Air travel is safe because aircraft manufacturers, airlines and government regulators all perform at high levels.
Chicago-based Boeing, one of the world’s leading technology companies and the largest U.S. exporter, ripped a gigantic hole in the fabric of international air travel by mishandling the development and rollout of a new aircraft. Two of its 737 Max jetliners crashed in less than five months, killing a total of 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
The 737 Max was supposed to be one of the most advanced and reliable planes in the sky. Perhaps that will turn out to be true, but the aircraft has been grounded since March. Boeing this week said it would suspend production in January as the company works to prove to the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign regulators that the 737 Max deserves to fly again.
Boeing is so enormous that the production shutdown could create a noticeable drag on the U.S. economy. The company has orders for about 5,000 Max jets and has built 400 at its Renton, Wash., plant that it hasn’t delivered. Airlines including United, Southwest and American are counting on the 737 Max.
It’s a devastating blow to Boeing’s reputation: Here is the great American manufacturer, creator of the 747 and other fabulous planes, struggling to convince regulators its new jet is airworthy.
The two fatal crashes, involving new 737 Max jets flown by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines, occurred in similar fashion during good weather, suggesting a glitch with sophisticated software: An automated anti-stalling program known as MCAS, or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, apparently steered the planes into sharp dives.
Boeing needs to fix the software and assuage the regulators, but problems with MCAS may run deeper in the company’s culture. There are questions about whether Boeing hurried the development process and properly explained MCAS to airlines, pilots and regulators, among other possible failings.
All of those issues will have to be addressed satisfactorily for the 737 Max to be recertified to fly and for Boeing to regain the flying public’s full trust.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE