About 40% of MAX fleet now grounded-but not by FAA

March 12, 2019, © Leeham News: About 40% of the world’s in-service Boeing 737 MAX fleet were grounded by the end of yesterday, Seattle time, after more governments and airlines banned operations.

Singapore was the latest to ban MAX operations from its air space.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday there isn’t enough information yet from the Ethiopian Airlines crash Sunday to conclude a grounding order is necessary.

But it added that it will issue an order for a mandatory action by April to make improvements to the flight control system. Boeing late Monday confirmed a software upgrade is in the works for its MCAS stall recovery system used on the MAX.

LNA reported early Monday that a plan to implement a software upgrade following the October crash of a Lion Air MAX 8 had not been implemented.

Where is the MAX?

China, which grounded the MAX Monday (local time), has more MAXes than any other region. The USA is second.

China also has the largest backlog of the MAX, according to an analysis by investment bank Credit Suisse.


58 Comments on “About 40% of MAX fleet now grounded-but not by FAA

  1. Singapore has now banned 737MAX from its airspace.

    The FAA has now clearly lost the confidence of some major governments. Those governments still permitting MAX operations are probably going to start feeling the heat for doing so from their politicians and populations. Plus they have to consider the possibility that another crash will occur, but in their territory; that’d be hard to explain, given the groundings elsewhere. Do they want to take that chance?

    Soon the MAX could be a US-only aircraft.

    It’s doubtful that the FAA’s credibility around the world can be easily restored. Their initial and enduring approval of MCAS is hard to explain, even if this latest tragedy has nothing to do with MCAS. If this was MCAS again, well that’s effectively the end of the FAA’s role as one of the world’s trusted type approval bodies.

    Governments might start questioning the safety of other type approvals issued by the FAA. How many other Boeings might that ground? A lot of these are flying literally because, “The Americans said it was safe”.

    There’s not even a need for such extended concerns to be realistic – it’s given countries looking for a geopolitical opportunity to sting the USA a cast iron excuse for slugging it to Boeing.

    Singapore is interesting because it’s not a country one would ever identify as wishing to annoy the USA. Far from it, in fact. Nor could it be labelled as anything but competent.

    • Perhaps the FAA are stuck because they mandated the need for the MCAS and subsequently certificated it. In the cosy world of this process there may be a story that neither party want to be told..

    • The FAA credibility has been questioned time and time again. They issued an Airworthiness Certificate for the Dreamliner (B787) and later grounded it for over 3 months due to batteries fire. Later recertify the plane not with a redesign battery but a box to contain the battery in case of a fire which is ridiculous.
      Now we have the Max 8 and the MCAS was found to have attributed to the Lion Air crash but why was nothing done to update the software? How many more lives need to be sacrificed before the FAA take notice and enforce the necessary modifications? I am totally disgruntled and disappointed with the way things are!!!

    • A lot of tier 2 airlines fly into Singapore, and the city is very dense. They will NOT risk a MAX cratering into their city or having to spend the $$ to dredge the plane from the water.

  2. If a surgical procedure led to an unexpected death we would not continue to do it until we know what went wrong. Flying is not a life threatening emergency. There is no reason not to ground the entire fleet. If I were the Boeing CEO I would recommend that the moment the initial reports on the Ethiopian crash came out that established a similarity with the October crash given that they might not be related. I own a lot of Boeing stock and if management does not make the move I am selling it.

    • DofU
      Surely you have it wrong, it is BBD’s fault as their illegal subsidy of the Cseries has led in a direct and identifiable trail to the development of an inherently unstable aircraft in the MAX. They forced Boeing to dust off a design that was 50+ years old and forced them to place the engines where they did..

      • Wasn’t it the fault of the neo that Boeing was forced to dust off a half century old design? 😉

        • Bombardier forced Airbus to built the neo.
          According to Boeing the neo just closed the gap to reach the NG.

        • The A320NEO was the result of the C series, the MAX was in turn the result of responding to the NEO

          • The A320neo was partly due to the A320ceo landing in the Hudson River and the statistical analysis of number of CFM56-5B’s flying and the population of the Goose spiece downing the A320ceo. They got a number of # of years before another occurance of goose induced dual engine failure.

      • Your comment is totally misleading and ridiculous as how can the development of the C series be the cause of the failure in the Max development putting aside the unfounded comment of illegal subsidy!!!!

  3. FlightGlobal reported that Boeing will ‘upgrade’ the FCC by April. The most interesting part for me is that the new software will

    “provide a limit to stabiliser commands in order to retain elevator authority”

    Since when should it be allowed to ever loose elevator authority. You can’t maneuver the airplane without the elevator.

    I knew something was wrong with the elevator input with regard to the Lion Air crash, but the above words suggest that in some circumstance the trim stabiliser can exert a force that the elevator can’t override. If the suggestion is true, then I’m beyond stunned.

    At least they are going to prevent it. But it should be a mechanical prevention not a software prevention.

    Does though come back to the same issue of pitch stability. Specifically, it appears that a significant amounts of stabiliser trim is required, moving the overall Centre of Lift back, to maintain pitch stability because the Centre of Gravity has moved forward because of the engines. No wonder performance is crap.

      • Yes I did. But there were a number of theories. Previously I suggested that the elevator was in-operative for some reason.

        The key point is that it is all about the elevator and as always been about the elevator. Therefore not the trim stabiliser.

        I do put the theories out there. The theory with regard to controlling the CofG/CofL with excessive use of the trim stabiliser is a theory.

        The key point is that the engine/wing mounting is causing all sorts of pitch stability issues to the point at which Boeing don’t appear to know the envelope.

        Afterall they have allowed the elevator to lose it’s authority, which is something I discounted for the reason I gave. Specifically, you can’t maneuver the airplane without the elevator.

        But no apology for fiercely suggesting it was the elevator. Trim stabilisers must never cause the elevator to loose authority. Indeed nothing should cause the elevator to loose authority.

        To put it another, the problem is far worse than my mind allowed me to think.

        I don’t see how the FAA can allow this airplane to fly. Boeing have admitted that the elevator can loose authority. It’s like saying the ailerons can loose authority.

      • To go further, to my credit, I did admit I was beyond stunned. Didn’t cross my mind that Boeing would allow it.

        • How about you practise some humility instead of twisting your own words? That might restore some of your credibility.

          • Nope. I was right from the beginning, I needed to find out what was happening. So I put it out there.

            No twisting of words. I did not anticipate the truth for I gave Boeing far more credit than they deserve.

            From the beginning I’ve always posted contrary to the view that the cause was the trim stabiliser. Elevators maneuver airplanes in pitch not trim stabilisers. Why the elevator wasn’t working wasn’t made public, so I took a number of guesses. Nothing wrong with that.

            Address your own credibility. Your taking one of my posts and elevating it above all others. Pun intended. So get over yourself.

          • By the way, I’ve been systematically bashed by Boeing supporters for not accepting the view that it was trim stabiliser runaway, which could be corrected by a simple well-known procedure. So you bashing me isn’t unexpected.

            Look at all my posts, otherwise you are the one twisting words. As you say, humility

          • Phillip:

            As a clear not anyone fan but an deeply interested in Aviation, I find you input all over the map.

            This kind of discussion requires both a technical understanding of how a Commercial Jet works and the correct use of the terminology for that aircraft.

            This has been pointed out repeatedly and you continue to hash it up.

            At a point people begin to loose patience with someone who is trying to learn and decide that person is just flinging stuff out.

            I suggest you step back, start to learn, ask questions but quit throwing stuff out.

            An no, you have been very wrong on many aspects of this over and over again because you don’t understand it and don’t have the discipline to learn.

          • Transworld:

            None of your requirements you meet. Give it a break. You don’t have the education. We all know that! Your the god, telling everybody to comply.

            If you add an education you would know we laugh at you.

      • To go even further, everything is now up for grabs because the word ‘normal’ doesn’t apply. For example, a ‘normal’ trim stabiliser does not override the authority of the elevator

        • Yes Philip, a normal Stabilizer does override the elevator. Because it is much bigger. It’s not a Cessna with a trim tab.

    • Absolutely sickening and political. Boeing and the FAA again a la 787. Ex-director of FAA on CNN last night had the nerve to say that “two points do not necessarily connect” and that the plane is safe. Really? Are you waiting for a 3rd point? As passengers, we can get x-rayed, padded, harassed, interrogated, stripped from expensive colognes because of the small chance that might be a terrorist? Now we have a brand new model leading to two deadly crashes, by mechanisms that are similar enough to Boeing to suggest an update in software, yet we are to conclude to ignore that and continue to fly on that plane?


      • That’s a good comparison. Last week I was standing beside a pilot as we both got wanded for explosives. Several times a week he gets the security theatre, he told me.

        And here we have a real threat bringing planes out of the sky, but we refuse to address it.

    • Before the bashers arrive, can I make clear that I do understand that all of the stabiliser moves when the pilot sets the trim of a trim stabiliser. But the movements are hugely restricted which means a trim stabiliser is not considered an all moving stabiliser. All moving stabilisers manuever the airplane in pitch as well as trim the airplane. Trim stabilisers still use an elevator to manuever the airplane in pitch.

      But Boeing appear to have designed a trim stabiliser that can in some manner revoke elevator authority. I openly admit, it never crossed my mind that Boeing were that bad. So my posts never offered it as an option. I gave Boeing more credit than they deserved.

      Presumably, Boeing have patented this magnificant piece of engineering under the name ‘Grim Reeper’.

      Actually, I still think it is the FCC. So I haven’t changed my mind from the very first post when I said, with regard to the Lion Air crash, that the FCC went into melt down. The words “retain authority” with regard to the elevator have a number of meanings. So it still can be software as opposed to hardware.

      The words “retain authority” with regard to the elevator is double speak. Time Boeing spoke clearly.

  4. The double speak of the FAA is quite startling:

    “flight control system enhancements, which provide reduced reliance on procedures associated with required pilot memory items”,

    So it’s official that pilots are going to be made culpable for not reacting to software that they did not know about and appears to point the aircraft straight down by default in certain conditions

    “plans to update training requirements and flight crew manuals to go with the design change”

    Am guessing this means that they will now tell something about a new system to the pilots that was conspicuous by its absence before”

    Boeing on the other hand….

    “been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer”

    They seem to have taken quite some time to provide the enhancement which may suggest this is not easy to do. Not sure about their definition of safe, this aircraft currently has worse stats of any entry into service for something like 40 years

  5. What’s the impact on Boeing if the MAX lose the same-type rating with NG?

    • Afaik, they would need to recertify the whole aircraft, which would be some work for them as the fuselage does not meet modern regulations.

    • There is a differece between aircraft certification and type rating for pilots.

      I doubt that the A350 inherited anything from A330 but for pilots A350 is just a subtype of A330.

      I doubt a B737MAX could be certified today without the grandfathering rights from 737-100.

  6. Australia has now grounded the MAX,they are not convinced by Boeing and the FAA either.

  7. HI guys, why is the Max 8 inherently more unstable than its predecessors? Is it
    because of engine placement?

  8. ** In defense of the FAA/EASA/etc who have not formally grounded the MAX **

    (yes i know i will get savaged but go right at it)

    Complex regulatory decisions can’t be made on a whim. This is why rule of law / due process countries usually work better than those which do not. Political expediency is too dangerous. We can see it every day when the top political levels are hijacked by ‘itisaboutmeonly’ individuals.

    The regulatory agencies need more than initial similarities to issue a ground stop for a widely used model, however tantalizing are the clues. Real business and yes, people convenience in free movement countries, are at stake.

    It may take xx days for them to acquire such confidence, especially in this case where Crash2 occurred over land. They know the black boxes can be more easily recovered, hence they know they can ‘match’ within reasonable time the patterns to see if Crash1 and Crash2 are similar enough to warrant a generalized ground stop.

    And please, while any loss of life is deeply regretful, do not wrap yourself around the ‘but we may have solved a lot of life’. Sure. But how is this different from defects in cars that we have everyday that cause many many deaths? You just can’t mandate/enforce a ground stop on those cars. Think of the (correctly) assigned blame on GM with their ignition issue vs. the (collective pundit) hysteria around Toyota and ‘self carpet accelerating’ ‘scandal’.
    The probability of a Crash3 exists. Yes. But the ground stop cost vs. a few days to 2-3 weeks is too high.

    Let the process works. Those agencies are not populated by complete idiots. And they are not on the take either.
    The market is also helping put the right pressure on Boeing. In hindsight, Boeing & folks will get really, really savaged if it turns out that yes there is a real fault pattern and will regret not having been more aggressive since Crash1. Today’s groundings are mostly press/emotion related (and some healthy abundance of caution). Watch in 3-5-7 days how these are (quietly) put back in flight if nothing proved comes out.

    • I agree it is all about what happens next. The issue we have nowadays is that so many aircraft are pumped into the system every month that a safety issue like this will compound or repeat pretty quickly. What is a real concern to me is the pace at which certification was achieved in the first place for what was a significant change.

      The MAX required very substantial re-engineering and my view is that Boeing focused too much on it being an update of the old model and did not address the fact that this is effectively a new and very different aircraft. Those sort of issues will now have to be addressed with each month tens more rolling off the line at Renton. All potentially with a major safety flaw.

      So the storyline so far

      1 Boeing develop new variant in haste at low cost
      2 FAA require more failsafes on pitch and yaw control
      3 Boeing develops MCAS to mask issues
      4 FAA certificates
      5 aircraft falls out of the sky
      6 Boeing and FAA blame pilots
      7 urgent behind the scenes updates sought
      8 2nd aircraft falls out of the sky
      9 Boeing and FAA blame pilots
      10 what next?

      • I think your posts are bang-on. Good summary.

        Boeing must be held to account and even though we are getting more clarity I still don’t think we know the truth about the Lion Air crash.

        Yes, we now know elevator authority can be lost. But the words can be interpreted in a number of ways. So we need more clarity as to why elevator authority can be lost. For example, is the elevator too small? That’s the simplist interpretation.

      • Shall I recall readers that the 737 had problems with elevator from day one to the point tht FAA/NTSB requested twice a redesign of the elevator mechanism .. last time in 2000 about … in the mean time accidents were “only” pilots suicides

  9. The software upgrade is expected to be made mandatory by an FAA airworthiness directive.

    If their software upgrade really will “provide a limit to stabiliser commands in order to retain elevator authority”, that does seem to indicate that until this software upgrade is applied it would be possible for the pilots of an aircraft to be put in a position where they cannot control the pitch of their aircraft.

    That would make me feel very, very uneasy to put it mildly.

    Does this software upgrade make the MCAS system more fault tolerant ? Is input compared using all available sensors ?

    Remembering Bjorn’s Corner: Pitch stability, Part 10. Wrap up. if you look at Figure 1. I wonder how this software upgrade will now affect the pitch moment curve ?

    Something does not add up.

    If the original amount of stabiliser movement was/is required to make the pitch moment curve acceptable, them limiting it would make the pitch moment curve less acceptable would it not ?

    If the level of stabiliser movement controlled by MCAS is acceptable after the software upgrade, why was this not the case in the first place ?

    When was it was decided that MCAS was necessary, during the design phase when BA decided that the only way to put larger engines on the 737 was to mount them further forward, and higher, or was it only discovered once the test aircraft were flying, and the flight envelope being verified ?

    Are there any 737MAX flight simulators, i.e. those enabled with MCAS, or was it thought unnecessary to modify existing flight simulators ?

    If such a simulator exists, has anyone flown the MAX to high angles of attack in the area where MCAS kicks in to see if a stick shaker, and stall warning is not enough, leaving the pilots to do what pilots should do, Aviate, without potentially over complicating things. Is it the case that MCAS is needed in order to give the pilots sufficient time to react ?

    Are the pitch moment curves of the MAX 8, 9, and 10 different ? Is the MCAS software different for each of these models ?

    Maybe it’s time for an outside body (not BA, or the FAA) to take a good hard considered look at the MAX, all of the test data, and certification, EASA perhaps ? Would there be anyone else better suited, impartial, and objective ?

    • There are certification requirements on pitch curve vs alfa that had to be met hence the MCAS. The question is how violent is the curve in worst case and is it safer to train pilots on it than adding the MCAS?

      • Agreed, the question needs to be asked.

        But you’d also not want to completely remove the pilots ability to control the aircraft pitch.

        If you did have to add MCAS, surely you’d want to train the pilots on it’s operation as part of their conversion course from NG to MAX ?

        Wouldn’t you put them in a simulator, have them climbing out after takeoff, in clear weather, flaps up, and fail the AOA sensor, have MCAS kick in ?

        What would you do in this situation, the aircraft is pushing the nose down, is the stall warning going off, is the stick shaker active ?

        Check your airspeed, and attitude, look outside the cockpit, you pull the column back, nose rises briefly, but then it pushes down again, and you are gaining airspeed, which of your instruments are you going to believe ?

        Too late we’re in the ground as we started the exercise at FL12 just after we’d retracted the flaps.

        This may be an unrealistic scenario, but perhaps there should be an independent body that does verify aircraft certification by literally throwing the kitchen sink at a very experienced pilot in the simulator.

        Throw things like MCAS has kicked in unexpectedly (for whatever reason), and left engine fails a few second later.

        Crashes are often chains of events, things that nobody thought could happen together, or were thought too unlikely to plan for.

    • If the MCAS is there to prevent the 737 from flipping on its back like a hydro boat, then the restoring force is the upward force of the hori-stab. On the 9 and 10 this has a longer moment arm, so less of an issue? On the 7, a shorter moment arm, so one would think this would be the worst case for this instability and where MCAS is needed he most.

  10. EASA is very quiet.

    The figures in this news article should have shown the number of 737 MAX after jurisdiction, FAA, EASA, CAAC etc.

    There are many 737 MAX in operation in EASA airspace and by EASA certified airlines.

    • The FAA and EASA respect each other’s jurisdiction. I may be corrected, but I think it is by treaty. The 737 MAX is the FAA’s jurisdiction. EASA won’t act until the FAA acts

  11. “But it (FAA) added that it will issue an order for a mandatory action by April to make improvements to the flight control system. ”

    Seems to me that the FAA is acknowledging a significant safety problem exists but is willing to put passengers and crew at risk until at least April to give the company time to address the issue. If this isn’t regulatory capture, I don’t know what is.

  12. UK CAA has just banned MAX from their airspace. Assume Ireland will follow as MAX is used by Norwegian on transatlantic from SNN and DUB.

    Hope CVR is being listened to asap.

    • Add canda to the growing list, apparently several ac in usa airspace have also suffered dont sink dont sink warnings with immediate action required by the pilots, 2 alone in november!
      Canadian authirities have recieved extra data that has backed up their decision to ground the canadian fleet, is the faa waiting on a fatality before they react? Considering a few close calls have already happened!

  13. Some people questioned the Chinese CAAC ban on MAX as a political move. But you know it is a huge reputation hit to the FAA when someone like the UK CAA goes against them.

    I wonder how future FAA certification of Boeing aircraft will be received by foreign jurisdictions as this is the second Boeing aircraft in a row that had to be grounded by them.

  14. Does the action mean the SW installed in all planes by April 1 or is that an April 1 joke?

  15. Update, after canda grounds max fleet, boeing and the faa have followed suit!
    Finally, hopefully no more souls will be lost and boeing can fix this issue.

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