simulator sessions in minimum standards being developed by Boeing and the FAA.[297]

On July 24, Boeing indicated that some regulatory agencies may mandate simulator training before return to service, and also expected some airlines to require simulator sessions even if these are not mandated.[298]

On August 22, 2019, the FAA announced that it would invite pilots from around the world, intended to be a representative cross-section of "ordinary" 737 pilots, to participate in simulator tests as part of the recertification process, at a date to be determined.[299] The evaluation group sessions are one of the final steps in the validation of flight-control computer software updates and will involve around 30 pilots, including some first officers with multi-crew pilot licenses which emphasize simulator experience rather than flight hours. The FAA hopes that the feedback from pilots with more varied experience will enable it to determine more effective training standards for the aircraft.[300]

On January 7, 2020, Boeing reversed its position and now recommends that pilots receive training in a MAX flight simulator. The FAA will conduct tests using pilots from US and foreign airlines, to determine flight training and emergency procedures. National aviation authorities will consider Boeing's recommendation but will also rely on the outcome of tests and expert opinions.[301][302] According to The Seattle Times as of this policy reversal, only 34 full-motion 737 MAX flight simulators have been deployed worldwide.[303]The FAA agrees with Boeing on requiring simulator training for pilots, as the MAX returns to service.[304]

On January 9, 2020, Boeing turned over a hundred internal messages of employees criticizing the FAA and the 737 MAX's development. The majority of them being made before either crash. Some messages read that Boeing was trying to get regulators to avoid simulator training, as well as general frustration with Boeing management. [305]The FAA stated that "the tone and content of some of the language contained in the documents is disappointing," while Boeing said that the messages "do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable ."[306][307]

Boeing 737 safety analysis

The FAA's Safety Assurance Processes, an excerpt from FAA 8040.4B
Risk matrix, excerpt from FAA 8040.4B
AC 25.1309-1A fig 1 Probability vs consequence graph. This chart defines acceptable risk and unacceptable risk.

Recognized civil aviation development practices, such as those of SAE International ARP4754 and ARP4761, require a safety process with quantitative assessments of availability, reliability, and integrity, validation of requirements, and verification of implementation. Such processes rely on engineering judgment and the application of these practices varies within the industry.[308][309] Redundancy is a technique that may be used to achieve the quantitative safety requirements.[310]

Aviation safety risk is defined in AC 25.1309-1, an FAA document describing acceptable means for showing compliance with the airworthiness requirements of § 25.1309 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). A catastrophic failure must have an extremely improbable rate, defined as one in a billion flight hours, also stated as less than 10−9 per flight hour.

By this measure, as of 2005, the Boeing 737 had an actual fatal accident rate of 1 in 80 million flight hours, missing the requirements by an order of magnitude.[311]

In the two years of the 737 MAX's commercial service prior to its grounding, the global fleet of nearly 400 aircraft flew 500,000 flights and suffered two hull loss incidents. As of March 11, 2019, the 737 MAX's accident rate was second behind the Concorde, with four accidents per million flights, compared to the 737NG 0.2 accidents per million flights.[312]

MCAS and MAX safety risk analysis

On December 3, 2018, FAA conducted an internal safety review, using the TARAM system, over the plane's lifetime; it predicted 15 fatal crashes of the roughly 4,800 MAX in service over the next 45 years, if the MAX kept flying with MCAS unchanged.[313] Boeing also did a similar TARAM risk analysis for the MAX after the Lion Air crash, with results matching those of the FAA.[314] The FAA had shared its TARAM analysis with Boeing.

"Based on such an analysis, an FAA Corrective Action Review Board—the FAA's established process for evaluating safety issues—determined that Boeing's and the FAA's actions in early November to reinforce existing pilot procedures through issuance of an Operations Manual Bulletin and Airworthiness Directive sufficed to allow continued operation of the MAX fleet until changes to the MCAS software could be implemented. Boeing's own TARAM analysis was consistent with the FAA's conclusions."[315]

The report was refuted by MIT professor Arnold Barnett based on the loss of two aircraft out of only 400 delivered. He said there would be 24 crashes per year for a fleet size of 4,800, thus the FAA underestimated the risk by a factor of 72.[316]

On March 6, 2019, four days prior to the Ethiopian crash, Boeing and the FAA declined to comment regarding their safety analysis of MCAS for a story in The Seattle Times. On March 17, a week after the crash, The Seattle Times published the following flaws as identified by aviation engineers:[317]

  • Boeing's service bulletin informed airlines that the MCAS could deflect the tail in increments up to 2.5°, more than the 0.6° told to the FAA in the safety assessment;[317]
  • MCAS could reset itself after each pilot response to repeatedly pitch the aircraft down;[317]
  • The capability of MCAS had been downplayed, and its failure assessment was rated as "hazardous", one level below "catastrophic"[317]
  • MCAS relied on a single angle of attack sensor.[317]

In its safety analysis for the 737 MAX, Boeing made the assumption that pilots trained on standard Boeing 737 safety procedures should be able to properly assess contradictory warnings and act effectively within four seconds.[318] This four-second rule, for a pilot's assessment of an emergency and its correction, a standard value used in safety assessment scenarios for the MAX, is deemed too short, and criticized for not being supported by empirical human factors studies.[319]The Lion Air accident investigation report found that on the fatal flight and on the previous one, crews responded in about 8 seconds. According to the report, Boeing reasoned that pilots could counter an erratic MCAS by pulling back on the control column alone, without using the cutout switches. However, MCAS could only be stopped by the cutoff switches.[320]

Documentation made public at the House hearing on October 30, 2019, "established that Boeing was also already well aware, before the Lion Air accident, that if a pilot did not react to unintended MCAS activation within 10 seconds, the result could be catastrophic."[321]

US Congress inquiries

In March 2019, Congress announced an investigation into the FAA approval process.[322] Members of Congress and government investigators expressed concern about FAA rules that allowed Boeing to extensively "self-certify" aircraft.[323][324] FAA acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said "We do not allow self-certification of any kind".[325] Initially, as a new system or a new device on the amended type certificate, the FAA retained the oversight of MCAS. However, the FAA later released it to the Boeing Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) based on comfort level and thorough examination, Elwell said in March. "We were able to assure that the ODA members at Boeing had the expertise and the knowledge of the system to continue going forward."[325] However, several FAA insiders believed the delegation went too far.[326][273]


On April 2, 2019, after receiving reports from whistle-blowers regarding the training of FAA inspectors who reviewed the 737 MAX type certificate, the Senate Commerce Committee launched a second Congressional investigation; it focuses on FAA training of the inspectors.[327][328][329] The FAA provided misleading statements to Congress about the training of its inspectors, most possibly those inspectors that oversaw the Max certification, according to the findings of an Office of Special Counsel investigation released in September.

House of Representatives

On June 7, the delayed escalation on the defective AoA Disagree alert on 737 MAX was investigated. The Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee sent letters to Boeing, United Technologies Corp., and the FAA, requesting a timeline and supporting documents related to awareness of the defect, and when airlines were notified.[330]

In September 2019, a Congress panel asked Boeing's CEO to make several employees available for interviews, to complement the documents and the senior management perspective already provided.[186] The same month, Boeing's board called for changes to improve safety.[331] Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Boeing declined his invitation to testify at a House hearing. "Next time, it won't just be an invitation, if necessary," he said. Later, in the same month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee announced that Boeing CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, will testify before Congress accompanied by John Hamilton, chief engineer of Boeing's Commercial Airplanes division and Jennifer Henderson, 737 chief pilot.[332] In October 2019, the House asked Boeing to allow a flight deck systems engineer who filed an internal ethics complaint to be interviewed.[333]

On October 18, Peter DeFazio said "The outrageous instant message chain between two Boeing employees suggests Boeing withheld damning information from the FAA". Boeing expressed regret over its ex-pilot's messages after their publication in media.[334] Boeing's media room released a statement about Forkner's meaning of the instant messages, obtained through his attorney because the company has not been able to talk to him directly. The transcript of the messages indicates, according to experts, a problem with the simulator rather than an MCAS erratic activation.[335][336][337][282]

On October 25, 2019, Peter DeFazio commented the Lion Air accident report, saying "And I will be introducing legislation at the appropriate time to ensure that unairworthy commercial airliners no longer slip through our regulatory system".[338]

The aviation subcommittee and full committee hearings follow:

The Subcommittee on Aviation met on June 19, 2019, to hold a hearing titled, "Status of the Boeing 737 MAX: Stakeholder Perspectives".

"The hearing is intended to gather views and perspectives from aviation stakeholders regarding the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents, the resulting international grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, and actions needed to ensure the safety of the aircraft before returning them to service. The Subcommittee will hear testimony from Airlines for America, Allied Pilots Association, Association of Flight Attendants—CWA, Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger, and Randy Babbitt."[339][340]

On July 17, representatives of crash victims' families, in testimony to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – Aviation Subcommittee, called on regulators to re-certificate the MAX as a completely new aircraft. They also called for wider reforms to the certification process, and asked the committee to grant protective subpoenas so that whistle-blowers could testify even if they had agreed to a gag order as a condition of a settlement with Boeing.[341] In a July 31 senate hearing, the FAA defended its administrative actions following the Lion Air accident, noting that standard protocol in ongoing crash investigations limited the information that could be provided in the airworthiness directive.[342][343]

On October 29, 2019, Muilenburg and Hamilton appeared at the House hearing under the title "Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing's 737 MAX", which was the first time that Boeing executives addressed Congress about the MAX accidents.[344][345] The hearing came on the heels of the removal of Dennis Muilenburg's title as chairman of the Boeing board a week before and was intended to examine issues associated with the design, development, certification, and operation of the Boeing 737 MAX following two accidents in the last year.[345] The committee first heard from Boeing on actions taken to improve safety and the company's interaction with relevant federal regulators. The second panel was comprised of government officials and aviation experts discussing the status of Boeing 737 MAX and relevant safety recommendations."[344]

On October 30, the House made public a 2015 internal email discussion between Boeing employees raising concerns about MCAS design in the exact scenario blamed for the two crashes: "Are we vulnerable to single AOA sensor failures with the MCAS implementation?"[346] Committee members discussed another internal document, stating that a reaction longer than 10 seconds to an MCAS malfunction "found the failure to be catastrophic."[346][347] The hearings' key revelation was insider knowledge of vulnerabilities amid a hectic rate of production.[348]

After the testimony of Boeing's CEO, Peter DeFazio and Rick Larsen, leader of its aviation sub-panel, wrote a letter to other lawmakers on November 4, saying that unanswered questions remain: "Mr. Muilenburg left a lot of unanswered questions, and our investigation has a long way to go to get the answers everyone deserves [...] Mr. Muilenburg's answers to our questions were consistent with a culture of concealment and opaqueness and reflected the immense pressure exerted on Boeing employees during the development and production of the 737 Max".[349]

On December 11, 2019, during a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation titled "The Boeing 737 MAX: Examining the Federal Aviation Administration's Oversight of the Aircraft's Certification," an internal FAA review[350] dated December 3, 2018, was released, which predicted a high MAX accident rate, if it kept flying with MCAS unchanged.[351] The findings were first reported by The Wall Street Journal in July 2019,[352] The FAA assumed that the emergency airworthiness directive sufficed until Boeing delivered a fix.[353] Over a question whether a mistake was made in this regard, the FAA's chief Stephen Dickson responded, "Obviously the result was not satisfactory."[354][355] Peter DeFazio said that the committee's investigation "has uncovered a broken safety culture within Boeing and an FAA that was unknowing, unable, or unwilling to step up, regulate and provide appropriate oversight of Boeing".[356]

But perhaps most chillingly, we have learned that shortly after the issuance of the airworthiness directive, the FAA performed an analysis that concluded that, if left uncorrected, the MCAS design flaw in the 737 MAX could result in as many as 15 future fatal crashes over the life of the fleet—and that was assuming that 99 out of 100 flight crews could comply with the airworthiness directive and successfully react to the cacophony of alarms and alerts recounted in the National Transportation Safety Board's report on the Lion Air tragedy within 10 seconds. Such an assumption, we know now, was tragically wrong.

Despite its own calculations, the FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the 737 MAX continue to fly until Boeing could overhaul its MCAS software. Tragically, the FAA's analysis—which never saw the light of day beyond the closed doors of the FAA and Boeing—was correct. The next crash would occur just five months later, when Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 plummeted to earth in March 2019.[357]

In January 2020, Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, member of the House Transportation Committee and is vice chair of its aviation subcommittee, said: "The newly released messages from Boeing employees are incredibly disturbing and show a coordinated effort inside the company to deceive the American public and federal regulators, who are in place to keep passengers safe. It's further proof that Boeing put profit over safety in the development of the 737 MAX. [...] In addition to the public safety concerns these messages raise, Boeing's callousness has now cost thousands of Kansans their livelihood and endangered the economy of our state, which is dependent on aerospace."[358][359]

US Office of Special Counsel inquiries

The Office of Special Counsel is an organization investigating whistleblower reports. Its report infers that safety inspectors "assigned to the 737 Max had not met qualification standards".[360] The OSC sided with the whistleblower, pointing out that internal FAA reviews had reached the same conclusion. In a letter to President Trump, the OSC found that 16 of 22 FAA pilots conducting safety reviews, some of them assigned to the MAX two years ago, "lacked proper training and accreditation."[361]

Safety inspectors participate in Flight Standardization Boards, that ensure pilot competency by developing training and experience requirements. FAA policy requires both formal classroom training and on-the-job training for safety inspectors.[362]

Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner wrote in the letter to the President, "This information specifically concerns the 737 Max and casts serious doubt on the FAA's public statements regarding the competency of agency inspectors who approved pilot qualifications for this aircraft".[363]

In September, Daniel Elwell disputed the conclusions of the OSC, which found that aviation safety inspectors (ASIs) assigned to the 737 MAX certifications did not meet training requirements.[364][365] To clarify the facts, lawmakers asked the FAA to provide additional information:

We are particularly concerned about the Special Counsel's findings that inconsistencies in training requirements have resulted in the FAA relaxing safety inspector training requirements and thereby adopting "a position that encourages less qualified, accredited, and trained safety inspectors."  We request that the FAA provide documents confirming that all FAA employees serving on the FSB for the Boeing 737-MAX and the Gulfstream VII had the required foundational training in addition to any other specific training requirements.[366]

US Cabinet inquiries

The FBI has joined the criminal investigation into the certification as well.[367][368] FBI agents reportedly visited the homes of Boeing employees in "knock-and-talks".[369]

At the request of Peter DeFazio, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General opened an investigation into FAA approval of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft series, focusing on potential failures in the safety-review and certification process.[370]

A report released on October 23 says that the FAA faces a "significant oversight challenge" to ensure that manufacturers carrying out delegated certification activities "maintain high standards and comply with FAA safety regulations", and that it plans to introduce a "new process that represents a significant change in its approach" by March 2020.[371][372]

Executive-summary – Special Committee to Review the FAA's Aircraft Certification Process[373]
Official report – Special Committee to Review the FAA's Aircraft Certification Process[374]

In April 2019, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao, who boarded a MAX flight on March 12 amid calls to ground the aircraft,[375] created the Special Committee to Review the FAA's Aircraft Certification Process to review of Organization Designation Authorization, which granted Boeing authority to review systems on behalf of the FAA, during the certification of the 737 MAX 8. The committee recommended integrating human performance factors and consider all levels of pilot experience, but defended the ODA against any reforms.[376][377]Relatives of those on board the accident flights condemned the report for calling the ODA an "effective" process.[378]

FAA inquiries

The general public and worldwide regulators are concerned by the MAX grounding; consequently, the FAA is re-evaluating its certification process. The FAA was seeking consensus with other regulators to approve the return to service to avoid suspicion of undue cooperation with Boeing.[379] The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had also made a similar statement calling for more coordination and consensus with training and return to service requirements.[380] Since June 2019, the FAA has reiterated many times that it does not have a timetable on when the 737 MAX will return to service,[381] stating that it is guided by a "thorough process, not a prescribed timeline."[382]

The FAA certifies the design of aircraft and components that are used in civil aviation operations. The FAA is "performance-based, proactive, centered on managing risk, and focused on continuous improvement."[383] As with any other FAA certification, the MAX certification included: reviews to show that system designs and the MAX complied with FAA regulations; ground tests and flight tests; evaluation of the airplane's required maintenance and operational suitability; collaboration with other civil aviation authorities on aircraft approval.

In March 2019, reports emerged that Boeing performed the original System Safety Analysis, and FAA technical staff felt that managers pressured them to sign off on it. Boeing managers also pressured engineers to limit safety testing during the analysis.[225] A 2016 Boeing survey found almost 40% of 523 employees working in safety certification felt "potential undue pressure" from managers.[334][384]

On October 2, 2019, The Seattle Times reported that Boeing convinced FAA regulators to relax certification requirements in 2014, that would have added to the development cost to the MAX.[385] In October 2019, according to current and former FAA officials, instead of increasing its oversight powers, the FAA "has been pressing ahead with plans to further reduce its hands-on oversight of aviation safety".[280]

In November 2019, the FAA announced that it had withdrawn Boeing's authority, previously held under the Organization Designation Authorization, to issue airworthiness certificates for individual new 737 MAX aircraft. The FAA denied allegations that the ODA enabled plane makers to police themselves or self-certify their aircraft.[386][387] After the overall grounding is lifted, the FAA will issue such certificates directly; aircraft already delivered to customers will not be affected.[388] In the same month, the FAA pushed back at Boeing's attempts to publicize a certification date, saying the agency will take all the time it needs.[389]

On December 9, 2019, in an internal email sent to employees in the FAA's Aircraft Certification Service (AIR), it was revealed that the agency was moving to create a new safety branch to address shortcomings in its oversight following the two MAX crashes and a controversial reorganization. The email obtained by The Washington Post emphasized the complexities of aviation safety, but did not mention the MAX directly as it was written in bureaucratic language.[390]

Technical Advisory Board

The Technical Advisory Board, a multi-agency panel, was created shortly after the second crash, as a panel of government flight-safety experts for independently reviewing Boeing's redesign of the MAX. It includes experts from the United States Air Force (USAF), the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, NASA and FAA. "The TAB is charged with evaluating Boeing and FAA efforts related to Boeing's software update and its integration into the 737 Max flight control system. The TAB will identify issues where further investigation is required prior to FAA approval of the design change", said the FAA.[391] The TAB reviewed Boeing's MCAS software update and system safety assessment.[392] On November 8, the TAB presented its preliminary report to the FAA, finding that the MCAS design changes are compliant with the regulations and safe.[393]

Joint Authorities Technical Review

Final JATR report[394]

On April 19, a multinational "Boeing 737 MAX Flight Control System Joint Authorities Technical Review" (JATR) team was commissioned by the FAA to investigate how it approved MCAS, whether changes need to be made in the FAA's regulatory process and whether the design of MCAS complies with regulations.[395] On June 1, Ali Bahrami, FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, chartered the JATR to include representatives from FAA, NASA and the nine civil aviation authorities of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe (EASA), Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and UAE.

On September 27, the JATR chair Christopher A. Hart said that FAA's process for certifying new airplanes is not broken, but needs improvements rather than a complete overhaul of the entire system. He added "This will be the safest airplane out there by the time it has to go through all the hoops and hurdles".[396]

The JATR said that FAA's "limited involvement" and "inadequate awareness" of the automated MCAS safety system "resulted in an inability of the FAA to provide an independent assessment".[397] The panel report added that Boeing staff performing the certification were also subject to "undue pressures... which further erodes the level of assurance in this system of delegation".[398]

About the nature of MCAS, "the JATR team considers that the STS/MCAS and EFS functions could be considered as stall identification systems or stall protection systems, depending on the natural (unaugmented) stall characteristics of the aircraft".[399]

The report recommends that FAA reviews the jet's stalling characteristics without MCAS and associated system to determine the plane's safety and consequently if a broader design review was needed.[400]

"Boeing elected to meet the objectives of SAE International's Aerospace Recommended Practice 4754A, Guidelines for Development of Civil Aircraft and Systems, (ARP4754A) for development assurance of the B737 MAX. [...] The use of ARP4754A is consistent with the guidance contained in FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 20-174, Development of Civil Aircraft and Systems. The JATR team identified areas where the Boeing processes can be improved to more robustly meet the development assurance objectives of ARP4754A.[...]

An integrated SSA to investigate the MCAS as a complete function was not performed. The safety analyses were fragmented among several documents, and parts of the SSA from the B737 NG were reused in the B737 MAX without sufficient evaluation.[...]

The JATR team identified specific areas related to the evolution of the design of the MCAS where the certification deliverables were not updated during the certification program to reflect the changes to this function within the flight control system. In addition, the design assumptions were not adequately reviewed, updated, or validated; possible flight deck effects were not evaluated; the SSA and functional hazard assessment (FHA) were not consistently updated; and potential crew workload effects resulting from MCAS design changes were not identified."[399]

The JATR found that Boeing did not carry out a thorough verification by stress-testing of the MCAS.[401] The JATR also found that Boeing exerted "undue pressures" on Boeing Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) engineering unit members (who had FAA authority to approve design changes).[399][402]

Systems and structures related issues

Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System

The MAX uses an adjustable stabilizer, moved by a jackscrew, to provide the required pitch trim forces. Generic stabilizer illustrated.

The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law was implemented on the 737 MAX to mitigate the aircraft's tendency to pitch up because of the aerodynamic effect of its larger, heavier, and more powerful CFM LEAP-1B engines and nacelles.[403] The stated goal of MCAS, according to Boeing, was to provide consistent aircraft handling characteristics at elevated angles of attack in certain unusual flight conditions only and hence make the 737 MAX perform similarly to its immediate predecessor, the 737NG.[404]

737-200 JT8D engine with original cowling design
737-800 (Next Generation) CFM56 engine with ovoid inlet
737 MAX 9 CFM LEAP-1B engine with 787-derived engine chevrons

MCAS and the accidents

The tracking data of Lion Air Flight 610 from Flightradar24
Vertical airspeeds of Boeing Max 737s in 2018-2019 crashes
The vertical airspeeds of the Boeing 737 MAX 8s involved in the JT 610 and ET 302 crashes

Investigators determined that MCAS was triggered by falsely high angle of attack (AoA) inputs, as if the plane had pitched up excessively. On both flights, shortly after takeoff, MCAS repeatedly actuated the horizontal stabilizer trim motor to push down the airplane nose.[405][406][407][408] Satellite data for the flights, ET 302 and JT 610, showed that the planes struggled to gain altitude.[409] Pilots reported difficulty controlling the airplane and asked to return to the airport.[123][410]

On March 11, 2019, after China had grounded the aircraft,[273] Boeing published some details of new system requirements for the MCAS software and for the cockpit displays, which it began implementing in the wake of the prior accident five months earlier:[405]

  • If the two AOA sensors disagree with the flaps retracted, MCAS will not activate and an indicator will alert the pilots.
  • If MCAS is activated in non-normal conditions, it will only "provide one input for each elevated AOA event."
  • Flight crew will be able to counteract MCAS by pulling back on the column.

On March 27, Daniel Elwell, the acting administrator of the FAA, testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, saying that on January 21, "Boeing submitted a proposed MCAS software enhancement to the FAA for certification. ... the FAA has tested this enhancement to the 737 MAX flight control system in both the simulator and the aircraft. The testing, which was conducted by FAA flight test engineers and flight test pilots, included aerodynamic stall situations and recovery procedures."[411] After a series of delays, the updated MCAS software was released to the FAA in May 2019.[412][413] On May 16, Boeing announced that the completed software update was awaiting approval from the FAA.[414][415] The flight software underwent 360 hours of testing on 207 flights.[416] Boeing also updated existing crew procedures.[405] The implementation of MCAS has been found to disrupt autopilot operations.[417]

On April 4, 2019 Boeing publicly acknowledged that MCAS played a role in both accidents.[418]

Purpose of MCAS and the stabilizer trim system

The FAA and Boeing both refuted media reports describing MCAS as an anti-stall system, which Boeing asserted it is distinctly not.[419][420][421] The aircraft had to perform well in a low-speed stall test.[422] The Joint Authorities Technical Review "considers that the STS/MCAS and elevator feel shift (EFS) functions could be considered as stall identification systems or stall protection systems, depending on the natural (unaugmented) stall characteristics of the aircraft".

The JATR said, "MCAS used the stabilizer to change the column force feel, not trim the aircraft. This is a case of using the control surface in a new way that the regulations never accounted for and should have required an issue paper for further analysis by the FAA. If the FAA technical staff had been fully aware of the details of the MCAS function, the JATR team believes the agency likely would have required an issue paper for using the stabilizer in a way that it had not previously been used; this [might have] identified the potential for the stabilizer to overpower the elevator."[423]

Angle of Attack (AoA)

As per Boeing technical description: "the Angle of Attack (AOA) is an aerodynamic parameter that is key to understanding the limits of airplane performance. Recent accidents and incidents have resulted in new flight crew training programs, which in turn have raised interest in AOA in commercial aviation. Awareness of AOA is vitally important as the airplane nears stall."[424] Chesley Sullenberger said AoA indicators might have helped in these two crashes. "It is ironic that most modern aircraft measure (angle of attack) and that information is often used in many aircraft systems, but it is not displayed to pilots. Instead, pilots must infer (angle of attack) from other parameters, deducing it indirectly."[425]

AoA sensors

Though there are two sensors on the MAX only one of them is used at a time to trigger MCAS activation on the 737 MAX. Any fault in this sensor, perhaps due to physical damage,[295] created a single point failure: the flight control system lacks any basis for rejecting its input as faulty information.

Reports of a single point of failure were not always acknowledged by Boeing. Addressing American Airlines pilots, Boeing vice-president Mike Sinnett contradicted reports that the MCAS had a single-point failure, because the pilots themselves are the backup. Reporter Useem said in The Atlantic it was "showing both a misunderstanding of the term and a sharp break from Boeing's long-standing practice of having multiple backups for every flight system".[426]

Problems with the AoA sensor had been reported in over 200 incident reports submitted to the FAA; however, Boeing did not flight test a scenario in which it malfunctioned.[427]

The sensors themselves are under scrutiny. Sensors on the Lion air aircraft were supplied by United Technologies' Rosemount Aerospace.[428]

In September 2019, the EASA said it prefers triple-redundant AoA sensors rather than the dual redundancy in Boeing's proposed upgrade to the MAX.[207] Installation of a third sensor could be expensive and take a long time. The change, if mandated, could be extended to thousands of older model 737s in service around the world.[207]

A former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Andrew Kornecki, who is an expert in redundancy systems, said operating with one or two sensors "would be fine if all the pilots were sufficiently trained in how to assess and handle the plane in the event of a problem". But, he would much prefer building the plane with three sensors, as Airbus does.[429]

AoA Disagree alert

In November 2017, after several months of MAX deliveries, Boeing discovered that the AoA Disagree message, which is indicative of potential sensor mismatch on the primary flight display,[430] was unintentionally disabled.[405]

Clint Balog, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said after the Lion Air crash: "In retrospect, clearly it would have been wise to include the warning as standard equipment and fully inform and train operators on MCAS".[431] According to Bjorn Fehrm, Aeronautical and Economic Analyst at Leeham News and Analysis, "A major contributor to the ultimate loss of JT610 is the missing AOA DISAGREE display on the pilots' displays."[432]

The software depended on the presence of the visual indicator software, a paid option that was not selected most airlines. [433] For example, Air Canada, American Airlines and Westjet had purchased the disagree alert, while Air Canada and American Airlines also purchased, in addition, the AoA value indicator, and Lion Air had neither.[434][435] Boeing had determined that the defect was not critical to aircraft safety or operation, and an internal safety review board (SRB) corroborated Boeing's prior assessment and its initial plan to update the aircraft in 2020. Boeing did not disclose the defect to the FAA until November 2018, in the wake of the Lion Air crash.[436] [437][438][439] Consequently, Southwest had announced to pilots that its entire fleet of MAX 8 aircraft will receive the optional upgrades.[440][441] In March 2019, after the second accident of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a Boeing representative told Inc. magazine, "Customers have been informed that AOA disagree alert will become a standard feature on the 737 Max. It can be retrofitted on previously delivered airplanes."[442]

On May 5, 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that Boeing had known of existing problems with the flight control system a year before the Lion Air accident.[443] Boeing defended that "Neither the angle of attack indicator nor the AoA Disagree alert are necessary for the safe operation of the airplane." Boeing recognized that the defective software was not implemented to their specifications as a "standard, standalone feature." Boeing stated, "...MAX production aircraft will have an activated and operable AOA Disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator. All customers with previously delivered MAX airplanes will have the ability to activate the AOA Disagree alert."[437] Boeing CEO Muilenburg said the company's communication about the alert "was not consistent. And that's unacceptable."[444][437]

Visual AoA indicator

The primary flight display of a Boeing 737-800 aircraft with a functional angle of attack display on the upper right; the AoA Disagree alert would appear as a text message.

Boeing published an article in Aero magazine about AoA systems, "Operational use of Angle of Attack on modern commercial jet planes":

The AOA indicator can be used to assist with unreliable airspeed indications as a result of blocked pitot or static ports and may provide additional situation and configuration awareness to the flight crew.[424]

Boeing announced a change in policy in the Frequently Asked Questions in a (FAQ) about the MAX corrective work, "With the software update, customers are not charged for the AOA disagree feature or their selection of the AOA indicator option."[445]

In 1996, the NTSB issued Safety Recommendation A-96-094.

TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA): Require that all transport-category aircraft present pilots with angle-of-attack info in a visual format, and that all air carriers train their pilots to use the info to obtain maximum possible airplane climb performance.

The NTSB also stated about another accident in 1997, that "a display of angle of attack on the flight deck would have maintained the flightcrew's awareness of the stall condition and it would have provided direct indication of the pitch attitudes required for recovery throughout the attempted stall recovery sequence." The NTSB also believed that the accident may have been prevented if a direct indication of AoA was presented to the flightcrew (NTSB, 1997)."[446](p29)

Flight computer architecture

In early April 2019, Boeing reported a problem with software affecting flaps and other flight-control hardware, unrelated to MCAS; classified as critical to flight safety, the FAA has ordered Boeing to fix the problem correspondingly.[447] In October 2019, the EASA has suggested to conduct more testing on proposed revisions to flight-control computers due to its concerns about portions of proposed fixes to MCAS.[183] The necessary changes to improve redundancy between the two flight control computers have proved more complex and time-consuming than the fixes for the original MCAS issue, delaying any re-introduction to service beyond the date originally envisaged.[448]

In January 2020, new software issues were discovered, affecting monitoring of the flight computer start-up process and verifying readiness for flight.[449]

Microprocessor stress testing

The MAX systems are integrated in the "e-cab" test flight deck, a simulator built for developing the MAX.[450][451] In June 2019, "in a special Boeing simulator that is designed for engineering reviews,"[452] FAA pilots performed a stress testing scenario – an abnormal condition identified through FMEA after the MCAS update was implemented[453] – for evaluating the effect of a fault in a microprocessor: as expected from the scenario, the horizontal stabilizer pointed the nose downward. Although the test pilot ultimately recovered control, the system was slow to respond to the proper runaway stabilizer checklist steps. Boeing initially classified this as a "major" hazard, and the FAA upgraded it to a much more severe "catastrophic" rating. Boeing stated that the issue can be fixed in software.[454] The software change will not be ready for evaluation until at least September 2019.[455] EASA director Patrick Ky said that retrofitting additional hardware is an option to be considered.[417]

Early news reports were inaccurate in attributing the problem to an 80286[456] microprocessor overwhelmed with data. The test scenario simulated an event toggling five bits in the flight control computer. The bits represent status flags such as whether MCAS is active, or whether the tail trim motor is energized. Engineers were able to simulate single event upsets and artificially induce MCAS activation by manipulating these signals. Such a fault occurs when memory bits change from 0 to 1 or vice versa, which is something that can be caused by cosmic rays striking the microprocessor.[225]

The failure scenario was known before the MAX entered service in 2017: it had been assessed in a safety analysis when the plane was certified. Boeing had concluded that pilots could perform a procedure to shut off the motor driving the stabilizer to overcome the nose-down movement.[457] The scenario also affects 737NG aircraft, though it presents less risk than on the MAX. On the NG, moving the yoke counters any uncommanded stabilizer input, but this function is bypassed on the MAX to avoid negating the purpose of MCAS.[458] Boeing also said that it agreed with additional requirements that the FAA required it to fulfill, and added that it was working toward resolving the safety risk. It will not offer the MAX for certification until all requirements have been satisfied.[454]

Computer redundancy

As of 2019, the two flight control computers of Boeing 737 never cross-checked each other's operations; i.e., each was a single non-redundant channel. This lack of robustness existed since the early implementation and persisted for decades.[225] The updated flight control system will use both flight control computers and compare their outputs. This switch to a fail-safe two-channel redundant system, with each computer using an independent set of sensors, is a radical change from the architecture used on 737s since the introduction on the older model 737–300 in the 1980s. Up to the MAX in its prior to groundings version, the system alternates between computers after each flight.[225] The two computers architecture allowed switching in flight if the operating computer failed, thus increasing availability. In the revised architecture, Boeing required the two computers to monitor each other so that each one can vet the other.[448]

Trim system malfunction indicator

In January 2020, during flight testing, Boeing discovered a problem with an indicator light; the defect was traced to the "redesign the two flight computers that control the 737 Max to make them more resilient to failure". The indicator, which signals a problem with the trim system, can be turned on longer than intended by design.[459][460]

Horizontal stabilizer actuator

The horizontal stabilizer is fitted with a conventional elevator for flight control. However it is itself all-moving about a single pivot and can be trimmed to adjust its angle. The trim is actuated via a jackscrew mechanism.

Runaway stabilizer and manual trim

In February 2016, the EASA certified the MAX with the expectation that pilot procedures and training would clearly explain unusual situations in which the seldom used manual trim wheel would be required to trim the plane, i.e. adjust the angle of the nose; however, the original flight manual did not mention those situations.[461] The EASA certification document referred to simulations whereby the electric thumb switches were ineffective to properly trim the MAX under certain conditions. The EASA document said that after flight testing, because the thumb switches could not always control trim on their own, the FAA was concerned by whether the 737 MAX system complied with regulations.[462] The American Airlines flight manual contains a similar notice regarding the thumb switches but does not specify conditions where the manual wheel may be needed.[462]

Boeing's CEO Muilenburg, when asked about the non-disclosure of MCAS, cited the "runaway stabilizer trim" procedure as part of the training manual. He added that Boeing's bulletin pointed to that existing flight procedure. Boeing views the "runaway stabilizer trim" checklist as a memory item for pilots. Mike Sinnett, vice president and general manager for the Boeing New Mid-Market Airplane (NMA) since July 2019, repeatedly described the procedure as a "memory item".[260] However, some airlines view it as an item for the quick reference card.[227] The FAA issued a recommendation about memory items in an Advisory Circular, Standard Operating Procedures and Pilot Monitoring Duties for Flight Deck Crewmembers: "Memory items should be avoided whenever possible. If the procedure must include memory items, they should be clearly identified, emphasized in training, less than three items, and should not contain conditional decision steps."[463]

In November 2018, Boeing told airlines that MCAS could not be overcome by pulling back on the control column to stop a runaway trim as on previous generation 737s.[464] Nevertheless, confusion continued: the safety committee of a major U.S. airline misled its pilots by telling that the MCAS could be overcome by "applying opposite control-column input to activate the column cutout switches".[465] Former pilot and CBS aviation & safety expert Chesley Sullenberger testified, "The logic was that when MCAS was activated, it had to be, and must not be prevented."[295] In October, Sullenberger wrote, "These emergencies did not present as a classic runaway stabilizer problem, but initially as ambiguous unreliable airspeed and altitude situations, masking MCAS."[466]

In a legal complaint against Boeing, the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association states:[467]

An MCAS failure is not like a runaway stabilizer. A runaway stabilizer has continuous un-commanded movement of the tail, whereas MCAS is not continuous and pilots (theoretically) can counter the nose-down movement, after which MCAS would move the aircraft tail down again. Moreover, unlike runaway stabilizer, MCAS disables the control column response that 737 pilots have grown accustomed to and relied upon in earlier generations of 737 aircraft.

In May 2019, The Seattle Times reported that the two stabilizer cutoff switches on the MAX operate differently than on the earlier 737 NG. On previous aircraft, one cutoff switch deactivates the thumb buttons on the control yoke that pilots use to move the horizontal stabilizer; the other cutoff switch disables automatic control (as from autopilot) to move the stabilizer in the tail. On the MAX, both switches do the same thing: they cut off all electric power to the stabilizer, both from the yoke buttons and from an automatic system, like MCAS. With all power to the stabilizer cut, pilots have no choice but to use the mechanical trim wheel in the center console.[468] However, as pilots pull on the 737 controls to raise the nose of the aircraft, aerodynamic forces on the elevator create an opposing force, effectively paralyzing the jackscrew mechanism.[469]> It becomes very difficult for pilots to hand crank the trim wheel.[469] The problem was encountered on earlier 737 versions, and a "roller coaster" emergency technique for handling the flight condition was documented in 1982 for the 737-200 but did not appear in training documentation for later versions (including the MAX).[469]

During the groundings, special flights to reposition MAX aircraft to storage locations, as per 14 CFR § 21.197, flew at lower altitude and with flaps extended to circumvent MCAS activation, rather than using the recovery procedure after the fact. Such flights required a certain pilot qualification as well as permission from corresponding regulators, and with no other cabin crew or passengers.[125][165]

Slippage concern

Sylvain Alarie and Gilles Primeau, experts on the horizontal stabilizers, observed anomalies in the data from the aircraft data recorders: a progressive shift of 0.2 degrees of the horizontal stabilizer, before the crash. "It may not seem like much, but it is an order of magnitude higher than what is normally allowed when designing systems like these", says Gilles Primeau. They say that the movements are easily observable, and disallowed according to Regulation 395A. These anomalies raise fundamental questions about this jack screw, which controls the horizontal stabilizer since the beginning of the 737 models, first certified in 1967.[470]

These slips are particularly visible on flight ET302: "While there is no MCAS command, and no control of the pilots, we see a movement of the jack screw which controls the horizontal stabilizer, we see a slip. And at the very end of the flight, the jack screw starts to slide again with an increase in the speed of the plane and its dive," says Alarie.[470]

Since its original design, the 737 has become 61% heavier, 24% longer, 40% wider, and its engines twice as powerful. These experts are concerned that the loads on the jack screw have potentially increased since the creation of the 737. By regulations, the controls must be designed for 125% of the foreseeable loads.[470][471] These experts have raised concerns about the motors possibly overheating in April 2019.[472]

Manual trim stiffness

In the early 1980s a problem was found with the 737-200 model. When the elevator operated to raise or lower the nose, it set up a strong force on the trim jackscrew which opposed any corrective force from the control systems. When attempting to correct an unwanted deflection using the manual trim wheel, exerting enough hand force to overcome the force exerted by the elevator became increasingly difficult as speed and deflection increased and the jack screw effectively jammed in place.[473]

A workaround was developed called the "roller coaster" technique. Counter-intuitively, to correct an excessive deflection causing a dive the pilot first pushes the nose down further, before easing back to gently raise the nose again. During this easing back period, the elevator deflection reduces or even reverses, its force on the jackscrew does likewise and the manual trim eases up. The workaround was included in the pilot's emergency procedures and in the training schedule.[473]

However while the 737 Max has a similar jackscrew mechanism the "roller coaster" technique has been dropped from the pilot information. During the events leading to the two Max crashes, the stiffness of the manual trim wheel repeatedly prevented manual trim adjustment to correct the MCAS-induced nose-down pitching. The issue has been brought to the notice of the DoJ criminal inquiry into the 737 Max crashes.[473]

Rejected improvements

During the development of the MAX, some systems that could have improved situation awareness related to the accidents did not make it. Boeing also successfully appealed safety concerns raised by FAA safety specialists about the separation of cables into different zones of the aircraft, to avoid failures due to a common cause. The appeal raised doubts about the independence of the FAA.[474]

According to The Seattle Times, Boeing convinced the FAA, during MAX certification in 2014, to grant exceptions to federal crew alerting regulations, specifically relating to the "suppression of false, unnecessary" information.[385] DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said that Boeing considered adding a more robust alerting system for MCAS but finally shelved the idea.[475]

In its final report, the NTSB had also recommended to implement information filtering in the crew alert systems.[476] "For example, the erroneous AOA output experienced during the two accident flights resulted in multiple alerts and indications to the flight crews, yet the crews lacked tools to identify the most effective response. Thus, it is important that system interactions and the flight deck interface be designed to help direct pilots to the highest priority action(s)."[262]

On October 2, 2019, The Seattle Times and The New York Times reported that a Boeing engineer, Curtis Ewbank, filed an internal ethics complaint alleging that company managers rejected a backup system for determining speed, which might have alerted pilots to problems linked to two deadly crashes of 737 MAX.[477] A similar backup system is installed on the larger Boeing 787 jet, but it was rejected for the 737 MAX because it could increase costs and training requirements for pilots. Ewbank said the backup system could have reduced risks that contributed to two fatal crashes, though he could not be sure that it would have prevented them. A backup speed system "could also detect when sensors measuring the direction of the plane's nose weren't working". He also said in his complaint that Boeing management was more concerned with costs and keeping the MAX on schedule than on safety.[478][333] An attorney representing families of the Ethiopian crash victims will seek sworn evidence from the whistleblower.[479]

Manufacturing defects

At the request of the FAA, Boeing audited key systems on the MAX. Boeing discovered that electrical wiring bundles were too close together and could cause a short circuit that could theoretically lead to a runaway stabilizer.[480] The EASA wants the wiring fixed on all 400 grounded aircraft and future deliveries, while Boeing and the FAA consider this issue to be inexpensive and non-urgent.[481]

A manufacturing fault was also found to have affected the lightning protection foil on two panels covering the engine pylons on certain MAX aircraft manufactured between February 2018 and June 2019.[482]

In January 2020, the FAA proposed a $5.4 million fine against Boeing for installing nonconforming slat tracks. The tracks are used to guide the movement of slats, which are panels located on the leading edge of aircraft's wings for additional lift during take-off and landing. Boeing's supplier did not comply with aviation regulations nor with Boeing's quality assurance system. Boeing is alleged to have issued airworthiness certificates for 178 MAX aircraft despite knowing that the slat tracks had failed a strength test.[483]

In February 2020, traces of debris were discovered within the fuel tanks of aircraft produced during the groundings.[484]



Boeing issued a brief statement after each crash, saying it was "deeply saddened" by the loss of life and offered its "heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones" of the passengers and crews. It said it was helping with the Lion Air investigation and sending a technical team to assist in the Ethiopia investigation.[485][486][487] Boeing dedicated a fountain adjacent to its aviation museum on its corporate campus in memory of those on board the accident flights.[488]

After the grounding, Boeing suspended 737 MAX deliveries to customers, but continued production at a rate of 52 aircraft per month.[489] In mid-April, the production rate was reduced to 42 aircraft per month.[490] In May 2019, Boeing reported a 56% drop in plane deliveries year on year.[491] In July 2019, after reporting its financial results, Boeing stated that it would consider further reducing or even shutting down production if the grounding lasts longer than expected.[492][298] On December 15, the Boeing board considered a management proposal to suspend production for several months, until the MAX is cleared by the FAA to return to commercial service.[493] Production will be suspended from January 2020, to prioritize the delivery of more than 400 new aircraft from storage bases.[494] Boeing is unlikely to resume its pre-grounding production target of 57 aircraft per month until 2022.[495]

In April 2019, Lawyers, analysts and experts criticized CEO Muilenberg's delivery of Boeing's public statements as contradictory and unconvincing.[496] They said Boeing refused to answer tough questions and accept responsibility, defended the airplane design and certification while "promising to fix the plane's software", delayed to ground planes and issue an apology, and yet was quick to assign blame towards pilot error.[497][498] As of December 2019, Muilenberg's handling of the 737 MAX crisis has only added to the frustration between Boeing and its stakeholders, resulting in his removal from office, as well as the retirement of Boeing's senior legal counsel, J. Michael Luttig.[499][500][501]

Executive changes

On October 11, 2019, Boeing's board removed Dennis Muilenburg as chairman and replaced him with David L. Calhoun, a former boss of GE Aviation. Boeing had resisted earlier calls from shareholder activists to split the roles.[502][503][504][402] Some critics of corporate governance have said that Calhoun is a prime example of "overboarding" due to his multiple positions held concurrently on many boards.[505] On December 23, 2019, the Boeing board had voted unanimously for David Calhoun to replace Dennis Muilenberg as chairman and president effective January 2020.[506][507] Muilenberg reportedly departed Boeing with stock options and additional assets worth about $80 million, but no severance.[508][509][510] Congressman Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, commented: "Based on what we've discovered so far in our investigation into the design, development and certification of the Boeing 737 MAX, it's clear Dennis Muilenburg's ouster was long overdue. Under his watch, a long-admired company made a number of devastating decisions that suggest profit took priority over safety. Furthermore, reports that Muilenburg attempted to pressure FAA into rushing the MAX back into service are highly troubling and I commend Administrator Dickson for making it known that FAA will take as much time as it needs to ensure safety comes first".[511]

Other staff members

In July 2019, Boeing announced the retirement of 737 program leader Eric Lindblad, the second person to depart that post in two years. He held the job less than a year, but was not involved in development of the MAX. His predecessor, Scott Campbell, retired in August 2018, amid late deliveries of 737 MAX engines and other components. Lindblad assumed the role shortly before the program became embattled in two accidents and ongoing groundings. He will be succeeded by Mark Jenks, vice president of the Boeing New Midsize Airplane program and previously in charge of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.[512][513][relevant? ]

On October 22, Boeing named Stan Deal to succeed Kevin McAllister, who has faced a number of problems beyond the MAX crisis during his three years as president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA).[514][515]

On December 4, 2019, Boeing Commercial Airplanes announced the retirement of its chief engineer John Hamilton, age 58, who had been appointed as the leader of Boeing's response to the crashes.[516]

On December 26, 2019, Boeing announced that J. Michael Luttig, a senior adviser to Boeing's board of directors and former general counsel for the company, is retiring at the end of 2019.[517] He was one of the highest paid general counsels of publicly traded companies; he helped to establish Boeing's defense over the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.[518]

Investigation feedback

Between the Ethiopian accident and US groundings, Boeing stated that upgrades to the MCAS flight control software, cockpit displays, operation manuals and crew training were underway due to findings from the Lion Air crash.

As non-U.S. countries and airlines began grounding the 737 MAX, Boeing stated: "at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators."[519] Boeing said "in light of" the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the company would privatize[520] the roll-out ceremony for the first completed Boeing 777X.[521] In November 2019, the company's first Boeing 737 MAX 10 was unveiled in an employees-only event.[522][relevant? ]

When the FAA grounded the MAX aircraft on March 13, Boeing stated it "continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX. However, after consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, Boeing has determined – out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft's safety – to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 737 MAX aircraft."[523]

Boeing anticipated software deployment before April, and said the upgrade would be made mandatory by an FAA Airworthiness Directive.[524] The FAA stated it anticipated clearing the software update by March 25, 2019, allowing Boeing to distribute it to the grounded fleets.[525] On April 1, the FAA announced the software upgrade was delayed because more work was necessary.[526]

On March 14, Boeing reiterated that pilots can always use manual trim control to override software commands, and that both its Flight Crew Operations Manual and November 6 bulletin offer detailed procedures for handling incorrect angle-of-attack readings.[527][528]

On April 4, 2019, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg acknowledged that MCAS played a role in both crashes. His comments came in response to public release of preliminary results of the Ethiopian Airlines accident investigation, which suggested pilots performed the recovery procedure. Muilenburg stated it was "apparent that in both flights" MCAS activated due to "erroneous angle of attack information". He said the MCAS software update and additional training and information for pilots would "eliminate the possibility of unintended MCAS activation and prevent an MCAS-related accident from ever happening again".[418] Boeing reported that 96 test flights were flown with the updated software.[529][530]

In an earnings call that took place on April 24, 2019, Muilenburg said the aircraft was properly designed and certificated, and denied that any "technical slip or gap" existed. He said there were "actions or actions not taken that contributed to the final outcome".[531] On April 29, he claimed that the pilots did not "completely" follow the procedures that Boeing had outlined. He said Boeing was working to make the airplane even safer.[532][286]

On August 4, 2019, Boeing stated they conducted around 500 test flights with updated software,[533] and Wired reported that one test flight involved multiple altitude changes.[534]

On October 20, 2019, in response to harsh reactions to the publication of Forkner's controversial messages about MCAS simulation during development, Boeing issued a statement about misinterpretations and how it informed the FAA of the expansion of MCAS to low speeds.[335] On December 26, 2019, after the dismissal of Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing turned over to the FAA a new set of "disturbing" messages written in part by Forkner regarding MCAS development.[535][536] On January 9, 2020, Boeing released the conversation details to the House Transportation Committee, stating that it "regret[s] the content of these communications, and apologize to the [Federal Aviation Administration], Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them."[537]

Corporate structure and new safety practices

Following panel review recommendations, Boeing has strengthened its engineering oversight. As of August 2019, Muilenburg receives weekly reports of potential safety issues from rank-and-file engineers – thousands will report to chief engineers rather than to separate programs, helping them reach senior management more effectively.[538]

In September 2019, The New York Times reported that Boeing board will call for structural changes after the 737 MAX crashes: changing corporate reporting structures, a new safety group, future plane cockpits designed for new pilots with less training. The committee, established in April, did not investigate the Max crashes, but produced the first findings for a reform of Boeing's internal structures since then. It will recommend that engineers report to the chief engineer rather than business management, to avoid pressure from business leaders against engineers who identify safety issues. The committee found that inter-group communication was lacking within engineering and between the Seattle offices and corporate headquarters during the certification work. The safety group will ensure information is shared and the certification work is independent. The group will report to senior leadership and a new permanent committee on the board.[331][539]

The board said in September that Boeing should also work with airlines to "re-examine assumptions around flight deck design and operation" and recommend pilot training criteria beyond traditional training programs "where warranted".[540]

Current and former employees

In May 2019, engineers said that Boeing pushed to limit safety testing to accelerate planes certification, including 737 MAX.[541] FAA said it has "received no whistleblower complaints or any other reports ... alleging pressure to speed up 737 MAX certification." Former engineers at Boeing blamed company executives of cost-cutting, over more than a decade, yielding to low morale and reduced engineering staffing, which "they argue contributed to two recent deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 Max jets."[542]

In June 2019, Boeing's software development practices came under criticism from current and former engineers. Software development work for the MAX was reportedly complicated by Boeing's decision to outsource work to lower-paid contractors though these contractors did not work on MCAS or the AoA disagree alert. Management pressure to limit changes that might introduce extra time or cost was also highlighted.[543][544][545]

Boeing's former Chief Technical pilot Mark Forkner has invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, to avoid submitting documents to federal prosecutors investigating the crashes.[546] He managed pilots in the Flight Technical and Safety group within Boeing's customer services division.[337] On October 17, Boeing turned over some 10 pages of Forkner's correspondence showing concern with MCAS in simulator sessions in 2016. The next day, FAA Administrator Dickson, in a strongly worded letter, ordered Muilenburg to give an "immediate" explanation for delaying disclosure of these documents for months.[450][451][547][548][549][550][551]


Airbus A320neo prototype with CFM LEAP-1A engines

The 737 MAX's primary competitor is Airbus's bestseller aircraft, the A320neo. The A320neo continued to win orders in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding, booking over US$11 billion in orders,[552] with additional orders from airlines that are either canceling their 737 MAX orders altogether, or reducing quantities.[553] However, Airbus cannot take full advantage of the 737 Max's situation because the A320's production rate is limited.[554] Deliveries for the A320 family and the B737 series have been as follows:

The A320neo and the 737 MAX both use engines from the CFM LEAP family, with different thrust requirements. After EASA issued an airworthiness directive regarding potential excess pitch during specific maneuvers, Airbus made a preemptive change to the A320neo flight manual to protect the aircraft in such situations.[557][558] In response to the EASA recommendations, Lufthansa temporarily blocked the rearmost row of seats until a flight computer update increases the effectiveness of the aircraft's AoA protection.[559]

In May 2019, executives of Airbus told reporters they do not view the relationship between Boeing and the FAA as having been corrupted. They compared the EASA and the FAA, saying "EASA has a slightly different mandate than the FAA. EASA is a purely safety orientated agency."[560] Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer did not feel the 737 MAX is a variant that has stretched the original 737 too far: "The MAX is not one stretch too many, in my humble opinion". Airbus leader Remi Maillard stated: "We work hand in hand with the regulators, and with the OEMs to adopt the safety standards. But, to be clear, our internal safety standards are even more stringent than what is required by the regulators". Scherer remarked on the way manufacturers can learn from accidents: "Whenever there is an accident out there, the first question that gets asked in an Airbus management meeting is: can we learn from it?"

On April 30, 2019, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said the 737 MAX grounding "is not changing the mid- to long-term picture" as "[Airbus is] limited by the supply chain": it should reach a monthly A320 production rate of 60 by mid-2019 before 63 in 2021 while Boeing reduced MAX monthly output to 42 from 52.[561]

On November 17, 2019, at the Dubai Air Show, Airbus Chief Commercial Officer, Christian Scherer, firmly rejected the notion that Airbus was benefiting from the grounding of Boeing 737 Max. Speaking to CNBC, he said, "I really need to correct that cultural belief. This does not benefit anyone in this industry, the least of which would be Airbus. It's a tragedy, it is an issue for Boeing to resolve, but it is not good for competitors to see problems on any one particular airplane type."[562]

Flight crew

U.S. labor unions representing pilots and flight attendants had different opinions on whether or not to ground the aircraft. Two flight attendant unions, AFA and the APFA, favored groundings,[563] while pilot unions such as the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association,[564] APA, and ALPA, expressed confidence in continued operation of the aircraft.[565]

Cockpit crew

In a private meeting on November 27, 2018, American Airlines pilots pressed Boeing managers to develop an urgent fix for MCAS and suggested that the FAA require a safety review which in turn could have grounded the airplanes.[566][567] A recording of the meeting revealed pilots' anger that they were not informed about MCAS. One pilot was heard saying, "We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes."[568] It is worth noting that a US pilot asked for more training prior to his first flight on the 737 MAX several months before the first crash of Lion Air Flight 610.[569] Afterwards, in June 2019, the American Airlines pilot union openly criticized Boeing for not fully explaining the existence or operation of MCAS: "However, at APA we remained concerned about whether the new training protocol, materials and method of instruction suggested by Boeing are adequate to ensure that pilots across the globe flying the MAX fleet can do so in absolute complete safety"[570] Boeing vice president Mike Sinnett explained that the company did not want to make changes in a rush, because of uncertainty whether the Lion Air accident was related to MCAS. Sinnett said Boeing expected pilots to be able to handle any control problems.[566]

In addition, the U.S. Aviation Safety Reporting System received messages about the 737 MAX from U.S. pilots in November 2018, including one from a captain who expressed concern that systems such as the MCAS are not fully described in the aircraft flight manual.[571][572] Captain Mike Michaelis, chairman of the safety committee of the Allied Pilots Association at American Airlines said "It's pretty asinine for them to put a system on an airplane and not tell the pilots … especially when it deals with flight controls".[573]

U.S. pilots also complained about the way the 737 MAX performed, including claims of problems similar to those reported about the Lion Air crash.[574] Pilots of at least two U.S. flights in 2018, reported the nose of the 737 MAX pitched down suddenly when they engaged the autopilot.[575] The FAA stated in response that "Some of the reports reference possible issues with the autopilot/autothrottle, which is a separate system from MCAS, and/or acknowledge the problems could have been due to pilot error."[576]

On October 7, 2019, Southwest Airlines pilots sued Boeing declaring that Boeing misled the pilot union about the plane adding that the planes' grounding cost its pilots more than $100 million in lost income, which Southwest labor union wants Boeing to pay.[577] The head of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), Jon Weaks, said in a note to pilots on November 13, 2019, which was reviewed by Reuters, that "Boeing is increasingly publicizing that they may have to shut down their production line due to running out of room to store completed MAX aircraft. There is some concern that this is simply another tactic to push the (return to service) timeline up."[578]

Cabin crew

In a letter dated October 30, 2019, to Boeing's CEO, American Airlines' Association of Professional Flight Attendants President Lori Bassani wrote: "The 28,000 flight attendants working for American Airlines refuse to walk onto a plane that may not be safe and are calling for the highest possible safety standards to avoid another tragedy." She also met with dozens of elected officials in Washington after the congressional testimony of Boeing's CEO.[579]

Flight crew unions at Air Canada, Sunwing and WestJet support the American flight attendant unions who expressed safety concerns about the MAX return. Sections of the Canadian Union of Public Employees called on Transport Canada to take its responsibility in ensuring a safe return of these planes in the air.[580]

In November, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents employees at United Airlines Holdings, said: "We're not good with that, … If we're not confident it's safe, we're not going to work it and the planes don't fly. We've been clear with the FAA, the airlines and with Boeing that we need to see that – we need to see EASA, Canada, Australia, on board. We need all these assurances because there was a break in public trust here." The AFA-CWA represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 carriers, including United Airlines and Alaska Air Group.[581][582]

Former NTSB members

On March 12, 2019, Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the U.S. agency that investigates airplane crashes, said the FAA should ground the airplane.[583] Engineering experts have pointed out misconceptions of the general public and media concerning the 737 MAX characteristics and the crashes.[584] Andrew Skow, a former Northrop Grumman chief engineer, assessed Boeing as having good track record modernizing of the 737, but, "They may have pushed it too far."[585]

Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB, said: "One of the ways Boeing marketed the 737 Max was the modest amount of training up for current 737 pilots. You didn't have to go back to the Sim [the flight simulator] again and again."[586] James E. (Jim) Hall, chairman of the NTSB from 1994 to 2001, blamed the FAA regulators for giving too much power to the airline industry.[267][587] In July, Hall and Goelz co-signed an opinion letter to The New York Times, in which they said: "Boeing has found a willing partner in the FAA, which allowed the company to circumvent standard certification processes so it could sell aircraft more quickly. Boeing's inadequate regard for safety and the FAA's complicity display an unconscionable lack of leadership at both organizations." The letter went on to compare the current crisis with Boeing's handling of Boeing 737 rudder issues in the 1990s.[587] In January 2020, Hall, said in an interview on CNBC: "... we had the example this week of the 2009 Turkish accident where it had similarities that should have been picked up immediately when they had problems with the 737 MAX so it makes you wonder what do they know about safety. Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing? Are these comments that were made and distributed by the employees about the dysfunction still in existence?"[588]

John Goglia, former member of the NTSB, criticized Boeing and the FAA for not protecting FAA-designated oversight engineers from Boeing management pressure. Commenting on the 2016 removal of a senior engineer who had insisted on improved testing of a fire suppression system, he said that management action of this kind produces a chilling effect on others and "negates the whole system."[541] He also criticized Congress for pushing the FAA to delegate even more to the industry, as it passed the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, which mandated further expansion of the ODA program. "Apparently, Congress didn't think the FAA was delegating enough to ODA holders. [...] many of its members are also accepting campaign donations from aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing, which clearly have an interest in pushing the FAA to delegate more and more authority to manufacturers with as little oversight as possible".[589]

Pilot authors

Retired airline captain Chesley Sullenberger, who gained fame in the Miracle on the Hudson accident in 2009, said, "These crashes are demonstrable evidence that our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us. These accidents should never have happened."[590] He sharply criticized Boeing and the FAA, saying they "have been found wanting in this ugly saga". He said the overly "cozy relationship" between the aviation industry and government was seen when the Boeing CEO "reached out to the U.S. President to try to keep the 737 MAX 8 from being grounded." He also lamented understaffing and underfunding of the FAA. "Good business means that it is always better and cheaper to do it right instead of doing it wrong and trying to repair the damage after the fact, and when lives are lost, there is no way to repair the damage."[591]

Author, journalist, and pilot William Langewiesche wrote his first article in The New York Times Magazine, saying: "What we had in the two downed airplanes was a textbook failure of airmanship."[237][592] To which, another aviation author, Christine Negroni wrote back "the argument that more competent pilots could have handled the problem is not knowable to Langewiesche and it misses the most basic tenet of air safety anyway."[593] She explains that an accident investigation is not about blame, is not only about what happened, but rather strives to identify the root causes. The counterpoint's essence is that Langewiesche downplays the "failure of systems and processes that put a deeply flawed airplane in the hands of pilots around the world". Captain Chesley Sullenberger also replied to the paper by a letter to the editors, in which he says: "I have long stated, as he does note, that pilots must be capable of absolute mastery of the aircraft and the situation at all times, a concept pilots call airmanship. Inadequate pilot training and insufficient pilot experience are problems worldwide, but they do not excuse the fatally flawed design of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that was a death trap."[594][595]


In October 2018, after the crash but before the groundings, Lion Air had replaced its technical director, and the technicians who cleared the flight.[596] Because the groundings made the aircraft unavailable for service, airlines were forced to cancel thousands of flights, hundreds every day.[597][598] American Airlines was the first U.S. airline to cancel a route when it stopped service from Dallas, Texas to Oakland, California.[599]

On July 26, Southwest announced it would stop operations out of Newark Liberty International Airport due to the groundings.[600]

In May 2019, United Airlines' CEO Oscar Muñoz said that passengers would still feel uncertain about flying on a Boeing 737 MAX even after the software update.[601] United announced the cancellation of a route between Chicago, Illinois and Leon, Mexico.[602] On October 16, 2019, Muñoz stated that "nobody knows" when the plane will fly again.[603]

Ethiopian Airlines said "These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds, and we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302".[604] The CEO also pushed back and rejected the notion that his airlines pilots were not fully trained or experienced, a notion intimated in the US House of Representatives in a recent hearing by the FAA director. Ethiopian Airlines rejects the accusation of piloting error.[605] He said: "As far as the training is concerned ... we've gone according to the Boeing recommendation and FAA-approved one. We are not expected to speculate or to imagine something that doesn't exist at all".[606] In June, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam expressed his confidence in the process for bringing the MAX back into service, and expected Ethiopian to be the last carrier to resume flights.[607]

Ethiopian Airline's ex-chief engineer filed a whistleblower complaint to the regulators about alleged corruption in Ethiopian Airlines. He is also seeking asylum in the U.S. He said that, a day after the Flight 302 crash, the carrier altered maintenance records of a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. He submits that the alteration was part of a generalized culture of corruption "that included fabricating documents, signing off on shoddy repairs and even beating those who got out of line".[608]

In March 2019, RT reported the indefinite suspension of contracts for the purchase by Russian airlines of dozens of aircraft, including Aeroflot's Pobeda subsidiary, S7 Airlines, Ural Airlines and UTair. Vitaly Savelyev, Aeroflot's CEO, said that "the company would refuse operating MAX planes ordered by Pobeda".[609]

On June 18, International Airlines Group (IAG) announced plans for a fleet comprising 200 Boeing 737 MAX jets. Boeing and IAG signed a letter of intent at the Paris Air Show valued at a list price of over US$24 billion.[610]

Bjorn Kjos, ex-CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle who stepped down in July, stated in July that the company "has a huge appetite for 737 MAX jets", according to a report from American City Business Journals.[611] He had said: "It is quite obvious that we will not take the cost... We will send this bill to those who produced this aircraft."[612]

In mid-July, Ryanair warned that some of its bases would be subject to short-term closures in 2020, due to the shortfall in MAX deliveries, and pointed out that the MAX 200 version it has ordered will require separate certification expected to take a further two months after the MAX returns to service.[613] By the end of July, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary expressed further concerns and frustration with the delays and revealed that, in parallel with discussions with Boeing regarding a potential order for new aircraft to be delivered from 2023, he was also talking to Airbus which was offering very aggressive pricing.[614] In February 2020, O'Leary revealed that Ryanair has an offer "on the table" for an order of 230-seat MAX 10s, and expected to be "at the head of the queue" once Boeing is in a position to sign new purchases.[615]

Consumer advocates

In May 2019, the consumer advocate organization Flyers Rights opposed the FAA's position of not requiring simulator training for 737 MAX pilots. It also asked to extend the comment period to allow independent experts to "share their expertise with the FAA and Boeing".[616] In December 2019, Flyers Rights sued FAA for its refusal to allow access to the Boeing 737 MAX records. The organization argues for transparency and independent review prior to ungrounding the MAX. It is supported by aviation professionals including Chesley Sullenberger, Michael Goldfarb, an aviation safety consultant and former Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Adviser to the FAA Administrator, and several other experts.[617]

In June 2019, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who lost a grandniece in one of the accidents, claimed that the Boeing 737 "must never fly again... it's not a matter of software.[433] It's a matter of structural design defect: the plane's engines are too much for the traditional fuselage". Nader also called for Boeing top leaders to resign.[618][619] In October, Nader called for the replacement of CEO Muilenburg and the complete board of directors as the crisis grows, saying: " They don't want to admit that they really, really performed in a very seriously adverse way to the safety of airline passengers".[620] On December 13, 2019, he appealed to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to not rely on FAA's decision for ungrounding the MAX, but that Transport Canada do their own independent decision: "Obviously the Canadian decision is very important. It's not likely that the FAA will unground the plane unless Canada goes along...We're relying on Canada here … The FAA will not go without Canada".[621] Nader was interviewed on Democracy Now! and covered the safety concerns on his own program, the Ralph Nader Radio Hour.[citation needed]

Airline and travel industry analysts

In September, aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia said about Boeing: "This is an engineering company, it needs an engineering culture and engineering management; it deviated pretty far from this at the time when the MAX was being developed."[622] In December 2019, he wrote: "Calhoun is replacing Dennis Muilenburg because the latter CEO's year has been disastrous. The company's communications with Congress, the FAA, international regulators, airline and lessor customers, suppliers, the victims' families, and pretty much the entire outside world were a master class in bad crisis management."[623] He added in January 2020: "It's no longer about MCAS. It's about things that might be discovered.[...] This is going to be the most scrutinized certification in history."[304]

About Boeing's internal employee emails released in January 2020, travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said: "Not only do they further weaken confidence in the 737 Max, they also paint a pretty caustic picture of Boeing and its culture itself. There's the potential that it could cause some people to be concerned about flying on Boeing airplanes, period.''[624]


A March 2019 poll suggested that 53% of American adults would not want to fly on a 737 MAX plane if the aircraft were to be cleared by the FAA the following week.[625] In July, Southwest Airlines reprinted aircraft safety cards that were shared between the MAX and the rest of the Southwest 737-800 fleet.[626] A IBD/TIPP Poll surveying Americans in January 2020, found that among the 61% who are closely following news of the MAX, 56% would avoid flying on it once it has reentered service.[627]

Investment company UBS does not "anticipate significant share erosion" as it ran a public poll run showing 8% of the U.S. flying public would never fly the 737 MAX, (dropping to 3% when including that two-thirds seldom or never check the aircraft type before booking a flight), while 60% would fly it after at least six months of safe operations and a tenth would fly it after one to three months, not mattering much as airliner procurement time-frames are five to ten-plus years.[628] The survey found that 70% would hesitate today to book a flight on the MAX.[629]

A study for Atmosphere Research Group, led by consultant Henry Harteveldt, of U.S. passengers between April 27 to May 1 shown that within six months of its return, 14% would definitely fly on a MAX, at least 20% say they will definitely avoid the plane and over 40% said they'd be willing to take pricier or less convenient flights to stay off the MAX.[629]

Various strategies to reinstate public confidence into the MAX are being proposed.[630][631][632][vague]

On September 12, Boeing started an advertisement campaign, in which employees praise its planes' safety.[632] Information packages for travelers about the safety of the redesigned MAX are being prepared by Boeing with the support of airlines.[633] Boeing also produced video capsules showing support from chief pilot Jennifer Henderson.[634]


In Harvard Business Review, Amy C. Edmondson writes that Boeing needs a full organizational culture change. "But how telling it is that it takes a cataclysmic event (two, actually) for executives to take culture seriously?"[635]

MIT Sloan senior lecturer Neal Hartman was cited in MIT ideas: "The toxic tone of some of the emails suggests that there are numerous problems at Boeing. [...] Of greatest concern is the fear that employees were either uncomfortable or not empowered — or both — to take their concerns to appropriate levels in the company."[636]

Yale University senior associate dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld went as far as to say that the groundings could become an existential threat to Boeing.[637]

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School wrote:"Boeing's new CEO and leadership team must root out arrogance and approach stakeholders with humility and a listening stance. These include government regulators, elected officials, investors, pilot and flight attendant unions, suppliers, maintenance workers, the airlines themselves, and, of course, passengers. [...] A turnaround can't get off the ground without high employee engagement. If the workers who design, build and test the planes don't stand behind the company, no one else will."[638]

News media

On March 11, just after the FAA reaffirmed the MAX's safety, several western media outlets, including the Financial Times, The New York Times, Fox News, and CNBC, questioned China's motives for grounding the aircraft by suggesting the action was either "politically motivated" or that China was "potentially benefiting from the grounding".[639][640][107][641][642]

On December 21, 2019, in its 'leaders" section, The Economist wrote: "Over the past decade Boeing has skimped on research, development and capital spending, investing only 7% of its sales on average, compared with around 10% at Airbus. Once the 737 MAX was the future. It is time for a new pilot and a new course."[643]

In January 2020, Quartz Journalist Natasha Frost observed that Boeing inherited its current management culture from its 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas.[644]

Dan Catchpole, a journalist covering Boeing and aerospace summarized in Fortune magazine: "Scrutiny from journalists, crash investigators, regulators, Congress, and the Department of Justice has exposed profound flaws in Boeing's corporate culture—shaking its workforce, forcing supplier layoffs, and shattering fliers' trust."[645]

Corporate governance experts

About Boeing's board, veteran corporate governance expert Nell Minow said: "This is the quintessential 1990s board. It's CEOs and luminaries, but nobody with the kind of expertise you really need. [...] The board took no action after the first crash. That's unforgivable."[646]

According to MSCI, a performance analytics research firm, Boeing scored 5.4 on a scale of 1-10 on its quality of governance, ranking in the bottom third of S&P 500 companies.[647]

In April 2019, for a Boeing ballot, shareholder advisory firm Glass Lewis recommended voting against Lawrence Kellner, former Chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines, citing that "the audit committee should have taken a more proactive role in identifying the risks associated with the 737 Max 8 aircraft." Even with the best companies, performing really well with great profit margins and great growth, a weak board is going to struggle when that company runs into a crisis situation. And that's what we're looking at here." As head of the audit committee, Kellner was technically responsible for the safety risks, but the board was never briefed on the MCAS software before the Lion Air crash. Kellner and Calhoun said that they don't consider it "as part of their job to inspect every technical feature on an airplane".[648]


  • On March 12 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted a complaint about complex airplane systems, and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg called the president to assure him of the 737 MAX's safety.[649][650][651] The FAA stated hours later that it had "no basis to order grounding the aircraft" and no data from other countries to justify such action.[652]
  • U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Mitt Romney, Dianne Feinstein, Ted Cruz, Roger Wicker and Richard Blumenthal called for the FAA to temporarily ground all 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 jets.[653][654][655] Cruz and Wicker announced plans to hold a hearing in the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation and Space "to investigate these crashes, determine their contributing factors, and ensure that the United States aviation industry remains the safest in the world."[655] Warren went as far as to question if the Trump administration was protecting Boeing.[656]
  • Kyrsten Sinema among other U.S. Senators at a March 28, 2019, hearing questioned a panel of regulators in the committee responsible for aviation oversight in the US Senate, "Is there more we need to do?"[657] Kyrsten also questioned why more detail was not included in the flight operations manuals given to pilots not offering details of new features and systems like MCAS since the previous models: "Can you talk about why this was not included in pilot training material?"[658]
  • On April 15, 2019, President Trump tweeted: "What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name."[659]
  • On October 29, before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, senator Richard Blumenthal said: "Boeing came to my office and said this was the result of pilot error, those pilots never had a chance, victims never had a chance, they were in flying coffins".[660]
  • On December 15, President Trump called Muilenburg, to inquire about the potential shutdown of 737 MAX production. Muilenburg assured Trump that the shutdown, set to begin in January 2020, was temporary and it would not cause any staff layoffs.[661][662]
  • President Trump made two executive orders to cut regulatory oversight and shift supervision to industry. His administration's 2019 budget cut 18% of the transportation department budget.[663][664]

Financial and economic effects

737 MAX aircraft parked at Grant County International Airport in October 2019

Effect on the national economy

The anticipated effect on the United States economy is a reduction of at least half a percentage point (0.5%) in gross domestic product growth for the first quarter 2020[665] with economic and employment effects concentrated in supplier locations.

Financial analysts forecast a jet surplus when the MAX returned to service as airlines moved stand-in aircraft back into storage as new aircraft were delivered.[666]

Effect on Boeing

Following its intention to suspend production in December 2019, Boeing estimated an additional cost of $6.3 billion to deliver the 737 MAX program [667] and a subsequent reduction in the program's anticipated profit margin.[668]

Boeing initially hoped that flights would resume by July 2019,[669] but on June 3, CEO Dennis Muilenburg revised this to the end of 2019, with no firm timeline.[670] On July 18, Boeing reaffirmed a return to flight during the fourth quarter of 2019, but noting that the date could still slip.[671] In September 2019, Muilenburg suggested a phased return around the world because of the regulatory divisions regarding recertification.[672] Later that same month Boeing told its suppliers that the plane could return to service by November.[673] On November 11, 2019, Boeing revised this to a resumption of deliveries in December 2019 and commercial flights in January 2020.[674][675][676] In January 2020, Boeing said it was not expecting recertification until mid 2020.[677]

In the second quarter of 2019, Boeing reported a record quarterly loss of $2.9 billion , as it provisioned $4.9 billion for airlines compensation. Its inventory had grown by $6 billion, its stock market value had dropped by $62 billion and its share price lost 25% between March and August 2019. Including the knock-on cost for airlines and the supply chain, the groundings were costing $4 billion per quarter. At the time of the grounding, Boeing's annual revenue was $100 billion, 60% of which came from sales of airliners. The 737 MAX represented a third of sales to airlines. The company had a 10% profit margin, for an annual profit of $10 billion. It employed 137,000 people in the United States and paid $45 billion to 13,600 domestic suppliers, which employed a further 1.3 million people, accounting for about 1% of the American workforce.[678]

A special board meeting on October 20, 2019, discussed the financial effect of the groundings, amid speculation of possible staff reductions.[679] Staff in the US and the UK were not to receive their 2019 Christmas bonuses.[680] New CEO Dave Calhoun will receive a multimillion-dollar bonus if he achieves a key milestone of returning the MAX to service.[681][682]

Development of the Boeing New Midsize Airplane has been postponed to prioritize resources on returning the MAX to service. In July 2019, Boeing desisted from a $60 billion Pentagon procurement to replace land-based nuclear missiles. Some analysts[weasel words] said that Boeing's ability to pursue big military projects is reduced becasue of the financial cost of the groundings.[683]

Effect on orders and deliveries

No deliveries have been made since the grounding.

At the time of the grounding, Boeing had 4,636 unfilled orders worldwide for the 737 MAX[684] valued at an estimated $600 billion.[685] Analysts estimated that each month of the grounding delayed $1.8 billion in revenue to the company.[489] Boeing responded to the market pressures by making massive concessions to customers.[686]

On March 11, 2019, the day after Ethiopian Airlines crash, Lion Air announced its plans to drop a US$22 billion order with Boeing in favor of Airbus aircraft.[687] On March 22, Indonesian flag carrier Garuda Indonesia requested the cancellation of 49 orders, citing "Garuda passengers in Indonesia have lost trust and no longer have the confidence".[688]

On June 3, 2019, Azerbaijan Airlines planned to postpone its order of ten 737 MAX 8s.[689]

On July 7, 2019, Saudi Arabian budget carrier flyadeal put on hold its order of 30 737 MAX 8s, planning to replace it with the Airbus A320neo family.[690] On July 29, Turkish Airlines was considering plans to cancel all its remaining Boeing 737 MAX orders, namely for 54 737 MAX 8s and nine 737 MAX 9s, in favor of the Airbus A320neo and additional Airbus A321neo due to safety concerns and loss of trust and confidence with the 737 MAX.[691] On July 31, China Southern Airlines said it was suspending its order for 64 737 MAX 8s, which were due to join the 26 already in its fleet.[692]

As of August 2019, no new orders had been added to the 737 MAX backlog for the sixth consecutive month,[693] though none had been canceled either.[678] On August 27, media reported that Russian Rostec's subsidiary Avia, filed a lawsuit in the US to cancel an order for 35 MAX jets.[694][695][696]

On October 1 2019, key contractual provisions, including the right to cancel delayed deliveries, came into effect for a number of major customers, and analysts therefore expected more cancellations from that date.[697]

The first order during the groundings came on October 8, 2019, from an unidentified business jet customer.[698] Royal Air Maroc (RAM) has suspended a deal to purchase two Boeing 737 MAX jets.[699]

Boeing lost 45 orders for the MAX, following cancellations and conversions, through the first 10 months of 2019.[700] At the Dubai Air Show in November 2019, 30 orders for the 737 MAX were placed despite the ongoing grounding.[701]

On January 14, 2020, Boeing reported a net loss of 87 aircraft orders in 2019, its worst performance in three decades; airline customers had canceled 183 orders for the MAX, while Boeing received only 96 orders for other aircraft.[702][703][702][704] On January 15, Malaysia Airlines delayed its deliveries of the MAX, due to delays in recertifying the aircraft.[705][706]

Revenue and earnings

On April 24, 2019, Boeing released its first-quarter results.[707] The company announced that the grounding of the 737 MAX would cost as much as $1 billion. It consequently suspended its stock buyback program and announced that the previously released earnings forecasts, which were compiled prior to the grounding, were no longer valid and new forecasts will be released in the future.[708][709] Boeing also blamed the grounding for a 21% drop in quarterly profits relative to the quarterly profits from the previous year.[710]

On July 18, 2019, Boeing announced that it was to take a $4.9 billion after-tax charge in the second quarter of 2019. This corresponds to its initial estimate of the cost of compensation to airlines, but not the cost of lawsuits, potential fines, or the less tangible cost to its reputation. It also said that its estimated production costs would rise by $1.7 billion, primarily due to higher costs associated with the reduced production rate.[711]

On July 24, 2019, Boeing released its second-quarter results. The company reported a $2.9 billion loss due to the groundings.[712] It also warned that production might need to be reduced or even suspended if the groundings last longer than Boeing's current assumptions of a return to service in the fourth quarter of 2019.[298] Boeing said that the total cost of groundings approached $8 billion as of July 2019.[612]

In September 2019, Ryanair froze payments to Boeing and started talks on recouping costs of the delay.[713]

According to an earnings report October 23, in the third quarter of 2019, the grounding cost was $900 million, adding up to $9.2 billion to date for Boeing.[714]

According to George Ferguson, Senior Aerospace, Defense & Airlines Analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, Boeing would incur an estimated $5 billion if pilots need to be trained on simulator before flying the MAX.[715]

In January 2020, Boeing was said to be securing a loan of $10 billion or more to face rising costs due to the MAX crisis.[716][717] Presenting its 2019 financial results, Boeing doubled its projection to $18.4 Bn after another $9.2 Bn in losses: a $2.6 Bn write-off, $2.6 Bn for lower 737 production, and $4 Bn as an account book loss.[718]

Stock analysis

On March 10, 2019 and in the days following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Boeing stock price went down. By March 14, the stock lost 11% of its value.[685] By March 23, 2019, the stock had lost 18% of its value, which represented a $40 billion drop in market capitalization.[719]

On April 8, 2019, Bank of America downgraded Boeing's stock after production of the 737 MAX was reduced.[720] On April 10, 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed against Boeing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by a shareholder who accused the company of "covering up safety problems with its 737 MAX".[721]

On May 7, 2019, Barclays downgraded Boeing stock after conducting a passenger survey that showed nearly half those polled would not fly on the airplane for a year or more after it returns to service.[722]

On July 22, 2019, Fitch Ratings and Moody's lowered Boeing's outlooks to negative from stable, in light of the 737 MAX situation.[723]

On October 21, 2019, Wall Street analysts downgraded Boeing's stock; Boeing's market value could drop by $53 billion according to UBS and Credit Suisse.[724]

On November 11, 2019, Boeing stock rose 4.7% on positive 737 MAX news that it was hoping to resume deliveries of the 737 MAX aircraft to airlines in December 2019 and providing more detail on how the 737 Max will return to service in January 2020.[725][726]

On December 18, Moody's downgraded Boeing by one level to A3, noting the uncertainty of when the MAX will return to service.[727]

In January 2020, Ron Epstein, aerospace analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, estimates that groundings cost, excluding any settlements from lawsuits from crash victims' families, could reach $20 billion, provided the MAX returns by June or July, 2020.[728]

In January 2020, Fitch Ratings lowered Boeing's long-term credit rating to A- from A, due to risks of delays in returning the MAX to service.[729]

As of January 2020, Boeing's stock had fallen to $316, a 29% drop from its March 2019 peak of $446 in the days before the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash.[730]

Boeing suppliers

The reduced production rate and its suspension have caused pain throughout a supply chain of around 8,000 companies.[731]

Spirit AeroSystems, 737 MAX fuselage supplier, saw margins slip and is cutting work time while it lost 28% of its market capitalisation ($3 billion) since March; the 737 MAX accounted for half of the company's revenues. Composite materials supplier Allegheny Technologies has been similarly hit, but others like United Technologies (UTC) or Senior plc are more insulated.[678] Spirit suspended production on January 1, 2020.[732] By the end of January, Spirit and Boeing reached a deal to build 216 fuselage sections for the year 2020, or about 18 per month. Spirit does not expect Boeing to resume full pace of 52 aircraft monthly until 2022.[733]

General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engine jointly own CFM International, which builds the engines for the 737 MAX. As of September 2019, Safran expects to see the groundings affect its finances in the second half of 2019. The "decrease of pre-payments for future deliveries" is expected to reduce free cash flow in each semester by €300 million (354 million USD).[734] In October 2019, General Electric reported a $1.4 billion loss due to delayed sales of the CFM LEAP engines for the 737 MAX.[735] In January 2020, General Electric shifted production output to favor the LEAP variant used on the A320neo, but stated that it is prepared to meet demand from both Boeing and Airbus.[736] In January 2020 GE's factory in Bromont, Quebec, cut 13% of its workforce due to MAX production halt, and uncertainty about the restart date.[737][738]

As of January 2020, United Technologies expected Boeing's production shutdown to last around 90 days, and forecast that production would then resume a rate of 21 aircraft per month, down from 42 prior to the shutdown. It expected the suspension to cost it around $300 million in lost revenue and $150 million in operating profit for the quarter; lost revenue for the full year will total some $600 million.[739]


On March 13, 2019, Norwegian became the first airline to publicly demand compensation from Boeing for the costs of the groundings of the 737 MAX. CEO Bjørn Kjos said, "It is quite obvious we will not take the cost related to the new aircraft that we have to park temporarily, we will send this bill to those who produce this aircraft."[740] India's SpiceJet also announced that they will seek compensation from Boeing. A senior official said, "We will seek compensation from Boeing for the grounding of the aircraft. We will also seek recompense for revenue loss and any kind of maintenance or technical overhaul that the aircraft will have to undergo. This is part of the contract, which we signed with Boeing for all the 737 MAX aircraft."[741] On April 10 state-owned China Eastern Airlines requested compensation from Boeing over the disruptions.[742]

Airlines have countered the capacity loss by extending leases, deferring maintenance, rearranging aircraft assignments, and canceling flights; most have removed the 737 MAX from schedules. On May 22, Bloomberg L.P. estimated Boeing's reimbursements will approach $1.4 billion based on typical operating profit per aircraft, would not be allocated until "expected deliveries are made" and compensation can include order changes.[743] Chinese carriers estimates the cost of the grounding at CNY4 billion ($579 million) by the end of June.[744] The delivery delay will cost Ryanair about a million passengers through the summer of 2019, but the low-cost carrier remains confident in Boeing and would prefer better pricing on future orders rather than cash compensation.[745]

Southwest Airlines, the largest operator of the aircraft with 34 MAXs and a further 262 on order, canceled thousands of flights and said the aircraft had a financial impact of $435 million for the first three quarters of 2019. In December 2019, Southwest reached an initial agreement with Boeing. The compensation terms remained confidential, though $125 million of the amount is to be shared with the airline's employees via incremental profit sharing.[746]

American Airlines canceled 115 flights a day, lowering estimated full-year pretax revenue by $350 million.[747]

Brazil's Gol expects to spend respectively 1% and 2% more than planned on fuel in the third and fourth quarters of 2019, according to its Chief Financial Officer.[748]

Globally, Official Airline Guide (OAG) estimates that the grounding will cost airlines $4 billion of sales by November.[678]

By July 2019, United Airlines purchased 19 used 737-700s to fill in for MAX aircraft, to be delivered in December 2019.[749] United had expected to receive 30 MAX aircraft by the end of 2019 and a further 28 in 2020.[750]

In October, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said during a media interview: "Certainly the shareholder piece should be borne by the Boeing shareholders, not the American Airlines shareholders."[751]

On January 14, 2020, American Airlines cancelled more of its MAX flights until June 3.[752] On January 16, Southwest Airlines removed the MAX from its schedule until June 6, to allow pilots to spend time in simulators as newly recommended.[753] On January 22, United Airlines announced that it was not expecting to return the MAX to service until after the peak summer season.[754]

In February 2020, TUI announced that it had chosen to secure replacement capacity for its MAX fleet until the end of the year, and expected the cost of the grounding to reach between €220 and 245 million for the year.[755] Southwest, American and United have deferred MAX flights until August 2020.[756][757]

Aircraft leasing companies

As of December 2019, Air Lease, AerCap and GE Capital Aviation Services, three leaders of aircraft leasing, have recorded record sales for months. The groundings forced many operators to turn to them. "In September, an analyst said, renting a 10-year-old 737 NG, the Max's predecessor, which consumes 15% more kerosene, cost $300,000 a month compared to $230,000 in January."[758]

Timaero Ireland Limited, a Dublin-based aircraft leasing company was suing Boeing in the US federal court in Chicago, alleging fraud and breach of contract in deals it signed starting in 2014 for 22 of MAX airliners. The company said it relied on Boeing's assurances that the planes were safe and would be delivered on time, but as of December 17, 2019, Boeing had delivered two instead of four aircraft and had refused to refund Timaero's advance payments on the planes. The leasing company demanded at least US$185 million in damages, citing design flaws that led to two deadly crashes and the grounding of the aircraft.[759]

Training and simulators market

The Boeing 737 MAX simulator marked is supplied by CAE Inc., L3 Harris Technologies Inc.,and Tru Simulation + Training Inc.. As of January 2020, there were 34 certified MAX flight simulators worldwide.[760]

CAE supplies 80 per cent of the world market for flight simulators and provides training services.[761] In November 2019, anticipating a high demand for training pilots when the MAX resumes flight, CAE increased production of simulators for the Boeing 737 MAX series. Chief executive Marc Parent said: "Our assumption is that there's obviously going to be a lot of pent-up demand when those airplanes start flying".[762] Increasing production before customer orders is an unusual step in this industry. As of mid-November 2019, the company had received 48 orders and delivered 23 to airlines through December.[763]

Aerospace aftermarket

A company based in Florida, XTRA Aerospace Inc., had worked on the 737 MAX AoA sensor of the Lion Air accident.[764][765] The FAA began investigating XTRA in November 2018, shortly after the Indonesia crash, and revoked Xtra Aerospace's repair station certificate on October 25, because the company had "failed to comply with requirements to repair only aircraft parts on its list of parts acceptable to the FAA that it was capable of repairing."[766]

Aviation insurance

The insurance payout will likely be the biggest ever, according to S&P Global Ratings. According to director Marc-Philippe Juilliard, the crashes and the groundings of the MAX since March are "worst disaster in the history" of aviation insurance.[767]

The grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX has put pressure on insurance rates. They are likely to rise by more than 10 percent in 2019, even as underwriters try to narrow the insurance contract language about coverage for groundings.[768]



In June 2019, 737 MAX pilots jointly filed a class action against Boeing for lost wages due to the grounding, claiming that Boeing attempted to cover-up design flaws with the aircraft.[769]

On October 7, 2019, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association filed a suit against Boeing, arguing it misled the airline's labor union. The association said the MAX grounding cost its pilots over $100 million in lost income, which it claims Boeing should pay.[770]

Victims' families

Bereaved families of the Lion Air crash are in settlement talks with Boeing, while the Ethiopian victims' families are pursuing a jury trial.[771] Boeing, a Chicago-based company, is the target of over 100 cases in U.S. District Court in Chicago. In October 2019, the company hired Dan K. Webb, co-executive chairman of the Winston & Strawn law firm; he will work with a team of attorneys on the lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims of both accidents.[772]

Unlike the maximum claim by a passenger against an airline, which is limited by the Montreal Convention, claims against the manufacturer are not subject to a preset limit. In effect since 1999, the convention requires an airline, regardless of fault, if it is based in a country that ratified the treaty, to pay around $170,000 each as a minimum liability.[citation needed]

Representatives of passengers on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 may be able to argue that Boeing knew, or should have known or contemplated, the risk of a crash from knowledge of MCAS and previous issues, including the earlier Lion Air crash, potentially opening a route to punitive damages.[773] According to lawyers involved in passenger claims, the U.S. legal structure for damage claims is often plaintiff-friendly, and Boeing may therefore attempt to argue that claims on behalf of deceased passengers should be heard in other countries.[773]

On July 3, 2019, Boeing announced it would set aside $100 million to help families of victims with education, hardship and living expenses and for community programs and economic development. However, the plan was criticized by several families, calling it "too vague" and citing that Boeing did not consult them ahead of time. Boeing initially did not explain how it would allocate the money.[774][775] Boeing later announced it dedicates half to distribute to families of victims, under the oversight of veteran U.S. compensation expert Ken Feinberg. The remainder is reserved for government and community projects. Boeing said that the fund distributions are independent from the outcome of lawsuits.[776]

On September 25, 2019, Boeing began to settle the first lawsuits with families of the Lion Air crash victims. It has been reported that each of the settlements costed $1.2 million.[777][778]

On October 30, during congressional hearings, Boeing's CEO was destabilized when lawmakers grilled him about Boeing's attempt to move legal cases from the Lion Air accident out of the US. Peter DeFazio, the chair of the committee, starkly asked Muilenburg how, as the CEO, he could not be aware of the company's legal strategy.[779]

Aircraft owners and investors

Some customers are evaluating whether to revoke lease deals once delay of 737 MAX return to service reaches 12 months, which would result in lower lease rates and depreciation of aircraft value. Some lessors believe Boeing have to compensate the fall in value of the jets.[780] It is reported that some lenders are demanding higher collateral, leading to a lower 'loan-to-value' than a comparable Airbus jet.[780] Boeing also has to convince major aircraft lessors that the 737 MAX remains a sound long term investment. A crucial concern among financiers is if Boeing would develop a 737 MAX replacement before the typical 15-20 years of production run.[780]

See also


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