Two Boeing airplanes have fallen out of the air and crashed in the past six months. On the surface, this is a technical failure. But the real story is about a company’s desire to beat their rival.
In March 2019, airlines and governments around the world grounded the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner after two crashes within five months killed all 346 people on both flights.
On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea twelve minutes after takeoff with 189 passengers and crew.
On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after takeoff with 157 passengers and crew. In each accident, the aircraft was less than four months old.
Attention quickly focused on the 737 MAX’s newly introduced Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which automatically lowers the nose of the aircraft when sensors indicate that a stall may be imminent.
Satellite tracking data showed that after takeoff, both aircraft experienced extreme fluctuations in vertical speed. Pilots in both aircraft radioed they had flight control problems and wanted to return to the airport.
While the airplanes are out of service, Boeing had been developing and evaluating a software fix to the MCAS that is subject to review by a panel of global aviation regulators.
Airline users of the 737 MAX have announced daily flight cancellations that is expected to extend through August 2019.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General opened an investigation into the FAA’s approval of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft series; the probe focuses on potential failures in the FAA’s safety-review and certification process. The day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department for documents related to the development of the 737 MAX.