With no end of MAX grounding in sight, Boeing may be forced to cut or suspend production soon

Dec. 11, 2019, © Leeham News: With confirmation by the Federal Aviation Administration that recertification of the 737 MAX won’t happen until 2020, Boeing is rapidly facing a decision whether to reduce or suspend MAX production.

With no end in sight, Boeing can’t continue production of the MAX at the rate of 42/mo much longer.

Through Dec. 6, there were just under 400 MAXes that have been produced. Another 381 MAXes were in service when global regulators grounded the fleet March 11-13.

The issue is not cash

The issue for Boeing is not financial, although clearly Boeing is pumping cash out the door every month. Boeing had plenty of liquidity at Sept. 30, its last reporting period. It also has plenty of room to raise more money in the debt markets. It also could, should things come to it, postpone completing the Boeing-Embraer joint venture (which still is pending regulatory approvals) and potentially use the $4.5bn in debt raised to buy 80% of Embraer Commercial Aviation.

The issue is finding parking for and managing the inventory of more than 400 airplanes that will have been produced by the end of December. January will add another 42 MAXes at the current production rate, and so on.

No end of grounding in sight

Boeing only a month ago thought the MAX would be recertified this month. The FAA administrator, Stephen Dickson, quickly shot that down. Today, he was specific in an interview with CNBC and in testimony before Congress.

Certification won’t happen until next year.

He then went on to list a general set of processes and steps that have yet to be done across several FAA reviews.

He did not specify what other regulators will do and when they will do it.

EASA, the European agency, previously said it will probably run about 30 days behind the FAA. Ryanair, a European airline, doesn’t expect recertification until spring. It no longer expects its MAXes to be delivered before the summer.

Instead of growing clarity, the ambiguities seem as prevalent as ever.

Nearing a decision

All this means Boeing executives have to decide very soon—perhaps as early as this month, more likely in January—whether to reduce production or suspend it entirely.

“We continue to work closely with the FAA and global regulators towards certification and the safe return to service of the MAX,” a Boeing spokesman wrote LNA when asked about reports in the supply chain that a suspension is coming. “At this time, we continue to produce the 737 at the rate of 42 airplanes per month. Our objective is to ensure supply chain health and production system stability. We will continue to assess production decisions based on the timing and conditions of return to service, which will be based on regulatory approvals and may vary by jurisdiction.”

Boeing’s 2019 financial results will be announced Jan. 29. A suspension of stock dividends is already expected, a major move by Boeing that the Board has resisted since the grounding. (Stock buybacks were suspended right away.)

If a decision is made to cut or suspend production, an announcement may come before the earnings call on the 29th.

 

 

 

85 Comments on “With no end of MAX grounding in sight, Boeing may be forced to cut or suspend production soon

  1. Some of this is driven by standards required for the stock reports.

    Ie you can’t hid bad news and stopping production is potentially there so has to be up front.

    As for the rest we have to wait and see, its too fast a moving issue to predict so its all speculation until fact emerge.

    I am just taking a wait and see, it seems it close to being put to the test and then ok if it passes.

  2. I never cease to be astonished by the airline industries ability to cope with this, along with the pickle forks and airbus production problems there will soon be 1000 airliners missing from the global fleet.

    • Well you simply do not retire some aircraft, interim lease, put your finger in the air and extend leases.

      In turn they can slow delivery by Boeing to suit the changed circumstances.

      I don’t think Boeing stands a snowballs chance in hell of charging the airlines for any of it and in turn will pay massive offsets for years (usually not cash but lower prices, maint for free, extended, etc)

      I believe we have an oversupply developing as well so it may be advantageous and a lot of the fleets are reasonably new aircraft.

      • Boeing is going to eventually scrap all the max’s the’ve built. It was stupid of them to continue building a plane they knew was unsafe. Everything that Boeimg has done to correct the problem is just cosmetic cover. The problem with the Max is the under size airframe and the over sized and over weight engines. Plus now with the discovery of the cracks in the pickel forks just adds to its problem. So the only solution is to remove the engines and that whole MCAS nonsense, and try to make it into a real old fashion 737 300 or 400! And if they can’t do it, scrap it so it wont kill again. But never, never should it ever fly again.

        • You have a very optimistic view of the attention span and length of public memory.

          Sadly, as Boeing will apply significant pressure to news sources and via their own marketing efforts, I doubt a year after the Max RTS people will remember that they can’t trust anything Boeing says publicly and it will just be business as usual.

          I don’t even think another crash after RTS would be enough to kill the Max program, Boeing is too tied in with the FAA and this particular administration for this program to become a total write off for them.

          BP destroyed the coastline and still hasn’t completely cleaned up their mess and claimed record profits within a months of the disaster, Johnson & Johnson literally put asbestos in their baby powder and releases unsafe drugs on a regular basis, but hey, they are a “Family Company”, Boeing has on multiple occasions poisoned the groundwater -near elementary schools – in King County. There is such a thing as too big to fail, and as Boeing’s revenue stream is largely subsidized by the US Government and can exert pressure on its policy makers, I doubt anything would be enough for Boeing to consider pulling the plug.

          • “Sadly, as Boeing will apply significant pressure to news sources and via their own marketing efforts, I doubt a year after the Max RTS people will remember that they can’t trust anything Boeing says publicly and it will just be business as usual.”

            Are you kidding? Do you think a guy like Ralph Nader (whose niece was on the Ethiopian 737) is going to let anyone forget this? Just ask General Motors how bad Ralph Nader burned their reputation.

            Do you think that a 2-hour Docu-Drama (or worse…a Hollywood Movie) of the 737 debacle isn’t already being planned? And will be shown on TV and Youtube for years to come (as well as being exported around the world)?

            I do think some serious damage has been done.

          • There’s definitely an argument that Boeing’s success is integral part of the national security of the US.
            But a fixed 737 MAX will be as safe as other aircraft. Commercial Air is the safest way to travel compared to every other method in the US.
            I rather take my chances on a 737 MAX fixed or unfixed than rail, driving a car on the 405 in LA, or walking into a school in the US.

          • Jimmy,

            I think many people expearienced a very turbulent flight once in their lives, something which happens and you can’t change that. But they can avoid to expearience it in a MAX.

            A movie about JT043, those passengers were/are traumatised.

            Did someone expearienced a roller coaster in a 737, the captain might tell in advance but still it must be crazy. How many degrees nose down would that be?

            8 years ago when I was in China I took a normal usual city bus. Bus drivers there are crazy, they are race driving, fighting every other car, changing lanes often and fast. People who were standing in the middle of the bus were falling to the ground even with both hands on a bar.

        • Boeing Chicago knew its profits from producing 737NG’s, as volume kept increasing they could squeeze suppliers for even better prices, Boeing Chicago did not really have the skills to evaluate the A320neo/A321neo price/performance assuming it was a 50-50 market as both sold as many Aircraft they could produce. It came to its edge on the 737-10 where Boeing went for the cheap solution of keeping very much common and beliving it would sell alot as it was to become the cheapest way to haul +200 pax a few hours as the majority of 737 routes are. Then Airlines did not really behave as Boeing thougt as they went for the bigger A321neo/XLR to be used on mixed routes, many longer than a MTOW 737-10 could fly from especially at short runways at high altitude Airports.

          • Boeing Commercial Aircraft HQ remains in Seattle where it’s always been, along with 70,000 employees in Washington.
            In Chicago? Around 700 , yes 7 hundred.

        • My very thoughts indeed.
          Also putting out some fancy thoughts: Consider redesigning a longer (of about 6 inches) main landing gear (and correspondingly nose gear) to retract inboard as usual but slightly forward at an angle to the line joining the main pivots on the spars, to accommodate the longer oleos in the “keyhole recesses” in the underbelly of the fuselage. If a rotating pivot could be designed, strong & secure enough.

        • I have been in the commercial aviation industry for over 30 years. Mostly in QA and repairs. I will never ever fly on a 737 max. Scrap [it].

      • I’ve been suspecting that Boeing’s aggressive push towards 63/mo before the grounding was largely driven by their goal to flood the market with narrow bodies before the Chinese, Russian and Japanese competitors enter service.

        Even now their rate studies are pushing to 63/mo a year after their projected RTS when many airlines would benefit more from leasing until closer to 2025 when the market is saturated and they can either pick up an aging Max at a significant discount or get a very competitive price on a superior SpaceJet or other competitor (especially considering how public opinion will be affecting Max use for up to a year after RTS [before public memory complete forgets this ever happened]).

      • It’s all very well extending the leases, but those aircraft were intended to be replacing dying planes somewhere else. Where are the spare parts for these pensioners coming from? The suppliers now have much more demand than they were expecting and a lot of those spare parts were expected to come from organ donating dead planes. Its a miracle of the free market.

    • Airbus output problems are quite overstated.
      For 2019 they will deliver more than in 2018. Shortfall is in low single percent range : 20..30/860 ~ 2..3%
      while 737 deliveries are a complete miss : 100% at the moment and with only ~~80% of expected output in storage.

      Even if Boeing manages to push that inventory to customers ( and actual use ) 20%+ of the expected output was never produced.

      A lot will be caught by extending existing fleet’s service life.

    • “there will soon be 1000 airliners missing from the global fleet.”

      could you elaborate on the “missing airframes ” brand composition ?
      afaics 20..40 frames projected output may be missing from Airbus.
      another 500.. 580 from Boeing. IMU the overwhelming majority.

  3. Continuing production at 42 rate, when had been discovered other issues then MCAS, is or a sign of bravery or stupidy or both.

    They will have to reengineer those produced airframes probably to address eg. inoperative manually trim wheel or cut out switches. I hope they will do that. I don’t see other viable solution to this issues. MCAS would be the easiest one of all.

    But who will forbid a rich man to waste his money?

    • No, its simply a matter of reality.

      Once you stop something, getting it started is incredibly difficult.

      Boeing has a lot of monetary leeway, you will note they stopped stock buy back very quickly (granted its a terrible shame they did not use that for new aircraft)

      You also have contract agreements and as Boeing was responsible for the debacle they would have to pay anyway.

      And you have massive affect on suppliers who you may run out of business and have to replace (or try)

      Other than money Boeing has nothign to loose and demonstrated by stock buy back for eons, that is no big deal.

      A bit of reading and you get a clearer idea of the complexity of hand built aircraft and the affects which are not transistor radios (yea I know I am dating myself and those truly are dinosaurs though still cool).

      Simple answer need not apply.

      • The Difficulties for Boeing Stock Are Not Priced In Really. Lots of Hot Air.
        It think there are similarities with Pyramid schemes. Everybody needed to buy based on promises. Bad sign were always “foreseen” or “incorporated” and they always got away with it. Because every wants BA to be successful. Stock value is now 2.5 times as high as three years ago. Hot Air.

        • Well, compared to other stocks for companies to lose money and have questionable means of ever being profitable, Boeing stock looks pretty good. At some point the 737 Max will be re-certified.

      • Partially you’re right, for first few months it was reasonable. But after that period they should had cut more production rate and start to reengineer existing airframes. Stopping production is a hard chip and nothing good. I imagine that 42 rate was for Wall Street purposes and because Boeing is bold “that’s only MCAS, is already fixed – nothing to watch”, but it is unsustainable for longer period even for Boeing and suited well to make a unexpressed pressure on FAA / Trump / regulators.

        • I think Boeing should give me a million dollars as well, but they havn’t, darn.

          They just never do what we tell them to do.

          As I recall Einstein was attributed to have said something to the affect that inanity is doing the same thing over and over again and experiencing a different result?

        • Reengineer what? How?

          There’s no new, approved design to build to.
          There’s no plan for a new design to even submit for certification.

  4. What miracle does BOEING perform to have their shares today reverse from an almost double digit(%) Loss today to an almost double digit Gain, when all news reports on Boeing is prone for more disastrous results? Are these the Boeing Buyback shares that are having this effect?

    • No, the buy back was stopped when the grounding was imposed.

      I think its a great question as to what it would take to crash the stock. And what the hell the worth of stock buy backs is (or mare accuracy is not – if I was a shareholder I think I would rather have the money out of my stock dividend, where is AP Roberts when we need him?)

      Oddly, it may be the real reflection of value as any .Com company would be gone by now. Something to be said about real assets vs an idea that comes and then goes)

      • Boeing is such a large portion of the Dow Jones index, that many so called index funds will have it no matter what. Oh ..there’s that other little thing of 1000s of Max’s are presold including all those stored.

        • like keesje said: pyramid scheme.

          Lot’s of issues. The public isn’t buying the Max; airlines are. Who would want to own a a potentially dangerous lemon? Every act of Boeing seems to be about stock value and not production. It’s all theater. And like with all Ponzi schemes, when it all tumbles; someone (probably American tax payers) will be left holding a whole bunch of nothing (and an even bigger bunch of lemons).

      • I believe the advantage (to the shareholders) of stock buybacks is that the shareholders will receive the income as capital gains rather than dividends, resulting in a lower rate of taxation.

  5. Why wouldn’t Boeing just stabilize the production at 42 for the foreseeable future as the FAA will be closely inspecting how the production line works. Keeping at 42 and building a buffer instead of increasing rates later on to 52/57 or whatever.
    Coupled with a longer Holiday break for 2-4 weeks, seems like a better interim solution.

    • Suppsoely they run out of parking space but I am doubing that.

      Covneient parkints pace per the off laighe Moses Lake yes, but there is Victorville as well.

      The more scattered the harder it is for Boeing to manage keeping them operation.

      The production line running has nothign to do with FAA re-certifaion – none of that line build is at issue.

      The issues are all MCAS and the new jointed computer system certification and that is software not production hardware.

    • When I heard that that Boeing had stated that the MAX should be recertified by December I immediately regarded it as suspect. This is a “thrown date” that comes not from a careful analysis of tasks remaining but that comes from wishful thinking of wanting to complete by the end of the US financial and calendar year, Christmass and pushing dates back. Never works. A lot of people want to go only holiday, if not poor Boeing workers then regulators. It’s best at this point everyone have a break, recuperate. They will come back with new perspectives, insights energy and solutions. Setting unrealistic dates likely lead to ‘haste makes waste” issues.

  6. The FAA needs to be independant from manufacturers and politics, with only one duty, safety and not promoting duties for the industry.

    One thing is sure, a bad MAX won’t fly in EASA member countries. Only because of that EASA is in control of the MAX process now.

    Maybe this will be the future, FAA and EASA won’t certify together but in a tandem with close connections.

  7. Stand fast, look ahead, and move.

    Good leadership requires toughness, a clear vision and decision making. The MCAS debacle shows a total lack of vision and of decision making.

    To keep the production running is a sign of weakness, lack of imagination and muddled strategic vision. If a problem like this arises in any company you have to face the fact that it can threaten its very existence. What you have to do then is look at all the options you have and possible scenarios. Then you have to make decisions that minimise risks and optimise chances. If that had been done, the production of the MAX would certainly have been curtailed significantly asap, maybe like 50%. With that you would cover both extremes A) large scale rework of the plane and B) fix only MCAS as well as 1) may take a very long time or 2) could be solved in a few months.

    You have to look also into the worst case scenario, which is that the MAX can not be fixed and make a calculation how you could survive that scenario and which maximum interim production rate could be sustained for how long. Plus you need a replacement product as soon as any possible, both for your own good and for your customers. By using existing technology it should be possible to develop such a product in a rather short time frame. Should the MAX be re-certified in the meantime, the development costs would be easy to bear. Should the MAX not be re-certified or only with major reworks, possibly with reduced performance, and/or its reputation damaged terribly, you will be very happy to not have lost this essential time.

    Maybe some of that is happening at Boeing, but from the outside it doesn’t look like it, and keeping the production line at that high volume certainly speaks of a major lack of vision and courage. The situation Boeing is in now is getting tighter by the day. The options are shrinking by the day. If they continue like this, a bad outcome gets more likely every day.

    • Conflating the MCAS debacle with what to do with the mess is incorrect.

      Its called damage control. Clearly Boeing knows vastly better what would occur if the so called bold thing was done.

      When you are on the pointy end of the spear the perspective changes.

      You go from being a critic to being responsible.

      For better or worse Muilenberg and the board are responsible.

      Can it turn out to be the wrong decision? Yes. The alternative impacts are assessed to be worse.

      But all indications are that while its continued to be delays well beyo0nd anything ever see in the Aviation Industry (short of Comet) its fixable.

      Pundits forget that there are other issues involved in the impact and its a very complex (and even more costly long term to Boeing)

      No one commenting knows all those issues including myself though I can make good guess at some. That includes contract obligations including sales contracts (termination of production means return of all money) as well as Employee contracts and supplier contracts.

      At this point its not a matter of loosing money, its loosing even more money and impact on the business (MAX no long available and mid to long term shifts to Airbus as they have no choice)

      To think otherwise is truly misunderstanding of how the real world works.

        • I clearly understood that your opinion is to stop the presses.

          I also clearly laid out some of the reasons Boeing would not follow your wisdom.

          I can follow at least some of their reasoning, I don’t believe yours has the least bit of merit nor logic.

          • @TW

            “I clearly understood that your opinion is to stop the presses.”

            Which is exactly the opposite of my intention/opinion. Please read my post again and try to grasp it. I was trying to find a way to avoid just that. I think that cutting the production roughly by half instead by almost nothing would offer significantly more strategic options.

            “I can follow at least some of their reasoning, I don’t believe yours has the least bit of merit nor logic.”

            That I could deduct from your rambling post. You did not understand the logic that I’m applying, nor do you understand the merits of my post. Maybe the difference between us is that I founded my first company in 1985 and have been running smaller and larger business since then. I have also been consulting businesses small and large all around the globe. Over these 34 years I have learned to think strategically, something that seems to be completely foreign to you. Generally I found that to be a weakness in American culture and in many American companies, where short term profit and short term thinking is dominant. On the other end of the scale are Japanese companies, where long term thinking powers the decision making and it is quite normal to have 20 or even 30 year planing. In Europe it is usually in between the two extremes and that’s also my comfort zone. I’m always happy to make a loss one year if I can earn twice as much the next year.

  8. I Think Boeing want to keep the production running as its LEAP Engines keeps GE /Safran busy and cannot increase LEAP-1A production volumes, however if Boeing stopped taking LEAP1-B Engines all its raw materials and staff would be moved quickly to produce LEAP-1A Engines for Airbus quickly making their A320neo 70/month possible. Boeing can modify all planes delivered with the new software and help customers with post delivery modifications installations ahead of delivery to speed up entry into airline revenue service. One can wonder how Boeing will solve trim Wheel forces at higher speeds and miss-trimmed Aircraft if the old 737-200 yo-yo manuver will come back into the check lists, also if EASA will allow a “too small elevator” to be compensated by a stabiliser acting as a huge elevator with its own failure mode analysis and backup solutions if it does not behave.

    • “As it is paid only on plane deliveries, the cashflow of the MAX engines supplier, a joint venture General Electric and Safran, could be reduced by $1.4 billion in 2019.”

      Suppliers should find a way to stop production if they don’t get paid.

      • Interestingly the recent practice of ‘exclusive’ supply of engines per airframe is seen as a positive for engine suppliers has one big disadvantage for engine suppliers which is they are now beholden to that airframes success. Revenue from LEAP 1A engines to Airbus is not effected whereas revenues for LEAP 1B is reduced. Imagine if GE had no Market on the A320 and MAX production shutdown 1 year.

    • Leap-1A and Leap -1B engines have different sized cores, so its not just an easy switch to production of the other type with a larger front fan.

  9. I notice I’m getting carefull on commenting on Boeing. I was doing a reply including intrisic stockvalue corrections, anti-stall, backlog ruggedness and the 777X certification schedule but decided not to post. Tons of jobs and families are involved.

    • Absolutely correct.

      I certainly don’t want Boeing to collapse ! I do however want them to produce safe aircraft, and the FAA to only certify them when they are safe.

      There are a lot of people at Boeing, and their suppliers who had no hand in the MAX fiasco whose jobs, and livelihoods are at risk.

      Often the case is that people making decisions have the finances to ride out any major mistakes they make, whereas all the innocents below them do not.

    • keesje, So, you’re avoiding pointing out what you believe are wrong things for the right reasons?
      If you believe Boeing is not fixing the plane correctly, not pointing it out, is doing a bigger injustice to Boeing’s employee’s.

    • I’ll reinforce JakDak’s point. The potential loss of jobs resulting from damage to Boeing is an important dimension of the problem raised by MAX.

      The best that can be hoped for is for Boeing to be lead back into the fray of aviation safety by first fixing in real terms the insufficiencies of the MAX, follow closely whatever is concluded and recommended in terms of internal safety process, keep a close eye on all recent projects which shared the same kind of negligences and upgrade them in light of MAX’ crisis analysis, have a full specialized department if it needs be in order that its next development cycle is void of the mistakes incurred. All the while under close scrutiny by the Regulator.

      In my view this is the only way forward.

      • There is nothing that can be done. It’s like a tsunami after an earthquake, far out in the ocean. The earthquake has already hit. The Max is a lemon and Boeing irresponsibly staked the future of its employees and the economy on outfitting a 50 year old airplane with 21st century engines. It was a pressured, but tremendous lapse in judgment. So, you can believe whoever you want and stay near the coastline, if you like. But the waves are coming. This particular crisis is like a natural disaster, and Boeing executives (as they are) are powerless to do anything about it. All they seem to be able to do is try to buttress stock prices, put out a whole lot of PR and throw Hail Mary passes at a sufficient technological fix. But two, brand new airplanes did crash. And we have all lost confidence in Boeing. The Space Shuttle was grounded. The Concorde stopped flying. Unthinkable things happen. Sometimes all you can do is brace for it, or get to higher ground. It’s doubtful whether any airline will have confidence in and would want to own a 737 Max. So what we say or think isn’t going to hold back the inevitable waves of Boeing’s self inflicted tsunami. The Max is a lemon. It may or may not fly again, but it’s still a lemon and no airline in its right mind would want it. This is an unprecedented disaster.

  10. As Scott points out;

    “The issue for Boeing is not financial”, neither is it storage !

    What it is, is increasing the pressure on the FAA to certify the MAX.
    Plain, and simple.

    Boeing want to keep the production going at all costs. There is a risk, however small that if Boeing were to stop production, for exactly the same reasons, CFM would switch to making more LEAP-1As instead of LEAP-1Bs.

    It’s really not in Boeing’s interests to stop production, it is in Boeing’s interest to apply as much pressure as it can on the FAA to un-ground the MAX.

    • Well they are under the spotlights. If any (in)direct pressure by Boeing on Congress, the FAA becomes clear and reported it’s news. Both Boeing and FAA are under investigations and nobody in Congress wants to open the door on their own significant role in aircraft certification “Streamlining” 2011-2017.

      https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/683649.pdf

      • The problem now is Boeing is guilty of everything, in other times it may have been a case of overly cautious engineering (good) has proven to be not needed and costs can be saved at no loss in safety.

        this sort of thing goes on all the time.

        In the current climate its a dumb PR move but it may be justified.

        As a former (non lettered) engineer, I often had recommendations over turned. My job was to assess reliability and repair costs.

        Manager would look at it and at one time I was asked, why can’t we just keep replacing that bearing that keeps going out, it only does it once every 3 months.

        As a sole point of problem, he was right.

        Unfortunate he also was known to loose sight of the fact that he had made the same decision on a dozen other things.

        At some point you have to try to find a mechanic to manage just all the stuff that we could fix.

        I won that one but I lost others. So it goes.

        I was always was glad I did not work in a hospital where day in day out people lives were at stake.

        I would see a “can’t we turn that down to 215 degrees?” Uhh you just lost our germ killing safety cushion.

        • I think the article shows Boeing’s Modus Operandi.

          Quietly take out an essential component of safety, build a couple of months of inventory (wings) that doesn’t conform to the safety rules, build plane(s) with wings that are at that moment “illegal”, confront FAA with situation where the FAA has to block certification of these planes which would cost Boeing (America’s nr 1 exporter, a company with huge political power) billions or change the rules to let Boeing get away with it.

          You might argue it’s safe enough because of the nitrogen inerting system. The problem is, the 787 is allowed to fly with a nitrogen inerting system that’s not working (because of the assumption it’s only one of multiple safeties in place, yet the others have already been taken out by Boeing). As TransWorld mentioned.

      • Julian,

        According to the article you quoted…

        “Five years ago, Boeing quietly stopped adding the insulating fastener caps. Its own engineers approved the change with minimal input from the FAA.

        Then, in March, it stopped adding the copper foil. The entire wing surface of any 787 delivered since then now lacks both protections.”

        and

        “The FAA initially rejected the removal of the foil from the wing on February 22, when its certification office ruled that Boeing had not shown, as regulations required, that the ignition of fuel tank vapor by a lightning strike would be “extremely improbable,” defined in this case as likely to occur no more than three times in a billion flight hours.

        By then Boeing had already built about 40 sets of wings without the foil.”

        “agency’s technical experts had discovered errors in the way Boeing had summed up the various risks of the lightning protection features and that with the removal of the foil “the fuel tank ignition threat … cannot be shown extremely improbable.”

        Thorson estimated that if the math were corrected, the ignition risk “would be classified as potentially unsafe.””

        I hope Boeing have some good hard data to base their decisions on. I would hope that they have actually submitted a section of 787 wing, modified to the current standard with the lower level of lightning protection to a proper test.

        By a proper test I mean loading the fuel tank in the wing test article with fuel, nitrogen, and vapour, and hitting it with a simulated lightning strike to verify what would actually happen in real life.

        I hope they are not basing their assessment on flawed statistics ! If I remember PanAm 214 was brought down by a lightning strike, and wing fuel tank explosion.

        If a 787 does get struck by lightning, and the lightning protection fails, and there is an explosion of a fuel tank in a wing, the MAX saga is going to look like a picnic.

        I don’t want to imagine a grounding of the entire 787 fleet to have additional lightning protection, or indeed new wings fitted.

        • Its one of those better safe than sorry, most protection you can get (clearly there is a balance with an economic model involved, ie. you don’t put eject seats on commercial aircraft)

          I doubt there is any way to test this sort of thing in reality.

          The real world has a nasty way of finding flaws in artificial testing.

          I had missed some of that so need to read up on it.

          FAA approval in advance if you can begin to justify it and I find that a difficult case to make as its all artificially done.

          Qantas A380 engine blow up was a case in point, the assumption was you would never see more than two areas of damage when they got 3.

          It held, barely, but that is once in the history of LCA flight (that I know of) that has occurred.

          I think the design decision there has to be accepted as valid. Tough call but an armored wing is not viable for commercial purposes either .

          • Went back and re-read it.

            Looks exactly like another Boeing move to rush to cost cutting vs safety.

            Nitrogen inerting might in fact be perfectly adequate, but then its listed as optional to have working for a flight when you have removed all the other protections (that is really ugly).

            That is chilling to me.

            I did not think Boeing could stun me any more but that sure does.

          • @Jbeeko
            AFAIK the A350 has a nitrogen system to prevent ignition in the fuel tanks, and metallic foil in the composite throughout the plane.

          • Duke:

            Great link.

            I know I should be jaded by now but the extent Boeing is willing to go to reduce costs in the safety areas is stunning.

            Joe Sutter must be rolling in his grave.

  11. https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2019/12/12/business/12reuters-boeing-737max-faa.html

    “WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. FAA told Boeing Co’s chief executive on Thursday the U.S. planemaker should focus on the quality and timeliness of data submittals for FAA review, according to an email from an FAA official to U.S. lawmakers seen by Reuters.

    U.S. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson made clear the FAA’s certification requirements must be 100% complete before 737 MAX can return to service, according to the email which summarized Thursday’s meeting between Dickson and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.”

    Well, we are the 12/12th…. i’d be still be a bit surprised if the FAA re-certifies the MAX in January. Sounds like there are still ‘missing’ quality data.

    February anyone?

    It will have been about one year. They are lucky no government shutdowns seems to be looming (!).

  12. They say that to get a mule’s attention a swat to the head with a 2X4 is an adequate method.
    Can we therefore now believe MULEenberg is paying attention to the FAA?
    It is to be hoped!
    More seriously RTS for the 737 is earliest in Q2 of 2020. If B has any sense, they will:
    1) reduce production down to about 20 per month – and not stop it so as to retain necessary skills.
    2) get ready on a precautionary basis for heavy hardware retrofits to all hulls, delivered or not. By now they know what is coming, or they darn well should.
    3) put their head down and work at changing the culture in a very open and demonstrable manner.

    Results will stink financially for around 3 to 5 years but the will survive. The alternative is a parting out, with military products entity splitting from commercial business which will try and limp along with angels/vultures involved.

    • keejse:

      I think all those “needs to” best changed to to should.

      Maybe a new CEO should be put in place of the one they have?

      Many years ago my Mom told me I needed to brush my teeth each night. She could enforce it.

      After I left home it was should. My choice.

      Yes you should brush your teeth, but the price you pay is yours to decide.

    • Sad to see a company with such a great legacy have to be called out by the head of the FAA. One wonders at this point what Muilenburg would have to do to be fired. Calhoun does not appear to have the courage to step up to the plate. Perhaps he realizes he is not up to the challenge. Boeing should have called in Mulally six months ago but of course the GE club on the board would not allow that. He would not shrink from the challenge.

  13. Would be possible for Boeing to reduce production to a lower number say 10/month instead of full stop?

    • And then change/repair them again, makes no sense. They already have 800 to change/repair.
      EASA did not even start flight testing.
      There will be hardware changes needed. Question is how many changes. EASA will at least check everything which is mentioned in the JATR report.
      The MAX will not fly next year.

      Of course I don’t know their contract obligations.
      They could store engines, but I think GE/Safran would want to get paid then.

  14. Why you temporarily stop production of Boeing 737-Max? There is always a solution for every problem on hand. Please check the steep turn condition! That could be a solution for this problem. Glad to hear that you have completed 814 test flights for Boeing 737-MAX with updated software. It is an excellent progress. But did you test 737-MAX for the extreme circumstances like steep turns and speed so low approaching stall? Because ET-302 Captain Yared Getachew had informed the air controllers in Addis Ababa Bole international airport that he faced a flight control problem and requested a clearance to get back to the airport. Since the plane was under takeoff procedure, this shows that the plane was making a steep turn to get back to the airport, and hence MCAS was activated. Please test the steep turn condition to be 100% confident on MCAS system.
    On Seattle Times newspaper dated November 15, 2018 I read “Bjorn Fehrm, a former jet-fighter pilot and an aeronautical engineer who is now an analyst with Leeham.net, said the technical description of the New 737-MAX flight control system – called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) – that Boeing released to airlines last weekend makes clear that it is designed to kick in only in extreme situations, when the plane is doing steep turns that put high stress on the airframe or when it’s flying at speeds so low it’s about to stall. ” It is because of the above statement that I raised my point.
    Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau preliminary report indicates that ET-302 was in an airworthy condition and the crew possessed the required qualifications to fly the plane. The takeoff procedures were normal, including both values of the AOA sensors. However, shortly after takeoff, the similarities between two crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia became clear. AOA sensors started to disagree – the left sensor reached 74.5 degrees, while the right sensor indicated 15.3 degrees. This shows that Captain Yared Getachew was making left steep turning back to Bole International airport to get a fix for the flight control problem he reported to air controllers shortly after takeoff and due to this steep left turning the left AOA reached 74.5 degrees and hence MCAS was activated. ET-302 plane was traveling to Nairobi which is located South of Addis Ababa, but the plane had crashed in the North – East direction relative to its original path of travel. This shows that the plane was making a steep left turn to get back to Addis Ababa, Bole International Airport.
    Similarly, Indonesian Lion air final report indicated that the Digital Flight Data Recorder of flight JT610 showcased a difference of 21 degrees between the left and right Angel of Attack sensors. This shows that the captain was making a left/right steep turning back to the airport to get a fix for the flight control problem he reported to air controllers, shortly after takeoff, and due to this steep left/right turning the difference between left and right AOA sensors reading reached 21 degrees and hence MCAS was activated. On the preliminary accident investigation report of JT610 it is clearly indicated that, about a minute after taking off, the pilots reported to the terminal East traffic controller, asking for permission to some holding point, as they were having flight control problems.
    Hence, before stopping the production of these planes, Boeing has to perform the steep turning condition on 737-MAX planes, and address this problem with a scientific approach. Stopping the production is a pessimistic way for solving this problem. Boeing is a big company armed with the required knowledge, skill, manpower, equipment and finance, and hence can solve this problem and make unforgettable history. GO BOEING!

    • “AOA sensors started to disagree – the left sensor reached 74.5 degrees, while the right sensor indicated 15.3 degrees. ”

      Left sensor also lost all signal noise. it did no longer indicate anything connected to outside airflow.

  15. The strain on finances for tier 3 and below suppliers must be catastrophic. Boeing has multiple sources of income to weather the delays but small manufacturers that specialise may find these delays a prelude to shutting the doors.
    At the heart, Boeing insists that a redesign of any 737-8 artifact or part is not required, merely a software change. Is this insistence the reason for the long delay?

    Also, the already built planes may have to be individually certified by the FAA after the clearance for the new build – that will stretch out the process.

    • Future contracts with suppliers might look quite different because of Boeings incapability.
      I would ask for complete payments in advance.

      • Boeing has done the opposite:
        move customers payments left, forward
        move supplier payments right, into the future.
        ( only issue that looks real good only in the transition phase.)

        When a customers of mine was taken over by US locusts the new owners immediately pushed for 90days ( versus my regular 14 days) payment_deadline as a postfix to a running project. No way.

    • Boeing appears to be a drag on suppliers in general.
      787 gestation, massive delays dragging down
      not only the risk sharing partners.
      787 production “productivity gains” ( IMU mostly leaning on suppliers, heavily omitting costly lightning protection.
      MAX, …

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