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FAA caves; Boeing grounds all B737 MAX

Editorial Staff

Let's accept for a moment that, good as it is, data from commercial flight-tracking services is not 100% authoritative. But it is certainly extremely persuasive. The data that was made available immediately after the crash of Ethiopian Airways flight 302 showed a remarkable similarity to similar data published after the crash of Lion Air JT610. As more and more countries banned B787 MAX, the FAA supported Boeing. Boeing said "we stand by our aircraft." Then even more compelling evidence of similarity between the crashes emerged.

Finally. The USA's Federal Aviation Administration has ordered "the temporary grounding" of all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft (not only the 800 variant) by any US Airline or by any airline operating in US Airspace. It acted only after evidence from the crash site demonstrated close similarities between the Ethopian Airways crash and that of Lion Air's identical aircraft.

Since the Lion Air crash, Boeing has consistently said that if there was a problem it was with documentation but that it would, in any case, work on revised software. But, it insisted, the B737 MAX was safe. The FAA said that it " grounded the aircraft "as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision." Translation: we couldn't fudge it any longer. There's too much information in the wild."

Only the day before the FAA had said " our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action." On 11 March, the day after the Ethopian Airlines crash, the FAA issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification for the B737 800 and 900 MAX.

The grounding was does not allow for aircraft to return to base: "[aeroplanes] covered by this Order, if in flight at the time this Order is issued, may proceed to and complete their soonest planned landing but may not again take off."

Boeing, which had been almost aggressive in its refusal to consider that the aircraft may have been in any way at fault recommended that all B737 MAX aircraft worldwide be subject to "a temporary suspension." But its words were mealy-mouthed. ""We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution," said Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing's president, CEO and chairman in a statement on the company's website.

But both the FAA and Boeing were not acting of their own free will: US President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order grounding all B737 MAX aircraft in the USA. "I didn't want to take any chances. We could have delayed it. We maybe didn't have to make it at all. But I felt it was important both psychologically and in a lot of other ways. The safety of the American people, of all people, is our paramount concern," he said.

In the meantime, the FAA is having to be more open. Daniel Elwell, the acting adminstrator, told a press conference last night that Boeing's revised software will take "months" before it's ready for deployment. There have been two total destruction events in "months," it has to be noted.

As the black boxes and cockpit voice recorders are analysed, along with eye witness and other reports, leaving aside some of the seemingly more fanciful reports in some local media, and as such data as can be recovered from the Lion Air boxes recently found buried in deep mud, pressure on both Boeing and the FAA must mount. It is known that there were reports of problems with the aircraft before the Lion Air crash. Were risks assessed and taken, as with the B787 and its battery fires? If so, Boeing and the FAA could find themselves in the firing line of hundreds of class actions.

Already there are reports of people who are refusing to fly on a Boeing wherever possible. Our own boss, Nigel Morris-Cotterill, refuses to fly on a B787 and he is far from an isolated example, if credible media reports from around the world are to be believed.

Meanwhile, airlines are left struggling to plug holes in schedules, with crews and aircraft out of position, with mounting landing and storage fees where aircraft have not been able to return to base. The FAA and Boeing have much to answer for not only in relation to the safety of the aircraft but also as to the way it has been dealt with.

Further Reading: https://www.faa.gov/news/updat...

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