The Boeing 737 Max: Why Is This the World’s Most Controversial Aircraft
Though it is back in service, many travelers are understandably wary of flying on the 737 Max, but why? Here is a quick review of why these aircraft became so controversial, and what led to its two tragic and fatal crashes.
How Did the Controversy Begin?
For most travelers, the first time they heard of the Boeing 737 Max was from reports of a plane crash in Indonesia. In October 2018, a Boeing 737 Max operated by Lion Air, a low-cost Indonesian carrier, crashed into the Java Sea off the coast of Jakarta just 13 minutes after takeoff. This tragic accident was a cause of concern for both travelers and aviation experts, as the incident happened so soon after takeoff with no external influences.
Just five months later in March 2019, a second Boeing 737 Max on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after taking off at Addis Ababa. This resulted in the grounding of all 737 Max aircraft until investigators could determine what was causing the fatal crashes on the plane.
Legal proceedings began almost immediately, with many families in America losing loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The law firm Romanucci & Blandin helped families bring their cases to Boeing, and provided information on social media to help travelers identify the plane when they were booking tickets. Travelers were understandably wary of flying on the plane.
What Was the Issue Causing the Crashes?
Investigators were quickly able to find the issue that had led to the crashes and were shocked by what they found. When Boeing began to discuss a new model of its 737, they initially planned to start with a blank sheet of paper and redesign the aircraft completely. This would have been a long and expensive task, so the decision was made to upgrade the existing design that first flew in 1967.
The biggest advancements in modern aviation have been in engine design. Jet engines have become more powerful and fuel-efficient, allowing airlines to cut costs. The engines also have a much greater diameter than they had in the 1960s, and this is where the Boeing 737 Max problems began. The aged airframe had been developed with smaller, and lighter, engines in mind.
How Did the Design Cause the Crashes?
Engines are typically placed beneath the wings, making them one of the lowest parts of an aircraft. The modern, larger, and more fuel-efficient engines would simply not fit directly beneath the wings of a 737 without being dangerously close to the ground. To combat this problem, Boeing moved the engines forward so that the intake of the engine would be in front of the wing. This change affected the aircraft’s center of gravity.
This shift in the center of gravity changed the way the plane handles during every phase of flight. To adjust for this change, Boeing developed software they called MCAS or the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. Pilots were not fully briefed on the system or how to use it. It is thought that faults in this software led to the crashes, and pilots had not received sufficient training on how to engage with or disable MCAS.
When Boeing tried to save money, they cost people their lives. The many lawsuits they face across the world are a result of this. Changes have since been made to the MCAS software and the 737 Max design, but the reputation of the aircraft and the company have been tarnished forever.