Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding
Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Delayed Deliveries Leave Airlines in Limbo
The worldwide grounding of Boeing's 737 Max fleet has left major US airlines in a state of limbo, with uncertainty around when they'll take delivery of more than 100 previously ordered planes.
Both United Airlines and Alaska Airlines had dozens of 737 Max aircraft on order prior to the grounding, which they planned to integrate into their fleets over the next several years. Now, with the timeline for the Max's recertification process still unclear, these airlines find themselves in scheduling and capacity planning purgatory.
United Airlines, which already had 14 Max planes in service, was expecting to receive another 16 in 2019. Those deliveries are now indefinitely postponed, leaving United without aircraft they had been banking on to replace older 757s and fly new routes.
Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines had ordered 32 Max jets from Boeing, with plans to use them to retire their aging Airbus fleet and expand service out of Seattle and the Bay Area. But with no firm delivery dates, Alaska is unable to finalize any expansion initiatives relying on the fuel-efficient Max planes.
Both airlines planned to configure their new Max planes with several more seats than previous 737 models, increasing overall capacity. But with those extra seats grounded along with the planes, the airlines are missing out on substantial potential revenue.
While the airlines can lease extra aircraft as a stopgap measure, the unexpected aircraft shortage complicates fleet management and prevents them from operating as efficiently as planned. It also introduces uncertainty around maintenance schedules, crew assignments, and long-term growth.
Additionally, the airlines now face a potential pilot shortage when the Max is finally cleared to fly again. With the planes grounded, pilots who were slated to transition to the Max are unable to accrue hours on the new aircraft type. This could force the airlines to scale back flights until they've retrained sufficient crew on the Max.
What else is in this post?
- Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Delayed Deliveries Leave Airlines in Limbo
- Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Pre-Flight Inspections Ramp Up Amid Uncertainty
- Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Boeing Works to Restore Confidence in Grounded Fleet
- Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Airlines Consider Compensation for Lost Revenue
- Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Pilots Require Recertification to Fly 737 Max Post-Grounding
- Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - FAA Under Pressure to Thoroughly Review Software Fixes
- Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Airlines Grapple With Communicating Impacts to Travelers
Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Pre-Flight Inspections Ramp Up Amid Uncertainty
As the timeline for the Boeing 737 Max's return to service drags on, airlines are taking no chances by intensely scrutinizing the grounded planes. Both United and Alaska have ramped up pre-flight inspections of their Max jets to ensure they remain flight-ready if and when the FAA gives the green light.
According to United's VP of safety, extra maintenance is being done on the engines, hydraulics, and other key components of their grounded Max planes. Teams are inspecting for corrosion, lubricating moving parts, and checking tire pressures. It's a delicate balancing act to keep the planes prepared without actually operating them.
Alaska Airlines is going even further by essentially mothballing their Max jets at an airport in Victorville, CA. There, the arid climate prevents corrosion while the aircraft are hooked up to external power to keep systems running. Maintenance crews perform engine runs every few days while specialized covers shield the engines and sensors when not in use.
It's an elaborate process according to Alaska's Managing Director of Maintenance. But necessary due to the uncertainty over recertification. No one knows when the grounding will be lifted, so airlines want their Max jets flight-ready at a moment's notice.
Yet preparing parked planes to return to the skies takes immense effort. Engines and airframes deteriorate surprisingly quickly without regular use. Corrosion and failed seals rapidly occur when moisture builds up. Bugs and critters can infest parked planes on the tarmac.
So while the Max jets may look ready to fly from the outside, keeping them truly flightworthy requires maintenance on a scale airlines aren't used to. Parts need closer inspection, components require more frequent lubrication, and certain tasks are done preventatively that wouldn't normally be required. It's the only way to keep these assets airworthy.
Additionally, every Max jet will need a rigorous certification check by FAA inspectors before passenger flights can resume. This will ensure all necessary modifications and maintenance have been done to the highest standard. No risks can be taken on these aircraft again.
Between frequent maintenance checks, specialized storage procedures, and future re-certification by the FAA, airlines like United and Alaska will have logged thousands of extra manhours getting their Max fleets ready to return to the skies.
Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Boeing Works to Restore Confidence in Grounded Fleet
As the Boeing 737 Max saga drags on, the aircraft manufacturer is laser-focused on restoring confidence in their beleaguered narrow-body jet. Through software fixes, new training protocols, and transparency efforts, Boeing aims to rehabilitate the Max's reputation and return it safely to passenger service.
According to Boeing insiders, engineers are working nonstop to eliminate any shred of doubt in the Max's flight control systems. By recalibrating the MCAS software implicated in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, Boeing believes they can prevent the automation from overpowering pilots during malfunctions.
While the software itself was not inherently unsafe, poor implementation clearly had disastrous consequences. Boeing seems to acknowledge this by making the system less aggressive, more easily overridden by pilots, and responsive to two sensors instead of one.
By also developing enhanced training materials and flight crew manuals, Boeing is equipping airlines to properly acquaint pilots with the nuances of the Max's automation. With clearer documentation and flight simulators tweaked to replicate challenging scenarios, pilots will gain confidence mastering the Max's systems. Proper training should have been provided from the outset.
Boeing leadership has also embarked on a transparency campaign as part of damage control and rebuilding trust. CEO Dennis Muilenburg has made multiple public pledges to airlines, regulators, and the flying public that Boeing will do whatever necessary to safely return the Max fleet to service.
A charm offensive of sorts is underway by Muilenburg and other executives to reassure various stakeholders that lessons have been learned. Boeing invites pilots and journalists to test the reworked software and experience updated training programs firsthand.
Though critics say it's a case of too little too late, Boeing argues that such transparency will highlight the layers of safety now inherent in the Max. It may take years to fully restore Boeing's reputation, but preventing future accidents comes first.
No effort is spared towards that goal. From the engineers working tirelessly on software fixes to the test pilots validating them, those involved know what's at stake. It goes beyond profits and aircraft deliveries.
Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Airlines Consider Compensation for Lost Revenue
With Boeing’s 737 Max fleet grounded indefinitely, major airlines that had counted on the fuel-efficient jets to spur growth now face huge financial implications. Lost revenue from grounded Max planes has already cost carriers hundreds of millions of dollars, with no certain end in sight. Some analysts estimate the airlines are owed compensation up to $1 billion for their losses. But Boeing has been slow to commit to reimbursing any hard dollar amounts.
This leaves airlines weighing their options on how far to push their case against the aerospace giant. According to industry experts, airlines want to tread cautiously to avoid jeopardizing future dealings with Boeing, one of just two major aircraft suppliers globally. Yet the airlines also need to show shareholders they are taking action to recoup significant losses incurred from the Max grounding.
It is a delicate balancing act for the airlines’ leadership teams. Take Southwest Airlines as an example. With more Max jets than any U.S. carrier, Southwest has been hit especially hard by the grounding. By their own estimates, over 10,000 Southwest flights have been canceled already due to lack of aircraft, costing them $200 million in lost revenue. And those numbers grow daily. With little certainty around when Southwest can expect its Max planes back in service, they estimate losses could swell above $800 million.
Yet Southwest does not want to take an adversarial stance against Boeing that could compromise future negotiations. Airlines rely heavily on good relationships with the major aircraft OEMs to negotiate discounts and contract terms over decades-long time horizons. Jeopardizing that could end up costing Southwest vastly more in the long run.
Instead, Southwest is politely but firmly asking Boeing for “some level of compensation”, while stopping short of citing specific reimbursement amounts. Other airlines are taking a similar approach, gently turning up the pressure for Boeing to share the financial burden while avoiding outright legal demands.
Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Pilots Require Recertification to Fly 737 Max Post-Grounding
Once the Boeing 737 Max is cleared to resume passenger flights, pilots will face recertification requirements to fly the aircraft. According to aviation authorities, all Max pilots will need additional training - and potentially simulator time - before returning to the skies. This aims to ensure pilots have complete confidence handling the Max's automated flight control systems implicated in two deadly crashes.
For U.S. airlines with grounded Max fleets, the logistics of retraining all affected pilots poses an operational headache. Southwest Airlines alone has nearly 10,000 pilots qualified on the 737. Following the Max's ungrounding, not all 10,000 can be pulled from their regular flight schedules simultaneously for retraining.
Instead, priority will go towards current Max pilots and those already identified for Max assignments. At American Airlines, about 1,800 pilots were destined for the Max initially. Per their pilot union, those crew will likely go first for retraining then gradually return flying revenue trips. The remaining 10,000 American Airlines pilots qualified on earlier 737 models can transition later.
The retraining process itself will be a delicate balance. Authorities want to mandate enough instruction for pilots to truly master the Max's controversial MCAS system and flight control computer. But airlines want efficient trainings to minimize time and cost burdens.
According to pilot unions, computer-based tutorials won't suffice. Hands-on simulator sessions are essential to ingrain responses to scenarios like erratic MCAS activation. This experiential learning builds muscle memory should similar emergencies occur inflight.
Yet quality 737 Max simulators are scarce following the rapid groundings. U.S. airlines might have to send pilots to locations like Miami, London, or Singapore where Max simulators are available. That introduces scheduling logistics and transit time for each pilot's training footprint.
Southwest Airlines is getting a head start by building a 737 Max simulator at its Dallas headquarters. That will help efficiently retrain staff pilots when the ungrounding comes. Other carriers are trying to lease simulators wherever they can.
There are also questions around how recurrent Max trainings will be handled long-term. Authorities might require Max pilots to undergo refresher courses annually, rather than just standard 737 curriculum. This would help reinforce proper responses to automation behaviors not present on older 737 generations.
In all likelihood, the Max transition training will surpass requirements of typical new aircraft types for pilots. The scrutiny on Max pilot preparedness will be unprecedented. But after 346 lives lost, operators and authorities want to leave nothing to chance.
Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - FAA Under Pressure to Thoroughly Review Software Fixes
The Federal Aviation Administration finds itself under immense pressure to meticulously vet proposed software fixes for the Boeing 737 Max prior to recertifying the grounded jet. Having rushed through the Max’s original certification in 2017, the FAA received harsh criticism following two deadly crashes attributed partly to overlooked flaws in the flight control automation. With the entire aviation industry anxiously awaiting the Max’s return to service, regulators cannot afford to cut corners again.
Leading the call for enhanced oversight are pilot advocacy groups like the Air Line Pilots Association. They accuse Boeing of hiding and downplaying issues with the Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System during initial development. MCAS was designed to compensate for the Max’s engine placement, but pilots lacked full details on the automated system. ALPA demands that any redesign of the software and its failure modes be transparently communicated.
Regulatory officials around the globe echo this sentiment. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency stresses that restoring public trust is paramount. EASA will not simply take the FAA’s word regarding the Max’s airworthiness. They plan independent test flights and simulations to validate Boeing’s fixes themselves. With sequential Max tragedies eroding confidence in the FAA’s certification rigor, global authorities are reluctant to immediately follow the agency’s lead again.
Internal pressures also weigh on the FAA to leave no question unanswered before lifting the Max grounding. Having certified the aircraft originally without realizing flaws in MCAS, the agency’s reputation suffered. Engineers and senior leadership at the FAA recognize that all facets of the software updates must be painstakingly analyzed prior to approving the Max for flight. No longer can they play catchup on issues Boeing glossed over.
While Boeing may assure the public that the reworked software no longer poses safety concerns, the flying community expects ironclad proof. Airlines, pilots, regulators and passengers themselves demand tangible evidence that lessons have been learned before entrusting lives to the Max again. The FAA understands the gravity of their responsibility.
That’s why agency test pilots plan to personally scrutinize Boeing’s modifications from every angle during recertification flights. Engineers will rebuild failed MCAS scenarios in simulators to confirm software improvements prevent uncontrolled dives. No assumptions can be made that Boeing fully rectified what regulators failed to identify originally.
Grounded But Not Forgotten: United, Alaska Air Inspect Boeing 737 Max 9s Post-Grounding - Airlines Grapple With Communicating Impacts to Travelers
As the Boeing 737 Max saga continues, airlines face an uphill battle communicating how the groundings impact customers. With hundreds of flights cancelled daily, delayed aircraft deliveries, and lingering uncertainty around the Max’s return, travelers grow increasingly frustrated by disruption. Airlines tread cautiously to acknowledge these frustrations while also reassuring the public of their safety commitment.
For Southwest Airlines, more candid communication comes naturally. Known for transparency and customer focus, Southwest has proactively reached out to affected travelers about the scale of cancellations, aircraft shortages, and efforts to minimize disruption. Customers receive flight credit vouchers with candid messages admitting “We’ve disappointed you” and “Want to make things right”.
While Southwest hopes such directness fosters goodwill, other airlines take a more cautious approach. American Airlines originally relied on sterile press releases to inform customers about mass cancellations due to the Max grounding. But when confused passengers flooded call centers for clarity, American pivoted to be more transparent. Webpages now explain in plain language how the groundings impact flight availability and operations. Outreach emails acknowledge the inconvenience while affirming safety as the priority.
Yet airlines must walk a fine line when communicating Max impacts. They aim to demonstrate empathy and understanding to customers whose travel plans changed. But cannot explicitly cast blame towards Boeing’s flawed automation system that triggered the grounding itself. That risks complex legal entanglements and jeopardizing valuable manufacturer relationships.
So airlines often use vague language about “groundings”, “fleet changes”, and “schedule adjustments” instead of outright implicating the Max’s safety issues. They allow news headlines to fill in those blanks rather than risk making bold claims themselves.
The same balancing act extends towards avoiding dire warnings about flight safety itself. Airlines do not want travelers associating their brands with crash events that gripped headlines and eroded public confidence. So they focus PR efforts on operational impacts of cancellations, not technical causes.
That leaves some customers interpreting airline communications as formulaic damage control. When United sends a dry press release about “temporary capacity reductions”, anxious travelers want clearer reassurance of oversight processes. Alaska Airlines reps field demands for specifics on why exactly the planes were grounded.
In this climate of eroded trust, airlines compete to convince travelers they’ve taken every precaution. Southwest highlights expanded maintenance on its Max jets awaiting recertification. Delta trumpeted the expertise of its personnel while avoiding the Max entirely.
The challenge persists even as airlines await the Max’s return to service. They must carefully leaven messages about resuming Max flights with proof of retraining programs, FAA recertification processes, and software safeguards. Without vivid demonstrations of safety, anxious flyers may balk at stepping aboard a Max again regardless of federal clearance to fly.