Newly certified aircraft have to have upgraded alert systems for pilots. Issues with the Boeing 737 MAX MAX that led to the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes are, in part, addressed by mandatory new alerts for pilots that will apply to all newly-certified aircraft types. But unless the FAA agrees to exempt the Boeing 737 MAX 10 from this requirement, which they can only do by the end of 2022, Boeing’s CEO says they’ll walk away from the plane project and all of the orders it represents.
If The Government Doesn’t Certify The MAX 10 This Year, New Requirements Kick In
The Boeing 737 MAX 10 variant of the plane hasn’t yet been certified. It faces a December deadline to qualify for exemption from these rules. The alert systems have been upgraded compared to earlier MAXs, but if the plane isn’t certified this year then it can’t qualify for an exemption without an act of Congress.
Boeing Says If They’re Forced To Add Safety Requirements, They’ll Kill The Project
The FAA says they’re not likely to complete certification work this year, and that creates a standoff. Boeing’s CEO says he’ll walk away from the Boeing 737 MAX 10 project entirely if the plane doesn’t get exempted from new cockpit alert standards.
That would mean giving up on about 700 orders for the largest 737 MAX variant, although some of those might get converted to smaller planes. It could also mean losing orders to Airbus. United is a big customer for the as-yet unreleased aircraft and so is Alaska Airlines. United is expected to fly these planes on premium cross country routes. Delta has even been expected to finalize an order for 100 of them.
Boeing Plays Chicken Through The End Of The Year
I have to believe Boeing’s CEO is playing chicken. Revisions to the aircraft would entail significant expense and it would mean delays, which could cost it orders and also cost the company penalties for failing to meet delivery date targets.
However walking away from the United fleet refresh, putting Alaska Airlines back into the market to consider Airbus (!), and giving up on finally getting a toehold into Delta aircraft orders after years of that major carrier only buying Airbus seems like blowing up its competitiveness in the narrowbody space. Plus, Boeing has no other plausible alternative replacement for the Boeing 757 (even though it isn’t quite one).
To be sure, a modified cockpit for the 737 MAX 10 would mean different training for pilots – and pilot training commonality with past 737s was the entire reason for the MCAS system which led to so many problems in the first place.
Who Blinks, And When?
The FAA could finish by the end of the year, which they’ve said is unlikely. They already look bad for exempting earlier MAXs from certification standards and won’t want to do that again and look like they’re caving to Boeing on timeline. Even if they’re going to sign off, their only bureaucratic means of showing toughness against Boeing is delay.
Congress can extend the period in which they can obtain exemptions. But it seems likely that would wait until the November-December period, if it were to happen, because no one wants to campaign on exempting Boeing from safety standards. So the federal government and Boeing are likely to be playing chicken on the future of the MAX 10 for the next six months, with Boeing in the uncomfortable position for seeking exemptions to more stringent safety standards on the Boeing 737 MAX.
The 737 MAX Is A Safe Aircraft
To be clear I believe that the 737 MAX is a safe aircraft. The MAX now compares data from both angle of attack sensors – a key vulnerability that contributed to the two crashes – and if there’s a material difference between the sensors then the MCAS system will be inhibited throughout the flight. MCAS now only activates once per incident, eliminating repetitive nose-down pitch. And pilots maintain elevator authority for the aircraft.
Runaway stab trim is inhibited automatically, no longer requiring use of a non-normal checklist. But pilots are receiving explicit training on the issues that occurred with the MAX previously nonetheless.
And make no mistake, these are rare issues to begin with – American Airlines for instance never had a single issue with trim or angle of attack in over 7000 773 MAX flights prior to the aircraft’s grounding, and never had angle of attack issues in over 700,000 hours of Boeing 737-800 flying involving the same part.