Boeing and its 737 model plane has been in the news a lot lately. With the question about the safety of the latest MAX 8 version after the tragedy of the Ethopian Airlines crash, I thought I would just share some information and thoughts abut it.
The Workhorse Aircraft
There are two major airplane manufacturers in the world of aviation: Airbus, based in Toulouse, France and Boeing, based in Tacoma, Washington, USA. Odds are you have flown in an aircraft manufactured by one of these two companies before. Most major carriers fly a combination of aircraft for their short, medium and long range flights. The A-320 and Boeing 737 variants are the most typically used planes for short and medium range “workhorse” flights.
The 737 entered the aviation world in the late 1960s and quickly became one of the most popular plane types for commercial carriers to order due to its versatility. It could fit more passengers and was able to fly longer distances. Most modern 737s today are part of the “next-generation” series. They are most likely a 600/700/800/900 model with an NG at the end of that to indicate next generation. Sometimes an ER (extra range) for a longer model after that number series can be after that.
Note that the main difference in all the model numbers is the legnth of the plane. In case you were wondering : )
What’s the MAX series?
In 2006, Boeing was looking for a way to improve upon the NG series of planes and start working to make the 737 more high tech and fuel efficient. The MAX series was born. The goal was to keep up with Airbus’s Neo series. Neo is said to be the most fuel-efficient and among quietest airplanes out there.
The MAX8 was the first of the MAX family to enter service in 2016 after extensive certification and testing. The MAX7 and MAX9 would later follow in its sister’s footsteps. Knowing it would replace the NG series, many orders were placed for the newer plane. It wasn’t until 2018 now early 2019 that the first major problems would seemingly come to light.
What’s the major controversy with it?
Stepping back for a moment, lets consider pilot training. Pilots must be trained and certified for each different type of aircraft they fly. Airbus planes are said to be among the easiest to cross train between because the difference between an A320 and say a larger A350 is minimal. For Boeing planes the difference between a 737 and say a double size 777 is substantial.
Boeing is said to have gone to extreme lengths to try and keep the MAX series as close to its NG series cockpit as possible. With that being said the MAX is said to be an entirely different type of plane. The pilots are not having enough time t really learn the MAX8. That might now be the only issue, however. In the Lion Air crash in Indonesia last October, the alleged problem had to do with the AOA (angle of attack) sensors on the plane. The AOA has to do with how the nose of the plane responds to the plane’s altitudes and speed readings.
The MAX has a computer that will automatically correct the position of the nose of the plane if it senses the nose is too high or too low. If the AOA is given incorrect readings, the pilots have seconds to figure out how to correct the problem. In the Lion Air crash, the pilots tried to correct the MAX 8’s nose too late at an altitude too low to the plane. The pilots were flying the plane,almost blindly.
In the Ethopian Airlines crash, its too early to know what caused the flight to crash after takeoff. It is known that the pilots knew there was a problem with the plane and wanted to return to the airport after takeoff. The plane was trying to gain altitude was it the AOA again? Pilot error? Too many variable are in play. We will have to wait to know officially.
The MAX has been flown thousands of times. The airline I worked for had spent a lot of money purchasing the new planes. That airline, combined with the legacy US carriers do not want to lose money or make any unnecessary delays based on the lack of evidence if the MAX is safe to fly or not. I think this is a huge mistake. They should take the same precautions that the EU and other countries have and ground the planes.
Passengers are scared and don’t know what to expect. Of the 109 MAX 8 and 9s in service to United, Southwest, American, Air Canada, West Jet it would only cause a small number of delays and cancellations in the grand scheme of things. Is people’s safety really worth the risk?
If you are scheduled to take a flight in the coming days and your plane is a MAX, you are always able to call the airline to see if they can change your flight. Odds are in your favor that everything will go off perfectly, however, I foresee the pressure of every other country grounding the MAX as something that may cause the FAA to eventually ground the US fleet. Be on the lookout for notifications about your flight just in case.