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June 17, 2024
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Boeing will face additional scrutiny of its aircraft production, including the 737 MAX, as the US Congress reportedly plans an audit. News of the proposed audit follows disclosure of the findings by the Investigative Division of the Australian Broadcast Company that disclosed at least 60 in-flight safety problems, including six emergencies, in the year after the 737 MAX was re-certified and re-entered service.

The incidents cited in the report were gleaned from US Government air safety databases for the 12 months after the FAA re-certified the aircraft in late 2020. The report cites former Boeing and FAA employees describing some of the incidents as serious, with the potential for dire consequences. The most serious incident, in December 2021, entailed a United Airlines pilot declaring an emergency after the system controlling the pitch and altitude of the aircraft began to malfunction.

The ABC report also revealed that the US government will soon announce a new audit examining Boeing’s oversight of 737 MAX production. This additional scrutiny will likely be conducted by the Inspector General’s office within the Department of Transportation.

Data were extracted from the FAA Service Difficulty Reporting System as well as from anonymous reports submitted to NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System. Their analysis showed that the flight control system on the MAX failed on 22 separate flights and that more than 42 incidents entailed equipment malfunctions.

With 580,000 revenue flights since the aircraft has returned to service, accumulating more than 1.5 million flight hours, the 737 MAX has performed well, with an incident rate in line with other modern aircraft. A review of incidents for the 737MAX8 and Airbus A321 from the AeroInside database shows a similar number of incidents for these contemporary aircraft since 2019. The nature of those incidents do vary, however, with the A321neo having a more consistent problem with hard landings, and the MAX having the aforementioned flight control and engine issues.

Nonetheless, the industry, including Boeing, does strive for perfection, and has learned from accidents and incidents to improve safety consistently over the years. Additional scrutiny when things go awry has always been welcomed by the industry, including both Boeing and Airbus.

With Boeing ramping up production of the MAX and correcting issues on the 787, which may be cleared to resume deliveries shortly, another investigation could impact Boeing’s current clear focus on problem solving with its two most popular programs. Any new learning from the additional scrutiny will be welcomed. But this additional investigative process, after multiple reviews of the 737 MAX that included both US and international regulators, might leave many people unsettled.

author avatar
Ernest Arvai
President AirInsight Group LLC

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