In less than six months, two aircrafts went down both with hair-raising similarities. In both the incidents, pilots fought with the controls immediately after take-off, the software system malfunctioned and most outrageously, both the aircrafts were the new best-selling Boeing 737 Maxes. With over 5,000 orders valued over six billion dollars, the majority have been grounded since the 10th March 2019.

Lion Air flight 610

Operated by the Indonesian carrier Lion Air, flight 610 was a domestic flight departing from Soekama, Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, to Depati Amir Airport in West Indonesia. On the 29th October, with less than an hour of flight, Lion Air 610 plummeted –nose first in a dive at 450mph – straight into the Java Sea killing all the innocent 189 lives on board. A year later on the 25th October 2019, the NTSC (National Transport Safety Committee) released the final report which concluded the faulty MCAS system (Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System) was to blame. This summary came about when investigators used a simulator to replicate the incident finding that the aircraft experienced a “control column stick shaker” warning throughout the entire flight; this warning cautions pilots of a potential risk of a stall.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

Similarly, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was a scheduled international flight-on the 10th March 2019-leaving from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia arriving to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. This 2 hour flight also went down just six minutes after takeoff as the plane struggled to maintain a constant Vertical Airspeed due to the MCAS system failing. All 157 passengers and crew were killed near the town of Bishoftu, south east of Addis Ababa.

What is MCAS?

Competing with their rival, the Airbus A320 Neo, Boeing attempted to create a new and improved version of their already existing 737NG. In attempt to compete with the market, the company made engines larger increasing fuel efficiency and positioned them slightly forward and higher up on the wings to avoid collisions with the ground. These modifications altered the way the aircrafts flew as the relocated engines caused the aircraft’s nose to pitch higher. To make up for it, Boeing introduced the MCAS systems which essentially pushed the nose downwards to level the plane during takeoff only. There were 2 major problems with the launch of the system: the software enabled automatically not telling the pilots it was turned on plus there was no switch off button and pilots were inadequately trained, the pilots of the aircraft were not told what it does, how to use it or how to fly with it. This caused confusion between pilot inputs and the aircraft’s software.  

What has and is being done?

Following the crash of the two 737 Maxes, several countries/continents in early 2019 banned the aircraft from entering or flying in their airspace which includes: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, China, Ethiopia, Europe, Fiji, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Panama, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, UAE, United Stated and Vietnam. Boeing have reworked the software being used and have already carried out 135 test flights as of April. Recently on the 22nd October 2019, Boeing claimed they have made “significant progress” towards bringing the Max back to the skies. However, Boeing being an American company, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) said they would have to extensively test the aircraft to prevent future incidents. In addition, all the places the aircraft was banned would also have to test them to ensure the safety of the passenger. Boeing has run over 800 tests with the new software totalling up to 1,500 hours.

Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing, stated “when the MAX returns to the skies with the software changes to the MCAS function, it will be among the safest airplanes ever to fly.” The earliest the 737 will be back in service is around January/February 2020. Till then, we hope Boeing really do create the safest airplane to fl