By Vir Kamath
The Boeing 737 Max 800 is an aircraft type manufactured and designed by Boeing. Boeing is aviation’s biggest aircraft manufacturer, and the company manufactured nearly 38% of the world’s planes last year. However, this year is their worst year for them and the company might even shut down. This is because the company was allegedly responsible for 2 crashes involving the same aircraft, the 737 Max 800. The two airlines using the plane were Lion Air Indonesia and Ethiopian Airlines. On October 29th 2018, Lion Air flight 610 which was operating the 737 Max crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta Indonesia killing all 189 passengers and crew on board. Eerily enough on March 10th 2019 an Ethiopian airlines 737 max also crashed into a field in Bishoftu Ethiopia killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. Two crashes in less than a span of 6 months. Surely this was no coincidence. Since the Ethiopian Airlines crashed, all 737 max’s around the world have been grounded and may never fly again.
So how did this happen? We need to first talk about how Boeing ended up making this plane, it is there that we will get to know the truth. In 2010 Airbus announced that they had big plans. They announced that they would update their most popular aircraft, the Airbus A320, a small single aisled plane which services many domestic flights and you’ve probably been on one. They said they would make the engine larger and this larger engine would allow the plane to store machines that would make it 15% more fuel-efficient. A pilot would only need minimal additional training. It was called the A320neo and this, in turn, would save airlines a lot of money. To compete with Airbus, Boeing needed to update their best aircraft and that was the 737-800. However, this would be difficult and I will explain in the picture below.
Their alternative would be to put part of the engine above the wing. Boeing also claimed that this would be extremely fuel-efficient and pilots would also need minimal extra training and then be underway. While many experts find this a good idea, it also is problematic and is not very safe. The plane started to thrive and it helped Boeing keep up with Airbus.
However, taking the engine above the wing can cause the plane’s nose to pitch up too high above 20 degrees that are the safe zone. Anything above 20 degrees can lead to the risk of the aircraft stalling. The aim was that the new models were supposed to behave exactly like their old ones but they would not so to work on this, Boeing installed sensors on their planes if the pilot flew the plane at too high an angle and would automatically put the nose down. Boeing named this system MCAS or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. This was a great addition but Boeing never highlighted the new system and many pilots only got a two-hour iPad training course. Had Boeing informed pilots about the new software, many lives could have been saved. They could have helped the pilots prevent plane crashes and none of them would have happened. It is clear that Boeing is at fault and are waiting for consequences.
In India, airlines like Jet Airways and Spicejet had orders for over 200 of these planes and in their training books, and there was no mention of MCAS in either of them. Therefore these two airlines had to cancel their remaining orders and wait till the plane would be safe to fly again. What do you think, will the 737 Max ever fly again? I would love to know your thoughts.