If the public confidence in the Boeing 737 MAX was not already at an all-time low, then the emergency landing certainly will drag it down even lower.
Authorities have grounded every single Boeing 737 MAX, but airlines can operate them to ferry them to bases or storage spaces. Which means that no passengers can be onboard the aircraft when it is flying.
So, Southwest Airlines decided to ferry one of their 737 MAX jets out of Orlando and transfer it to Victorville, California. The aircraft was a Boeing 737 MAX registered N8712L.
Unfortunately, just after taking off the pilots experienced issues with one of the LEAP engines and declared an emergency. Reportedly, everything turned out okay – the crew landed safely in Orlando Airport without any injuries.
In short, no.
To provide a bit longer answer, the main suspect of the two deadly Boeing 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia is the MCAS. The system, which was supposed to increase the safety of the jet and prevent stalls from happening, has caught the attention of everyone. Preliminary reports indicate that MCAS related issues downed the two jets.
Subsequently, aviation safety authorities grounded every single MAX. Airlines could not operate them commercially, but they could move their fleet to save money.
And as previously mentioned, the Southwest Boeing 737 MAX encountered an issue with one of its engines, rather than the MCAS.
But there might be another issue. And it’s related to the fact that we’re again seeing the words emergency, Boeing and MAX in the same sentence.
Let me explain why.
While engine issues are nothing out of the norm in aviation and aircraft can land safely with a single engine, a bigger problem lies behind the headline of a Boeing 737 MAX going through an emergency.
After more and more shocking facts have emerged about the manufacturing, safety and certification issues about the MAX, the general public question themselves before going on the 737.
Sure, Boeing will fix the MAX. The Seattle based company is already testing new software changes which will reduce the chance of triggering MCAS. Boeing also invited pilots from the three major American carriers, namely Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines.
As multiple sources indicate, Boeing has fixed one of the main issues of the MCAS, which was that the system relied on only one Angle of Attack sensor. That is definitely positive progress to get the 737 MAX flying again.
However, there might be a problem which no airline or Boeing can fix.
Public confidence and reputation.
Throughout history, safety concerns grounded some of the most well-known aircraft for a brief period of time. The Boeing 787, Concorde, the DC-10 and the de Havilland Comet sat on the ground during their peak years.
While all of them eventually returned to the air, the groundings led to the eventual downfall of 2 of them. Namely, the Concorde and the Comet. Additionally, McDonell Douglas encountered a lot of issues selling the DC-10 after it‘s grounding, but airlines would operate the “exploding cargo doors” tri-jet for a lot of years successfully.
I think it’s important to note that Concorde had a lot of issues beforehand, but the Air France Flight 4509 disaster and the subsequent grounding did not help the supersonic aircraft. The Comet was the first commercial jet-engine aircraft and it just had too many design flaws. After returning to service after 4 years, it was just too late, as the Boeing 707 claimed the majority of the market.
But the DC-10 carries a different story, a story that is very comparable to the Boeing 737 MAX. I won’t go into much detail, but to sum up, the DC-10 had a poorly designed cargo door that had a higher potential of not locking properly and then explosive decompression would follow.
The DC-10 experienced 2 deadly crashes related to the cargo doors, but a third accident related to engine mounting shattered its reputation. The media created a massive hysteria – the public did not trust the DC-10 anymore.
Similarly, the Boeing 737 MAX is going through a comparable situation. It had two fatal crashes that led to a terrible loss of life. The media went crazy with it, even creating fake stories that Ethiopian Airlines had to contradict. And with social media everywhere nowadays, it’s even harder to control your reputation. The opinion of the general population changed immediately.
And if you’ve looked at the general mood of the public, the image is clear as ice – not many people trust the Boeing 737 MAX anymore.
The de Havilland Comet sat on the ground for 4 years. During that time competitors managed to catch up and overcome the huge advantage the Comet had. It never recovered.
But the difference was that de Havilland had their eggs in one basket. They also did not have much competition at the beginning.
In contrast, Boeing has a lot of different and successful models currently flying in the air. While airlines might think twice about ordering the Boeing 737 MAX, other Boeing aircraft are doing incredibly well. So, while not infinite, Boeing still has the monetary resources.
Also, Boeing has competition. Competition, namely Airbus, forced Boeing into the 737 MAX. We’ve covered it in this article. Because Airbus has an upper hand in the upgraded-fuel-efficiency narrow-body aircraft market, Boeing simply cannot let the 737 MAX fade away. They will pour their hearts and souls that their jet flies.
Why? Well, low-cost carriers love their Airbus A320neo or the Boeing 737 MAX. They allow them to save a lot of money on operational costs, especially fuel.
And low-cost carriers are flourishing. They are taking over more and more of the market and legacy airlines that want to compete against them… buy their own A320s or 737s to fly their short-haul routes.
Boeing simply cannot afford to lose out on that much of the market. But every single time that the aircraft is even involved in a non-life threatening emergency, Boeing might struggle that much more.