The 737-MAX series has been a troubled aircraft over the last few years, the aircraft has been grounded for 1 1/2 years and although it seems it might be getting ready to enter service again the future still seems uncertain. But how did the plane get into this Nightmare that it is in? Well, why don’t we find out?
The 737-MAX and it’s Story
To start our story, we have to go back to the year 2006. In this year Boeing started to design a new aircraft to follow the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This aircraft was going to be the replacement to the 737. For four years Boeing designed the aircraft until in 2010 when they decided to scrap the plan.
However, that same year Boeing’s main competitor Airbus launched the A320-NEO on December 1st. The main features of this aircraft would be new engines which would be more fuel efficient than previous models. In June 2011 at the Paris Airshow the NEO racked up 667 commitments for an overall amount of 1029 since the project launch.
Although Boeing in 2011 was still not sure of a 737 4th Generation, two events happened additionally in 2011 that made this program a priority compared to other projects. The first thing was that year, American Airlines who had been a large Boeing customer for many years ordered 130 Airbus A320ceo’s and 130 A320NEO’s. Now the second event that occurred which pretty much guaranteed the 737 4th Generation was from this little known airline from North America called Southwest Airlines. You see, Southwest Airlines threatened to order A320neo’s if Boeing did not create a 4th Generation 737 series aircraft.
So now Boeing had to do Something and now the 4th Generation 737 project took priority and begun.
On August 30th, 2011 the Boeing Board of Directors approved the launching of the 4th Generation Re-Engined 737. Boeing expected the aircraft to have a 4% lower fuel burn compared to the A320-NEO. Additionally, they expected the aircraft to have a slightly longer range than the NEO.
A 737-MAX 9 Mockup from 2012
The first variant to be launched in the 737-MAX series was the MAX 8. This aircraft was based on the 737-800 and was intended to replace them. Shortly after, the Boeing 737-MAX 9 was launched. Similar to the MAX-8 it was designed after a NG model, the -900. Again, like the MAX-8 it was intended to replace the -900. A year later, Boeing launched the 737-MAX 200, which is a 737-MAX 8 airframe with slimline seats and two additional exit doors due to the increased capacity of the aircraft. Boeing also removed several galley trollies to add more seats. The next aircraft in the series was going to be the 737-MAX 7. This aircraft would be based off of the 737-700 airframe and would be a replacement to the -700. The last and final variant is the 737-MAX 10. The MAX-10 was being built to compete directly with the A321-NEO and compared to all previous variants mentioned it is not based off of a NG airframe because as you know there is no 737-1000 but this is a lengthened aircraft from the MAX-9 with many similar features.
On August 13th, 2015 the first 737-MAX fuselage was completed in Wichita, Kansas. On December 8th, 2015 the first 737-MAX, a 737-MAX 8 named “Spirit of Renton” was rolled out of the Boeing Renton Factory in Renton Washington to show to the public for the first time.
On January 29, 2016 at Renton Municipal Airport the first 737-MAX 8 1A001 took to the skies for the first time. The aircraft ran through a multitude of tests such as Aerodynamic and Control Testing. On March 8th, 2017 the FAA certified the 737-MAX followed closely by the EASA on March 27th.
The first delivery of a 737-MAX aircraft was on May 16th, 2017 to Malindo Air, a subsidiary of Lion Air and the aircraft entered service on May 22nd. Shortly after, Norwegian Air International took it’s first 737-MAX and flew the first scheduled passengers on a transatlantic flight from Edinburugh, Scotland to Hartford, Connecticut on July 15th. after the first year of service, the 737-MAX had been 130 deliveries to 28 customers. The future was looking bright for Boeing and the 737-MAX program.
The first 737-MAX to enter service
On October 29th, 2018 PK-LQP, a 737-MAX 8 Aircraft operated by Lion Air was preparing for a flight from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia. Onboard the aircraft were 181 passengers and 8 crew. At 6:20am the flight operating as Lion Air 610 took off from Jakarta. 19 Miles into the flight the flight crew contacted ATC and requested a clearance to return to Jakarta. At 6:33am local time flight 610 crashed into the Sea killing all 189 people onboard the aircraft.
Later, Indonesian Investigators would find that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) malfunctioned causing the uncommanded dive and crash of the aircraft. In response to the crash Boeing issued a warnings to all MAX operators about MCAS to attempt to avoid another crash.
On March 10th, 2019 ET-AVJ, another Boeing 737-MAX 8 aircraft was preparing for a flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya. Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 had 149 passengers and 8 crew onboard. The flight took off at 8:38 am local time and very quickly things started to go downhill for the flight. Around 1 1/2 minutes after taking off the pilots reported a flight control problem to the tower. Only 30 seconds later, the MCAS System activated causing the nose of the aircraft to be pitched down. The pilots managed to regain some control of the aircraft that let them prevent a further nose down angle but the aircraft was still losing altitude. MCAS Activated once again however this time the pilots flipped a pair of switches in the cockpit which disabled the electrical trim tab system which also disabled MCAS. However, they also disabled their ability to trim the stabilizers into a neutral position. As the pilots continued to struggle they requested a return to the airport. As they made the turn back to the airport having a hard time manually keeping the nose up the pilots turned on the electrical trim switches again in an attempt to neutralize the stabilizer’s position. However, MCAS was also turned on once again and at 8:44 local time the aircraft crashed into the Ethiopian Desert killing everyone onboard.
The finding of the MCAS problem once again on the accident aircraft resulted this time in the worldwide grounding of all 737-MAX aircraft. By March 14th, nearly all Aeronautical Safety Boards had revoked the certification of the MAX aircraft. The groundings off the 737-MAX was a huge blow to Boeing. Within the first month of the grounding Boeing had to reduce production of the 737 by 1/5th. Although it seemed like it might be a quick fix by Boeing the aircraft are still grounded. In January of 2020 the production of the MAX was halted. Grounded 737-MAX aircraft were parked in Parking lots due to a lack of space at the rest of the airport. Nearly 400 of the grounded aircraft are waiting to be delivered to the airlines who ordered them. The 737-MAX holds the longest time of a aircraft grounded in the United States.
However, a positive for Boeing recently has been the FAA taking the 737-MAX up for recertification flights, these flights were performed from June 28th to July 1st, 2020. In August of 2020, the FAA announced its list of final design changes to be performed by Boeing for a recertification of the MAX aircraft. These changes are expected to come no earlier than Mid-October 2020.
There you have it, the story of the 737-MAX I hope you enjoyed reading and If you want me to do something like this again I am open to any suggestions!