New Glitches Emerge in Grounded Boeing 737 Max 8


Jan. 6 2020, Published 10:20 a.m. ET

We’re at the start of the first full week of the new decade. While the world is changing fast, Boeing (BA) is still struggling to get its 737 Max 8 plane back in the skies. According to the latest update, it’s not just the MCAS software that has a glitch. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (or FAA) are also working on an electrical problem that could cause a short circuit. The wiring issue could delay the much-awaited return of the plane.

A Boeing spokesperson said that the company “identified this issue as part of that rigorous process, and we are working with the FAA to perform the appropriate analysis. It would be premature to speculate as to whether this analysis will lead to any design changes.”

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Additional simulator training for pilots of Boeing 737 Max 8

Bloomberg also reported today that the FAA is considering mandating additional simulator training for Boeing 737 Max 8 pilots. Boeing had earlier argued that the 737 Max 8 was not that different from earlier models in the series. Hence, the 737 Max 8 wouldn’t require additional training.

Designing new simulator training is costly and time-consuming. First, Boeing and airlines need to ensure that there are enough simulators available for this. Currently, there are not. With most global regulators considering that option, Boeing and airlines will need to invest in new simulators. Second, building new simulators and training pilots will take time, further delaying commercial flights of Boeing 737 Max 8s. Boeing has already halted production of the 737 Max 8 from this month to focus on delivering the planes it has already produced.

Simulator training and public trust

The official decision on the simulator is not expected to happen during the next month or two. Accordingly, United Airlines (UAL) is considering a voluntary implementation of the simulator training. The reason is simple. Passengers have lost trust in Boeing 737 Max 8 after the crashes and extended grounding.

To reassure passengers wary of boarding a 737 Max 8 aircraft, United Airlines said in September, “If you get to the gate and it’s not an airplane you want to fly on for whatever reason, if it’s a Max, we’ll put you on another flight.” American Airlines (AAL) also said that “Once the [737 Max 8] aircraft is cleared to fly again, American will continue to look at ways to reiterate to our customers that our pilots are the best in the business and would never fly an unsafe aircraft.”

Simulator training will prepare pilots for various scenarios that could happen specifically with Max 8s. However, while simulators may make flying a 737 Max 8 safer, it may not do a great job at regaining passenger trust.

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Boeing’s new CEO needs to regain trust

The prolonged 737 Max 8 grounding took Dennis Muilenberg’s job as Boeing’s CEO. The new CEO, David L. Calhoun, who will take charge on January 13, will have a tough job to regain the public’s trust. First, Boeing needs to address trust issues with the FAA, airlines, pilot bodies, and passengers. Boeing’s relationship with the FAA has hit a hurdle, primarily due to Boeing’s lack of transparency related to communication about 737 Max 8 glitches. Airlines have canceled thousands of flights and are in discussion with Boeing about compensation. If the grounding extends further, Boeing will be pushed into firefighting mode with its customers.

Southwest Airlines’ pilot body has sued Boeing for loss of income and breach of trust. Boeing also needs to appease them. Boeing must also address troubles with 737 NG and get the 777X flying soon. The decision about whether the company will develop the Boeing 797 is still pending.

Is it too late?

2019 was the year of Airbus. Airbus (AIR) trumped Boeing in deliveries as well as orders. Some of Boeing’s high profile customers have chosen Airbus. United, which is planning to invest in simulators, is one of them. UAL ordered 50 Airbus A321XLR toward the end of 2019. Delta Air Lines (DAL) may be handing over a big order to Airbus. Boeing has a lot of catching up to do in 2020 to cover the lost ground. It’s late, but is it too late? The answer is not too far away.


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