Last week marked a crucial milestone for commercial aircraft manufacturer Boeing, namely the start of re-certification flights for the 737-MAX aircraft program.
Upwards of 15 months since this aircraft was grounded from operational service globally, the sacking of its former CEO, along with numerous missed milestones, pilots from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted a series of tests over a three-day period.
Since the global grounding of this aircraft, the plane’s now infamous MCAS flight-control system has been totally redesigned to now include a dual computer system that compares flight data from both systems to ensure that there will always be redundancy. Other aircraft design changes and fixes have been incorporated as well.
Reporting by The Seattle Times indicates that substantial additional work remains in order to gain FAA certification approval for the MAX, and according to the publication, U.S. flight operations approval could come by mid-September.
A statement provided by the FAA indicates: “While the certification tests are an important milestone, a number of key tasks remain. We are following a deliberate process and will take the time it needs to thoroughly review Boeing’s work.”
That statement has been consistent with the agency’s stance since the MAX crisis boiled over to a finger-pointing exercise with Boeing. Even today, the regulatory agency is under intense political heat from families of the victims from the two previous tragic crashes, and from U.S. lawmakers seeking definite accountability as to what went wrong with this program, and who is accountable.
Approval from various other country aviation regulatory bodies would likely take additional time beyond September. Given the sheer number of grounded and production completed but not delivered aircraft, the sheer logistics of preparing upwards of 400 aircraft grounded aircraft will likely take many additional months. Some aircraft may never reach the original airline that purchased them due to subsequent order cancellations.
In addition to the FAA, a panel of operational pilots from around the globe, termed to be the Joint Operations Evaluation Board, will test revised flight simulator training procedures to ensure they are effective. The aircraft manufacture’s final documentation for the revised systems of this aircraft will reportedly be assessed by another independent panel, the termed Technical Advisory Board, that includes representatives from nine commercial aviation authorities from across the globe.
Throughout this process, Boeing’s creditability has been constantly and candidly challenged with the company’s track record of constant aggressive timelines and denial more in tune with propping-up the company’s stock price. In March of this year, newly appointed CEO David Calhoun conducted a candid interview with the New York Times relative to his predecessor’s aggressive timelines and ramp-up production plans for the aircraft, along with its subsequent implications. That candor was changed several days later when internal blowback occurred.
One of the results is now being proposed U.S. legislation, the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act, that if enacted, tightens controls on how the FAA oversees and approves design of new commercial aircraft. The legislation’s intent is to eliminate perceived self-certification by manufacturer’s.
While the 737 MAX re-certification efforts continue, the global airline and commercial aircraft manufacturing industry continues to roil from sudden and abrupt disruptions to new aircraft delivery needs as global air travel remains well below pre COVID-19 pandemic levels. For Boeing’s supplier network ecosystem, the disruption continues to reflect large cutbacks in monthly production along with corresponding supplier financial impacts including significant headcount reductions. Last month, The U.S. based aircraft manufacturer announced plans to shed 13,000 workers. Rival Airbus has communicated a reduction in upwards of 15,000 worker positions by the summer of the year 2021. Industry speculation is that there may be more.
Two events, the tragic crashes involving two separate 737 MAX aircraft, and the coronavirus global pandemic have totally impacted the commercial aircraft industry’s multi-year product demand booking and supply network monthly production levels to the negative for many years to come.
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