On March 10, 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines’ aircraft crashed within the first few minutes of takeoff, causing the deaths of all 189 passengers and crew. Just six months earlier, a Lion Airlines’ aircraft crashed in Indonesia and killed all passengers as well.
What caused these crashes? Both the planes were of the model Boeing 737 Max 8. Recent investigations show that a flaw in the aircraft system may have been the reason for the hundreds of deaths.
As a result of both of the crashes, many countries have grounded all 371 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. After examining the crashes, the Federal Aviation Association (an organization responsible for regulating aviation standards in the U.S) declared that a safety check was urgently needed for this model.
History of the Boeing 737
In 1964, Joseph Sutter and Jack Steiner designed the 737 for Boeing as a cheaper version of the previous models. The twin-engine, narrow-bodied airliner made its first two-hour flight on April 9, 1967.
The original design could carry a maximum of 85 passengers. But over the years, it has been redesigned to carry over 200 people and has been modified for better efficiency. The most recent generation, the Boeing 737 Max, made its first flight in 2017.
In fact, the 737 series is the most popular commercial aircraft in history. Over 300 airlines in 112 countries fly some model of the 737. The 10,000th 737 aircraft was manufactured in March 2018, and over 4000 orders are still being filled out. These orders are mostly for the 737 Max, which currently is out of commission in all airlines.
A Malfunction In The System
The FAA discovered that both crashes were caused by similar problems in the flight control system, and happened during takeoff. In addition, pilots who previously flew a Boeing 737 Max reported that the controls were hard to manage.
The culprit appears to be a new automated system called MCAS (short for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) that was introduced in these planes to prevent aircraft stall. A plane can stall (stop moving) if its nose is pointed upwards and the angle so steep that it changes the pattern of air that flows around the plane. A stalled plane is dangerous and can cause it to crash.
The purpose of the automated system is to lower the nose in case of a stall to keep the aircraft safe. As you can imagine, when a plane takes off, its nose has to be pointed up at a steep angle. Usually, pilots control the planes during take off. But it appears that the automated MCAS system was overriding the pilot decision and forcing the nose down. The pilots of the two doomed aircraft struggled to control their planes minutes before the crash.
These reports raise questions of whether the FAA had overlooked issues in the inspection of the model and why the pilots were not provided the necessary training.
While air traffic will not be disrupted, the reputation of the Boeing 737 and its company has worsened - the company’s market value dropped by over $26 billion! Fixing the issues and getting the planes back into action is now the only way to save the model’s popularity.
Sources: BBC, Boeing.com, USA Today