One year after Lion Air crash, what’s the MAX’s future in Asia?

By Judson Rollins

Oct. 31, 2019, © Leeham News: One year ago this week, Lion Air flight JT610 went down in the Java Sea near Jakarta. It was the first of two accidents that would expose catastrophic design problems with the 737 MAX – and a regulatory relationship between Boeing and the FAA that had become too close to comfort.

Although much has been written about the US major carriers’ orders for the MAX, relatively little has been said about orders from the Eastern Hemisphere. Prior to the MAX’s grounding, 136 airplanes had been delivered to the region and another 1,186 were on firm order. This comprises nearly 27% of Boeing’s firm MAX orders.

The following table shows the top MAX operators in Asia & Australasia:

Deliveries and Orders

Airline Aircraft
Lion Air 245
VietJet Air 200
SpiceJet 167
China Southern 58
Garuda Indonesia 50
Virgin Australia 40
Jeju Air 40
Ruili Airlines 38
SilkAir 37
Korean Air 30

Lion Air is Asia’s largest MAX customer – even as its CEO, Rusdi Kirana, complained more than once that Boeing treats it as a “piggy bank.” Kirana threatened after the accident to cancel the airline’s remaining MAX orders, but has since admitted Lion “urgently requires” more MAXes to support its rapid growth. Questions abound over the viability of Lion Air’s growth plans, especially as it has twice as many aircraft on order as it currently flies – and nearby competitor AirAsia has an even larger order book.

(Both Lion Air and AirAsia have large orders for the Airbus A320neo family, intended for their leasing units.)

The next largest MAX customer in the region is VietJet, which boasted a nearly 11% pre-tax profit margin in 2018 and 9% in the first half of 2019. Although the airline is an all-Airbus operator at the moment, it has 200 MAXes on order, including 100 of the high-density MAX 200 variant. VietJet also has 111 A321neos on order, making it an obvious “flip” candidate for Airbus – although finding neo delivery slots in the near term may prove a tall order.

Return to service

The MAX’s return to service will depend on each country’s individual regulator, although it is expected that most smaller jurisdictions in Asia will wait for Japan’s JAA, Australia’s CASA, or even EASA to approve the MAX again before lifting their own grounding orders. This could well stretch into the second or third quarter of next year, depending on how long regulators outside the US take to complete their analyses.

A more complicated question may be how long it takes for China’s CAAC to clear the MAX, as this question could become a political football riding on the country’s ongoing trade disputes with America. The CAAC has said little about the MAX since its initial grounding in March. Chinese airlines and lessors have a total of 270 MAXes in their fleets or on order.

It remains to be seen just how well Boeing’s long-mooted NMA will sell in Asia, and whether the MAX’s issues will impact future Boeing sales in the region. But most discussion around the NMA has centered on European and North American carriers, which leads one to believe that airplane will likely be optimized for transatlantic and US transcontinental missions.

44 Comments on “One year after Lion Air crash, what’s the MAX’s future in Asia?

  1. Lion Air should hire more competent maintenance crew and more competent pilots instead of whining.

      • While Boeing must bare the primary responsibility the final report is pretty sad. Everything in the failure chain failed. Maintenance (did no check sensor calibration), second hand spare parts, crew behaviour and reporting (of the prior flight, they did not immediately return to airport but took the risk to continue their flight). Had the job been done properly Boeing may have learned of their problem via in service reports rather than from an air crash investigation and that air crash may never have happened.

        • Boeing should never have been dependent on outside help
          to bare their misdeeds. Good governance should have exposed and fixed non conformance resp. working around certification requirements and all over gaming the certification system. ( And here enters criminal behavior as the motivator was profits over everything else.)

        • Boeing was pirmayu clealry and continues to want the courpet relaionsihpo with Boeing to continue as is (Muilenburg clalry said there was no issue)

          US contirubed aiddtion in the so called repair shopt sent out eihter a non or miscalibarte AOA (gues there is some trianing neede there eh what?)

          Lion clealry has serous comepiany issue in pilot and maint. I am not qualified to say if this is Indoian issue or a Lion issue (I suspecdt its both)

          No single fix is the whole answer.

          The US and Europe are working to realistic simulator emergency scenarios that challenge the pilots and not just the sames rote scenario over and over again.

          That includes programing the Sims to stall (many amazing enough could not do that)

          And not to be undone, how did a NG let alone MAX simulators (all) get through certification’s themselves with the Manuel Trim non real? (which is a Sim certification bust)

          That is another string of actions that are not being talked about but were deliberate by someone.

          While the remarks were ignorant of the MAX situation, saying Indonesia has issues is also not racist by itself and I saw no racist language be it dog whistle, coded, subtle or otherwise.

        • “Everything in the failure chain failed.”

          Otherwise it wouldn’t be a failure chain, would it?

          • What I meant was that one can have a theoretical failure chain leading to a catastrophic failure in which not all links to form the actual failure are present. In this case there was the vulnerable non redundant MCAS design combined with a lack of information on MCAS in the pilots manual or training, the accidental removal of the sensor disagree alert, in addition we have faulty second hand sensor repair, a likely faulty installation and even pre Lion Air 610 original crew not reporting the MCAS fault to its full extent. (I imagine they were fearful of recriminations, which suggests that blame is a dangerous path to head down in aviation)

          • “In your face” exposure of a failure chain happens when all holes align : “Bang”.
            Here Boeing had prealigned a larger set of holes already. 🙂
            Good design practice tries to avoid exactly this kind of precondition per analysis and avoiding “known to be a bad idea” features.
            Attentive observation and analysis of collected data allows access to failure chains before that last hole aligns. ( Like rather recently A321NEO CoG issues ).
            Then you have by chance findings like the pickle fork thing on the NG. Seems to be nothing around to have this caught in regular checkups.

        • Boeing knew the problem before the first aircraft was delivered.
          It chose to keep delivering instead of fixing them.

    • Not to elaborate on BOEING’S criminal incompetence starting with the CEO, Board of Directors, and its Engineers/Test Pilots, with certain exceptions, who covered up the Blunders that led to these Dramatic Crashes. You should be thankful The the Chinese Aviation authorities for taking the wise initiative to Ground a All their B737 MAX following the Ethiopian event 6 months following the Lion Air, otherwise we may have experienced more crashes in the process of determining proximate causes.

    • No, what Lion Air should have done was to never order that death trap in the first place.

      • Boeing should never have sold to Lion Air and 3rd world countries with low standards. But then they might not have sold much.

        Boeing found airlines which might be greedy too …
        and booom …
        Boeing lost 10 billions in 8 months with no end in sight,
        but these 10 billions are not really the problem,
        the problem is they can’t hide behind FAA anymore
        and lost all reputations
        and everybody knows that they don’t care about safety.
        Only hot wheels might be interested in Boeings now,
        sure the kids want to have some real crash planes.

        • “Boeing should never have sold to Lion Air and 3rd world countries with low standards. But then they might not have sold much. ”

          To make it short:
          Boeing should never have sold the MAX as it exists as delivered to anyone. And if they tried a proper working FAA should have put a stop to it ( no certification ).

    • I actually think it’s kind of weird to blame them.
      Ofc it didn’t go perfect, but a system like an airplane has to be able to run safely even with average maintenance, average pilots on a bad day.
      MAX definitley isn’t that kind of plane.

      Crashes always have multiple reasons and room for improvement, but to bring the facts:
      The Lion air crew reported an incident, the plane was taken into maintanance, the faulty sensor was changed with a original brand new one. It was tested on the ground and did work.
      Can your really figure out you put a ill-calibrated sensor in?

      What else can you expect?
      Especially with that amount of information Boeing did provide.

      Boeing did a major blunder, and all the other issues are just minor parts of the puzzle.

  2. There’s a possibility that some of these MAX orders may defect to the Comac C919, when it’s certified. Any notion that a Comac would somehow be less safe than a Boeing is probably now moot in view of Boeing’s recent policy to flush quality down the toilet. I would imagine that China may try to accelerate the C919’s certification while concurrently delaying re-certification of the MAX, precisely to serve this purpose. I have no doubt that the Chinese will be able to do a phenomenal ramp-up of production when needed. The only sticking point at present is the LEAP 1-C engine, which comes from the USA/Europe. The fact that the C919 may have higher operating costs than a MAX will probably be mooted by a much lower purchase price.

    • The Irkut MC21 has had a few foreign sales and LOI. If it enters service as intended in first quarter 2021 (about 16 month away) it may start to take orders. By then it will be known as a Sukhoi. The Progress PD14 geared turbofan (BPR 8.5) will give a sanction proof design to both the MC21 and COMAC 919.

      • Yes, I hadn’t forgotten the Irkut MC21. My original line of thought was that any Russian offering would have to recover from the bad reputation of the Sukhoi Superjet…but, what the hell, look at the current reputation of the MAX, and the constant PW engine issues on the NEO (and A220)…is the Superjet really much worse than that?
        I agree that the Russians should be more than capable of designing a good engine: after all, they have a long tradition of aerospace development. If they can satisfactorily engine the Comac and Irkut planes, that will be a major headache for Boeing (in particular) and Airbus.

        • And China currently has no path to certification of the C919.

          China has not been able to make anything go faster in the 10 years its been in development, its under a state owned mfg.

          Getting a state owned enterprise to turn is like turning a super tanker, it takes forever.

          And China has never sold an aircraft over seas and successfully supported it (the small Turbos like the S100 are a mess)

          So whats the downside here?

          • The C919 is currently expected to be certified in China in 2021.

            Boeing may soon be a state-run enterprise if it has to receive a government bailout. And I’ve heard nobody at Boeing or the FAA mentioning a “path to certification” of the MAX…we’re all still waiting in the dark for Lazarus to be miraculously resurrected.

            China has a high-speed rail network/industry that’s the envy of the world…and it’s all home-grown. The US has nothing in this regard.

            China is currently churning out skyscrapers (200+ meters) at a rate of 76 per year…the US comes in second at 10 per year.

            They’re not idiots, you know 😉

          • “And China currently has no path to certification of the C919. ”

            What? Where did you read about this?

            Seriously, I want you to provide us a link so we can be so well informed!

          • Ok guys, you clearly do not get the different between an agency (AHJ per China and the grounding of the MAX) and a world wide recolonized aircraft standard for aircraft certification) – in this case China AHJ and its ops is no more respected than Zimbabwe is.

            the only way anyone would dream of buying it is if it was certified to EASA, FAA, Japan standards (those are the big 3) – sorry guys, she no a gonna fly anywhere as its not certified.

            Chinese certification’s to intentional standards does not exist, period.

            So even if you could overcome the hurdles of total inability to support a product – no one is going to buy it, period.

            If Robert Mugabe was still alive Zimbabwe would take a couple I am sure. They could circle Zaire endlessly.

            So, its not going to sell outside of China (Burma maybe) because it does not have that certification and China has failed miserably in getting it (they were so bad even the FAA gave up trying top work with them)

            We want to fly our 919 to London (after the British AHJ picks themselves up off the floor laughing, sorry old Boy, its not allowed)

          • You don’t think there’s a large intra-Asian market? Four of the five busiest airline routes in the world are intra-Asian.
            MD-80s/90s are rarely seen outside the US, but they’ve had a long working life within the US.
            Russian planes like Tupolevs and Antonovs were happily flying for decades outside the US and Europe.
            The way things are currently going, the MAX — if it ever gets recertified — may be a purely domestic US plane for a long time. Remember that its fate is in the hands of a farmboy from Iowa.

      • The only non former Soviet republic “sale” on the MC21 was 6 frames to Cairo aviation, a three Tupolev aircraft operation which despite being around for 20 years hasn’t managed to grow and who uses one of its three Tu-204s’ for cargo flights.
        Of the former former Soviet republic customers only one is non Russian.
        Azerbaijan Airlines for 10 copies.
        And the Russians have a far smaller ability than the Chinese to offer their aircraft at a steep discount.

        • Well, the Bombardier C series didn’t have a stellar number of sales until Airbus took over the program…and now it’s selling like hot cakes. Bottom line: fortunes can change.

          The same applies to Airbus itself: once the A300 got in the door at Eastern Airlines, things took off from there.

          If airlines are stuck between having to accept a very late delivery slot at Airbus or take a chance on the MC21, who knows what will happen? Remember that Iran (for example) still desperately needs planes.

    • “By then it will be known as a Sukhoi”
      The MC21 development ‘heritage’ was more with Yakovlev not Sukhoi.
      The Superjet is more of regional jet type and Sukhoi website in english doesnt mention the MC21 at all. ( Its covered by Irkut)

  3. Before return to service it makes sense that fines will have to be paid.
    Where is the difference between a 911 terrorist flight and a MAX flight.
    For every flight before the Lion Air crash the fine could be $1 million
    and after that $10 million.

    • Not sure how you setup a fine structure on an FAA certified aircraft system.

      Let alone it makes any sense. Boeing is well past nickle and dime fines let alone ones that are legally not impossible.

      Boeing could clear he decks by simply paying the survivors a large some of money for whatever compensation that brings (it would mean a lot to many and not much if any to some)

      While it does nothing to replace the personnel loss, the compensation lets those who need it move on with their lives they are stuck with now.

  4. Good god, Spirit has actually paid money to buy UK government vampire company Shorts! I wonder if their turn key carbon wing technology could be useful for the super urgent 757 replacement?

    • I think Spirit Aviation purchased Short Brothers from Bombardier. It appears Spirit now makes the Airbus A220 composite wings?

      • Grubbie:

        Take that, as good as Boeing getting the tech!

        Soon, Airbus will be ground into the dust of aviation past. Kind of like the US asleep at Pearl Harbor.

        How in the world did Airbus let this happen. Oh the humanity.

        • Spirit does work for Airbus too.
          Spirit had bought the Prestwick site from BAE and is involved in A320, A330, A350, A380 work at various other locations.
          Plus its not just fabrication as Spirit are moving up the value chain to design and development :
          “The Wichita-based aircraft supplier announced Tuesday at the Farnborough International Airshow an expansion that will increase its research and development footprint there [Prestwick] from 8,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet.”
          https://www.kansas.com/latest-news/article214978165.html

          Suggestion that Spirit is somehow ‘tied to Boeing’ are incorrect.

        • US asleep at Pearl Harbor.?

          Oh, man! US foreign politics targeting Japan in the decade before Pearl Harbor turned that from “improbable” into a “when” will a Japanese retort be initiated. Sarcasm based on misinformation does not work.

      • Faury might be Airbus’s answer to Boeing’s McNerney. I’m going to focus on making money, lots of money, and stock price. The Future? What’s that? Let’s delivery these planes and make trillions of dollars! Bonus time!

      • Not that it makes any difference:

        “Spirit announced its intention to acquire Asco in May 2018 for $650 million, and initially hoped to close the deal in the second half of 2018. The US company relies heavily on its aerostructures work for Boeing and has described the Asco purchase as a means to acquire more Airbus and defence work.”

    • There is distinction between being the manufacturer (aka factory owner) and owner of the know how, intellectual property owner. Are you saying Shorts owns the IP for the process to build the A220 wing? I’ve never been able to suss that out. As far as I can tell the IP may still reside with Bombardier.

      • Yes, apparently the IP was held by Short Bros Plc. Bombardier has no need to retain this technology and for the DHC business all the IP went to the new buyer.
        But Airbus may have been interested in the IP, but not the factory?
        https://leehamnews.com/2019/05/03/bjorns-corner-bombardier-selling-off-unique-cseries-technology/
        “The wing for the A220 is made with a unique Resin Transfer Injection (RTI) process which is ideally suited for manufacturing wing structures in the size and quantities needed for the A220 series.

        It combines a manual dry Carbon fiber mat layup with an injection of the Epoxy resin when the fibers, laid on the wing skin’s female mold, have been bagged and placed in an Autoclave. The wing skins produced are then entering the autoclave a second time adding additional mat layers and the wing’s stringers. “

        • Isn’t that what Airbus uses for to begin with pressure bulkheads for a range of types (A340NG, A380, 787, A350, .. ?)

  5. The world is perfectly primed for a third major contender in commercial aviation. If the waitlist on orders is so long that airbus isn’t even able to scale up their manufacturing in response, the competitive dynamic is screwed and a third party should be diving in.

    An ambitious group could pull a Tesla style maneuver by hiring some great young engineers, lining up some crazy funding, and approaching the design and manufacturing with modern techniques. This shit is hard, but not that hard, and no one has capitalized on artificial neural network designed parts/systems, 3D printed structures, automated assembly, and vertically integrated supply chain. It’s not a hard sell either; Aerospace was always supposed to be about all the best new tech – not endlessly fiddling with 50 year old designs.

    If the right person pulls the trigger, and we’re all gonna be left scratching our heads wondering what happened to Boeing dominance in commercial aviation (and it’s 9.6% weight in the Dow Jones average).

    What I would give to be spinning up a clean-slate commercial division at Lockheed Martin right now.

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