Regulators Push Back As Boeing Desperately Tries To Avoid Making 737 MAX Safer

By law, any plane that’s certified starting in 2023 requires new cockpit alerts. That’s part of the U.S. government reaction to problems with the Boeing 737 MAX.

Boeing doesn’t want to implement these new safety requirements for the 737 MAX 10, and as a result has been rushing to either get the largest variant of the MAX certified before the end of 2022, or get legislators to pass an exemption. It’s certainly unseemly for Boeing to be desperately trying to duck safety requirements on the MAX, of all planes.

Doing its best Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles, the aircraft manufacturer has even threatened to kill the MAX 10 program if it isn’t certified without the new cockpit alert requirements. 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.

  • Boeing has tried to pressure the FAA to expedite approval, not just with threats of project cancellation but also through lobbying legislators

  • Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) has proposed giving Boeing two more years to get certified without the extra safety requirements. He’s seeking to attach the exemption to a defense bill, essentially sneaking it in.

  • In a letter to the Senator, the FAA says the smaller MAX 7 might not get certification before end of year – and that’s needed before moving onto the MAX 10. The FAA works slowly, saying that since Boeing didn’t get all its paperwork in by mid-September the agency might not complete its reviews by end of year. That doesn’t speak well of the FAA.

  • Boeing says there’s ‘still a chance’ that the MAX 10 could be approved this year, but the FAA basically says that is impossible. Boeing is looking at summer 2023 at this point.

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. Boeing even scored a big order from Delta, a huge win from an airline that hasn’t bought new planes from Boeing in years. The Delta order came days after Boeing issued the threat to kill the project.

I called Boeing’s threats to kill the MAX 10 program ‘playing chicken’ with the FAA. Clearly Boeing will blink first. After MAX crashes they also shouldn’t be spending all of their capital trying to avoid safety requirements.

Boeing says that having common safety requirements for all variants of the MAX is better, but note that they do not advocate for more cockpit alerts in the MAX 8 and MAX 9 variants, they’re seeking fewer requirements for all types of the plane which famously experienced crashes with both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Whether they should or not, Congess will extend the deadline for certifying the MAX 7 and MAX 10; the future of Boeing’s narrowbody business is on the line.

    The real issue is that by further delaying certification of these aircraft, the FAA is significantly hurting both WN and UA’s strategic plans. WN had counted on receiving scores of MAX7s by this time and even more through next year while UA’s entire NEXT program heavily hinges on the MAX10.

    Boeing clearly has not figured out how to work with the FAA and the FAA needs to take the time to get the job done right. Nonetheless, there are growing implications on Boeing’s inability to get the MAX 7 and MAX 10 certified.

  2. The change required (adding an EICAS) is significant and would break the MAX 10 and 7s cockpit commonality with other 737s, which was the whole point of the MAX program.

    That said, it was a bad design decision not to equip the MAXes with EICAS from the get go. (Arguably, it was a mistake not to have it on the NGs.)

    The required functionality is not new. Every other commercial airliner in existence today has one—even Boeing 757s and 767s from the 1980s.

    This is fun to watch and it will be interesting to see what happens.

  3. These airlines and OEMs are the ones that pushed for de-regulation in the airline space, which has, by the way, led to the dramatic decline in quality and customer experience across all of the US carriers in a mad dash to the bottom. This was OK, as it allowed more people to fly more cheaply, but now it is impacting safety.

    If Boeing cannot follow the remaining oversight and ensure safety, and it impacts their business and those of US carriers betting on the wrong horse, than so be it. That is the free market.

  4. @Mark
    Even one more solid reason not to fly a Max. It maybe fun to watch, but it is sad that one senator is willing to put the flying public at risk and not leave it to experts at the FAA.

  5. Just like a broken record, further evidence of just how mind-numbingly stupid was the Boeing decision to even do the 737MAX project to begin with. This may put at risk the entire Boeing single aisle airplane strategy going forward. They conceivably could have 2 variants that are not certified (MAX 10 & 7) and at the same time they have lost the engineering and management capability to do another clean sheet design. As was mentioned, the 757 had this cockpit display capability, along with every other capability Boeing tried to engineer into the 737MAX.

    Southwest also bears a lot of the blame for this situation. For a startup airline, basing your fleet strategy on a single model of old, used airplanes made sense. However, when you have become one of the largest airlines in the world, basing your entire fleet on a 50 year old design aircraft is mind-numbingly stupid as well.

  6. reluctantly flew 737-MAX twice as it was the only choice on UA’s LAX-OGG route. thankfully I survived. but I will actively avoid flying any MAX flights for another 5 years as I want sufficient assurance that the nosedive problems were fixed.

    thankfully WN still flies mostly 737-700s on my preferred routes.

  7. Jeez. The naysayers just continue to beat the drum on this issue. Boeing haters said the FAA would never re-certify the 737 Max 8 &9’s. Then when they did, the FAA was accused of being in bed with Boeing. Next up the European naysayers. EASA, the “Gold Standard” of aviation safety as some referred to them will never re-certify the 737 Max 8 & 9. Oh yeah, EASA did re-certify. Now almost every country has certified the Max. Even China is in talks with Boeing to get the 100 Max’s that are currently grounded back in the air. Either you ground all 10,000 737’s that were sold and still flying or you certify these variants making sure that both pilots and maintenance crews are well trained to fly and maintain these aircraft!

  8. Advocating for less safety in a platform with well documented safety issues seems like a big loser of an idea, but what do I know?

  9. a biased opinion article with a click bate title. What is Boeing going to do with an ongoing project that they find out they cannot meet the schedule due to various circumstances: 2 year pandemic operation slowdown, staff shortage and the certification procedure that had become much more rigorous. On top of that, politicians drove away their main customer by declaring an economic war with China. What should Boeing do with hugh debt for a project that they cannot finish in time? They didn’t ask for lessening the new rigorous certification procedure. They just asked to give them more time to do it. If the author were in Boeings shoes, he couldn’t have made any better decisions than Boeing.

  10. Jurassic Jet or Satan’s Chariot…you decide. Outside of an Ilyushin from Russia, it’s the most miserable aircraft to be on, for passengers and cabin crewmembers its economic favorability notwithstanding.

  11. Oh yea, one more thing. Should you have the misfortune to be seated near back of the plane there’s a good chance you’ll be picking your teeth up off the ground after landing. Makes no difference if the runway is 11,000 ft long. Not too long ago there was a story of a FA for WN whose back was broken upon landing. Don’t hear about this kind of thing on Airbus.

  12. I can’t wait for the Russians to get back in the mass aircraft production game. If it takes them 10 years, so be it! Enough of the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.

  13. “Boeing has tried to pressure the FAA to expedite approval” Hahaha. Ya right. FAA employees will “expedite” and take on responsibility for approval . . . and turkeys will be voting for Christmas!

    @jcil, quite frankly you don’t know WTH you’re writing about. Additionally, had you purchased LUV stock in the late 70’s (or even prior to 2012) you would be quite happy with “mind-numbingly stupid” decisions.

    To those who just don’t realize how little they don’t know about the B737 Max, the issue was TRAINING. But MSM publishes more on feelings (fear) than facts (engineering and training, the boring stuff) and we can’t accuse third world nations of not having the high quality of pilots that are found at major airlines and especially those of N, G, D, F and C registration.

  14. I don’t know what’s worse, this poorly written article or the ignorant comments here from people who clearly have no idea what’s actually going on nor is anyone in the industry.
    The MAX has proven itself to be safe. If it wasn’t, existing and new customers wouldn’t continue to put orders in for new aircraft.
    The laughable war cry of “I’ll never ever fly on a 737 MAX aircraft, ever!!!” is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever written.
    Guess what? Don’t fly on it, you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings, I can assure you of that. Take the bus if it’ll make you feel safer.

  15. APA doesn’t want an extension Boeing either.

    Pilots union opposes granting Boeing 737 MAX 7, 10 cockpit alerting extension

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The union representing 15,000 American Airlines pilots said on Wednesday it strongly opposes an effort in Congress to extend an exemption from modern cockpit alerting requirements for the Boeing 737 MAX 7 and 10.

    Boeing faces a December deadline to win approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the 737 MAX 7 and 10 variants, or it must meet new modern cockpit-alerting requirements that could significantly delay the plane’s entry into service.

    Allied Pilots Association President Capt. Edward Sicher said “Boeing needs to proceed with installing modern crew alerting systems on these aircraft to mitigate pilot startle-effect and confusion during complex, compound system malfunctions.”

    The FAA declined to comment. Boeing, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has said it is safer to have one common cockpit alerting system for all versions of the 737.

    Reuters reported on Monday that Boeing does not anticipate winning regulatory approval for its 737 MAX 10 before next summer, according to an FAA letter to Congress.

    Last week, Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, proposed extending the deadline for Boeing to win approval for the two new variants until September 2024 and hopes to attach the proposal to an annual defense bill.

    There is no indication yet if Wicker’s proposal has the support of other key lawmakers including committee chair Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat. Cantwell’s office did not immediately comment.

    The requirements were adopted as part of a certification reform bill passed after two fatal 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people and led to the best-selling plane’s 20-month grounding.

    Relatives of many of those killed in the MAX crashes also oppose giving Boeing an extension. They wrote a letter in July opposing the extension and suggest Boeing had resorted “to bullying Congress.”

    Sicher said the pilots union did not agree “with Boeing’s claim that pilots could become confused when moving from an airplane without the modern alert system to one that is equipped with it. Nothing could be further from our flight deck reality.”

    (Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy)

  16. To make the flight deck response of the -7 and -10 different from the -700, -800-900, -8, and -9 will introduce far more safety issues than if the -7 and -10 don’t upgrade. Pilot training in commonality is more important than upgrading the next amendment level because of the robustness of said commonality.

  17. To those that are saying that the airlines are placing large orders for the Max so the plane must be safe. My question to you is, what alternative do they have? Last I checked there are on two companies in the entire world that produce the specific sized aircraft their business model necessitates. Right now Airbus is heavily backlogged so there is little chance of getting an aircraft from them for many, many years. Many of the airlines are currently flying planes that should have been retired 10 years ago. They literally have no choice but to buy this aircraft despite it’s flaws. They go out and say they have confidence in the aircraft because if they said the opposite, no one would fly. Do you really think if there were several other alternatives they would be taking their chances on an aircraft that many experts have grave concerns about? Come on now…

  18. @X5w8. Any names of the “many experts” that have grave concerns? It really is about training. As in the initial issues with the Max, the 700 lbs. gorilla didn’t want to bring every pilot into the training center for ground school and simulator training for a procedure that already existed (Runaway Trim). I agree with the other postings that for MOST airlines the commonality in the fleet would be safer and more efficient for pilot scheduling and productivity.

  19. To begin with, the congress never intended for this requirement to apply to the MAX family, that’s why they gave until Dec 2022. Second, and this is a fact whether we like it or not, adding EICAS to only the 10 and 7 while leaving the 8 and 9 with te same alerting system as the NG would be DETRIMENTAL to safety, and retrofitting the EICAS in the 8 and 9 is technically not feasible ( it is not a minor change, there are like 1000 already built and it would require a re-certification meaning that Boeing would not be able to deliver a 737 of any variant for a few years). That means that the EICAS for the 10 and 7 just ain’t happening, it CAN’T happen beyond the fact that Boeing does’t want to do it. So this leaves 2 realistically viable options: Allow Boeing to certify the 7 and 10 just as they did with the 8 and 9 or kill the 7 and 10. If you vote for killing the 7 and 10, think not only in the huge economic impacts for Boeing, the airlines, the employees of them and their suppliers, and the economy of the US in general, but think also in the reason to not allow the 7 and 19 without EICAS but not grind the 8 and 9 forever too and kill these programs too. And on top of that, while nobody (certainly not me) questions the value of the EICAS as as safety feature, in practice the A320 family with EICAS and the 737NG family without EICAS have EXACTLY the same hull loss rate and fatal hull loss rate. With all that in mind I say: Keep the mandate for the EICAS but make the cut date based on the date when the verification process started rather than when it ended, so as to allow the MAX family to be completed as it has been already being certified: without EICAS. It is the most rational direction both from the economic and safety points of view.

  20. Ignorance of this topic is so rampant beginning with this author. Forcing EICAS on this airplane does NOT make it a safer airplane. An Air France (447) Airbus A330 equipped with ECAM/EICAS flying from Brazil to France fell out of the sky due to the pilots not knowing what the other was doing. One pilot held the airplane in a stall with his control stick while both pilots were completely confused with the electronic information being presented to them by the warning system. Total incompetence by pilots and also compounded by the Airbus design allowing one pilot to be holding the airplane in a stall without the other knowing it. The official French crash investigation stated “The reading of the ECAM by the PNF, and possibly also by the PF, was time-consuming and used up mental resources to the detriment of handling the problem and monitoring the flight path”. Bureau d’Enquêtes et Analyses, 2012, p.188. French aviation experts said that, not me. The pilots were overwhelmed by confusing data and were unable to fly the airplane out of a stall before impact with the ocean killing all 228 souls onboard. This plane was equipped with the Airbus equivalent (ECAM) of what everyone is obsessed with being on the Max 10 (EICAS). Pilot training and experience is what is needed. There is nothing unsafe about the MAX cockpit as now certified. Please research fully before publishing very misleading information.

  21. The 737 is a god awful example of an over extended, dated airplane straight from the 1960s. This had zero to do with being a “Boeing hater” — it’s about the airlines demanding a common type rating.

    Instead of reworking and redesigning they chose not to and I have zero sympathy for the carriers that created this mess for candidly an incremental operational expense. I hold type ratings and the cost here — especially for an airline — is manageable.

    The last time Boeing dragged it’s feet on the 737 was when the rudder control unit in the classic models would jam in a hard over and brought down two planes and nearly a 3rd. There again, a non standard design and lack of training reared its head.

    How many people have to do die before the airlines back off and accept reality? And how many lives must be lost before our beloved Congress does something novel: it’s job and hold a unethical Company accountable?

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