Turbulence Ahead: Boeing’s Ongoing 737 Max Woes
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - New Software Glitches Emerge
Despite Boeing's assurances that the 737 Max is now safe to fly following two deadly crashes, new software glitches keep emerging that raise fresh doubts. In late December 2022, Boeing notified the FAA that it had fixed yet another potential safety issue with the plane's flight control computer. This marked the fifth time in 2022 alone that the company had to patch software flaws with the jet.
The latest glitch could have resulted in a delayed reaction from the stabilizer that helps control the plane's pitch. Boeing said the risk was low and that pilots already receive training on how to respond in such a situation. However, the seemingly never-ending software problems continue to undermine confidence in the jet's return to service.
It's not just regulators and airlines that have concerns. Pilot unions have been vocal about their frustration with Boeing's piecemeal software updates that always seem to reveal new flaws. "We've never seen an aircraft program work like this before," said Dennis Tajer, a 737 captain and spokesman for the pilots' union at American Airlines.
Tajer said each time they think Boeing has identified all the bugs, "there's another software glitch that pops up." This forces pilots to constantly retrain on revised systems and procedures. It has led many to question whether they can truly trust Boeing's assurances that the Max is now safe.
The aircraft manufacturer maintains that the plane is airworthy and that the software issues pose minimal risk. However, the constant cycle of identifying problems, developing fixes, and testing updates highlights how complex the Max's flight control systems have become.
It also suggests that Boeing may have rushed the jet's original design and certification. In its haste to compete with Airbus' A320neo, the company introduced a more powerful engine that changed the aerodynamic characteristics of the 737 airframe. This required adding the problematic MCAS software to compensate.
What else is in this post?
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - New Software Glitches Emerge
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - China Still Has Not Approved Return to Service
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - More Airlines Cancel Orders and Switch to Airbus
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Pilots Voice Ongoing Safety Concerns
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Boeing's Reputation Takes Another Hit
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Financial Impacts Mounting
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Future of 737 Max Remains Uncertain
- Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Boeing's Response Fails to Reassure Public
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - China Still Has Not Approved Return to Service
While aviation authorities in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Brazil and other countries have cleared the 737 Max to resume commercial flights, China remains a significant holdout. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has yet to approve the jet's return to service within Chinese airspace. This matters greatly since China was the first nation to ground the aircraft in 2019 following the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The country is also an essential market for Boeing, with about a quarter of all 737 Max deliveries headed to Chinese airlines.
The delay in recertification reflects China's more conservative approach to aviation safety oversight. Even minor issues seem to raise red flags with CAAC. For instance, the December software glitch that Boeing reported to the FAA immediately triggered an inquiry by Chinese regulators. They wanted detailed technical data to understand any potential risks. While the FAA agreed that the problem posed a "low risk," China felt it merited further scrutiny. This exemplifies the country's extremely cautious mindset.
Chinese carriers like China Southern, China Eastern, and Air China have over 100 of the jets on order. But they remain grounded nearly four years after the global ban. This costs the airlines millions in lost revenue from unused planes each month. As one pilot for China Eastern told the Wall Street Journal, "When our bombers just stay on the ground, that hurts us a lot."
Yet the airlines don't blame their own regulator. They recognize that the trauma of the 737 Max crashes runs deep for the government. Officials don't want to risk another disaster by rushing to recertify the plane. They also remember how China was among the last nations to lift a ban on the Boeing 787 in 2013 after battery issues surfaced. So expectations for the Max's swift return are low.
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - More Airlines Cancel Orders and Switch to Airbus
The seemingly endless string of 737 Max issues has led more airlines to question their loyalty to Boeing. Several major carriers have canceled orders for hundreds of the jets and decided to add more planes from rival Airbus instead. This accelerates a trend that began after the initial crashes tarnished Boeing's reputation.
In November 2022, Delta Air Lines canceled an order for 100 Max jets inherited during its merger with Northwest Airlines. The airline opted to replace them with Airbus A321neos. Delta cited Boeing's failure to deliver the planes on schedule as one reason for the switch. But the move also reflects Delta's lack of trust in the Max and its beleaguered manufacturer.
The airline already had shifted part of an order for 125 planes to Airbus in 2020 after dropping the Max from its fleet plan entirely. Other key Boeing customers like Lufthansa and Air Canada have made similar moves to cancel Max orders and acquire more Airbus narrow-body aircraft instead.
Air Canada swapped most of its remaining Max orders for the A320 family. And in 2021, Ryanair swapped 135 Max planes for up to 210 Airbus jets. The Irish low-cost carrier was once an exclusive Boeing 737 operator. Its willingness to add another aircraft type underscores the depth of frustration with Boeing's execution.
This trend should concern Boeing deeply. Delta and other blue chip customers had strong loyalty to the 737 before the crashes. Now even loyalists are losing faith in Boeing's ability to support the aircraft long term.
Airbus also continues to innovate with new offerings like the A321XLR. This gives airlines interested in long, thin routes an efficient option without the risks of the Max. The extended range narrow-body has already attracted orders from American and United.
At the recent Dubai Airshow, Airbus dominated orders while Boeing secured just two firm Max orders. The exodus away from the Max gives Airbus crucial momentum to solidify its position as the world's top planemaker. It also limits Boeing's ability to recoup costs as Max deliveries lag projections.
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Pilots Voice Ongoing Safety Concerns
Even as aviation regulators declare the 737 Max airworthy, the pilots who fly it continue expressing apprehension. Their ongoing safety concerns shed light on why public trust in the jet remains strained.
Captain Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, has been an outspoken critic of Boeing's handling of the Max situation. He feels the company dismissed pilots' input during the original aircraft certification.
“When this airplane was released, it was released coaxing our feedback as pilots, then ignoring our feedback,” Tajer told NPR. He said pilots who evaluated the Max simulator when it first came out in 2016 noticed the lack of training around the MCAS system. But Boeing indicated additional training was unnecessary since the plane handled the same as previous 737 models.
Now, every new software issue triggers additional pilot training materials and procedures from Boeing. Tajer said this piecemeal approach disrupts workflow and has erased pilots' confidence in the Max's reliability.
“Would you want to drive over a bridge that’s still being built every day...where the builder says, ‘Trust me, I’ll add some rebar tomorrow’?” he remarked during a recent congressional hearing on aviation safety.
Pilots also worry about the unprecedented level of computer control over flight surfaces like flaps and stabilizers. Captain Dennis O’Donoghue, who flies 737s for Southwest Airlines, said pilots feel the human element has been minimized by the automated MCAS system.
Restoring pilots' confidence is crucial, since they hold huge sway in terms of which aircraft models their airlines adopt. Their skepticism matters greatly in whether airlines commit to the Max long term or switch more of their fleets to the A320 family.
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Boeing's Reputation Takes Another Hit
The seemingly endless mishaps with the 737 Max continue to batter Boeing's reputation. An aircraft manufacturer is only as good as the safety of its planes. Yet the crashes and subsequent never-ending cycle of new software issues have seriously damaged public trust in the company.
Major airlines that were once stalwart Boeing customers, like Lufthansa and Air Canada, are now dropping Max orders and switching to Airbus. This loss of loyalty among airlines that have purchased Boeing jets for decades speaks volumes. It shows that corporate customers have lost faith in the company's ability to support its aircraft.
For the flying public, the constant barrage of new Max flaws identified after its recertification causes many to question if the plane is truly safe. Surveys show consumer willingness to fly on the Max lagging the industry average by 10-15 points. Fear of boarding a Max flight persists.
On internet forums, flyers share strategies to avoid the Max, like checking aircraft type before booking. Some say they will actively cancel or change flights if assigned to a Max plane. They don't care what assurances Boeing offers - the trauma of 346 lives lost trumps corporate vows that the issues are fixed.
Industry leaders also call out the damage being done to Boeing's brand. Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, stated recently that "the Max has tarnished the brand image of Boeing." Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia said Boeing's engineering culture breakdown is now synonymous with the Max crashes in the public psyche.
Restoring reputation requires rebuilding trust. Boeing's best path forward is full transparency on remaining Max issues and preventing new problems from arising. The company should engage pilots more and listen to their Max concerns rather than downplay them. And Boeing needs a leadership focus on safety and quality first, schedules and stock prices second.
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Financial Impacts Mounting
The financial impacts from the ongoing 737 Max crisis continue to mount for Boeing, creating a heavy burden on the aircraft manufacturer. With each new software glitch or delay in returning the plane to service, Boeing bleeds money through lost sales, compensation payments, production impacts, and reputational damage. The company has already incurred huge costs, but some analysts say the worst financial hits may still lie ahead.
Boeing reported that the total price tag for the Max grounding had reached $22 billion as of early 2022. However, that only includes actual costs booked so far. The full accounting loss is expected to grow as more expenses materialize. For example, Boeing reserved over $8 billion to compensate airlines for delayed deliveries and cancelled flights. But with the Max still not recertified in key markets like China, added reimbursement costs loom.
The plane's woes have also severely hampered Boeing's production and outlook. The manufacturer had to halt Max deliveries for over a year until its return to service. This slowed cash inflows while Boeing's debt ballooned to over $60 billion. The company also cut production rates and now expects to deliver just 31 Max jets in 2022 - a fraction of the more than 400 it once forecast. Canceled orders have reached 500 planes as airlines switch to Airbus.
These impacts translate into lower market share and revenue for Boeing. Its annual sales plunged by over $28 billion between 2018 and 2020 due to the crisis. The Max was expected to be Boeing's star, generating most of its profits. Instead it has damaged the company's earnings and cash flow. Analysts see little sign of financial recovery ahead as China's recertification delays drag on.
The loss of reputation with airlines has further monetary impacts. Customers like Air Canada that defected to Airbus represent billions in lost future revenue. It suggests Boeing could lose a sizable portion of the long-term market for narrow-body jets. This massive new profit center will instead boost its rival's financial performance going forward.
Boeing's shareholders have also paid a price. Its stock lost half its value after crashing in March 2019. Despite recovering somewhat, the share price has badly lagged the broader market. And analysts see Boeing's fundamental outlook as weakened, with lower earnings power translating into a lower market valuation.
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Future of 737 Max Remains Uncertain
The future of Boeing's beleaguered 737 Max remains uncertain. Despite finally returning to service after a prolonged grounding, the aircraft still faces huge challenges. These issues cloud its future prospects and Boeing's ability to rehabilitate its reputation.
A big question mark hovers over recertification in China, which grounded the Max in 2019 after crashes killed 346 people. The Civil Aviation Administration of China has given no firm timeline for approving the Max to resume flights. Analysts say political factors beyond just safety concerns are at play. Trade tensions with the U.S. may incentive China to delay.
The country is vital for Boeing. Its airlines account for about a quarter of 737 Max deliveries. Chinese carriers have over 100 still on order. But these brand-new planes gather dust while awaiting the CAAC's blessing to fly. China also has an abundance of caution about aviation risks after the crashes tainted its air safety image. Officials will not hurry to recertify the Max despite economic impacts.
Until China gives the green light, Boeing cannot truly close the book on the Max crisis. It also cannot fully resume manufacturing and deliveries at pre-grounding levels. This slows the planemaker's recovery and hurts its bottom line.
Trust in the Max brand has crumbled among airlines and passengers worldwide. Surveys show travelers still fear boarding the plane. Airlines are losing patience with Boeing's problematic software fixes and flawed communication. Many have outright cancelled substantial Max orders.
Restoring faith in the Max is a monumental challenge. Boeing's reputation for safety, quality, and transparency has suffered immensely. It must focus intently on preventing any new issues with the Max's flight control systems. And Boeing needs to be hyper-responsive to pilots' concerns rather than downplay them.
Passengers will have to see that the Max can operate problem-free over an extended period. Boeing needs a conservative, safety-first approach for the future. Otherwise, airlines and customers may permanently shift business to rival Airbus. That could restrict Boeing's finances and market share for decades.
Turbulence Ahead: Boeing's Ongoing 737 Max Woes - Boeing's Response Fails to Reassure Public
Boeing's public relations strategy following the 737 Max crisis has failed to rebuild trust among airline customers and travelers. The company's responses often seem tone-deaf and prioritize PR spin over transparency. This prevents Boeing from moving forward.
A case in point was Boeing's reaction to a new software issue that arose in December 2022. The company stated that the problem posed minimal risk and was part of the “normal airplane certification" process. However, coming after multiple deadly crashes and software fixes, this characterization outraged pilots. It suggested Boeing was still not taking their safety concerns seriously enough.
Captain Dennis Tajer of American Airlines blasted Boeing's comment as “astounding.” He said calling the coding error “normal” after 346 deaths shows Boeing's culture has not changed. Tajer asked, “Where in the hell was that normal for the last 50 years? Normal died when those 346 people died.”
Pilots have voiced frustration for years over Boeing downplaying their input. Captain Tajer said Boeing's PR platitudes ring hollow without genuine responsiveness behind the scenes. He stated, “Don't tell me what you're going to do. Just do.”
Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia said Boeing comes across as tone deaf by minimizing issues as routine. He noted, “If you've developed a culture of obfuscation and misdirection, merely ceasing to lie does not solve your credibility problem.”
The flying public also feels unconvinced by Boeing's assurances. Many travelers say avoiding the 737 Max has become routine, whether by checking aircraft types when booking or switching flights. Polls indicate around 50% of passengers refuse to fly on a Max.
Boeing's strategy has focused heavily on top-down PR campaigns aimed at assuring everyone the Max is now safe. However, psychologists say this is not effective for rebuilding broken trust. The path forward relies instead on listening, transparency and empathy.
As leadership expert Stephen M.R. Covey explains, “Trust cannot be talked into existence. It has to be demonstrated. It has to be visible.” Boeing needs to show it values customers more than optically polishing its brand image.