Boeing tells Spirit to pause 737 MAX fuselage production

June 11, 2020, © Leeham News: Spirit Aerosystems, maker of the Boeing 737 fuselages, yesterday said it will lay off 900 workers on the MAX line for three weeks.

“Spirit received a letter from Boeing directing Spirit to pause additional work on four 737 MAX shipsets and avoid starting production on 16 737 MAX shipsets to be delivered in 2020, until otherwise directed by Boeing,” the supplier said in a press release.

“Based on the information in the letter, subsequent correspondence from Boeing dated June 9, 2020, and Spirit’s discussions with Boeing regarding 2020 737 MAX production, Spirit believes there will be a reduction to Spirit’s previously disclosed 2020 737 MAX production plan of 125 shipsets,” the company said.

Spirit also is furloughing workers at two locations in Oklahoma.

Production rate

Sources tell LNA the 737 line is currently producing at a rate of about 1/mo. Boeing declined to confirm this.

“While we aren’t disclosing our specific rate ramp, we have restarted production at an initial low rate due to the impact of COVID-19 on our industry,” a Boeing spokesman said. “This transition from simulations to build work will be very gradual as we reactivate the Central line. The exact rate ramp pace will be determined by the pace of deliveries to our customers. We will reactive the other two production lines over time as we gradually step up our rate.”

LNA was also told the second line won’t be restarted this year. Boeing declined comment other than the above statement.

Suppliers are producing parts and components at a rate greater than the production. In a May 27 letter to suppliers, Elizabeth Lund, VP and GM of Supply Chain, “production is restarting slowly and the rate ramp is paced conservatively.

“The supply chain production deviates from the 737 final assembly production in order to help maintain production stability and amass sufficient inventory to support seamless production and eventual ramp ups,” Lund wrote.

Lund wrote that the MAX backlog is now more than 3,800 airplanes. This reflects some 500+ cancellations or reclassifications of orders to credit-challenged customers.

Fuselages in storage

Spirit has about 120 completed fuselages in storage. A new agreement reduced the number of new production fuselages Boeing wanted this year from 216 to 125.

The stored fuselages are customer-specific. Although not “stuffed” with Buyer Furnished Equipment (seats, bins, galleys, lavs), they are “plumbed” for these installations. With customers cancelling or deferring airplanes (and in some cases, going out of business), the stored aircraft would require revised “plumbing” (including electrical) for a different customer.

Spirit previously said it would take up to two years to clear the inventory.

79 Comments on “Boeing tells Spirit to pause 737 MAX fuselage production

  1. Boeing cannot be assembling any new B737 MAX’S, until the testing is finalized and approved by all the FAA, EASA, and other International authorities, to prevent having to go through the motions to correct any other issues found during the intense testing period.

    • There’s nothing to stop Boeing building more MAXes. Yes, they’ll have to fix them, just like they’ve got to fix 800 others.

    • Remember that Sprit already had a stockpile of finished components when Boeing paused production of the MAX in January. Boeing also made an effort to keep the supply chain invigorated before the COVID crisis erupted.

      I suspect this just means that Boeing does not foresee being able to resume production at the originally planned rates for some time yet, so they need to scale back the supply chain to match.

      I hope growth will resume more quickly and the layoffs will not be any more long-lived than necessary.

      • Boeing just builds them to the latest specifications they have admitted they have to.

        Subtext is until the FAA re-certifies, they are just plane (pun) aluminum hulls, Boeing no longer can self certify.

        Ergo each will have to be FAA approved. What that entails?

        • The FAA will do the airworthiness inspections as a temporary measure to ensure compliance in the face of the large task Boeing has for RTS, as well as to ensure that quality control has been maintained.

          I suspect that is not so much of an issue now, given the reduction of production pressure. Still, it will help the FAA build confidence in Boeing before returning the airworthiness delegation. It’s a prudent move, trust but verify. Boeing needs to show they are worthy of the trust.

          If the inspections yield large numbers of issues, that will extend the time before Boeing is delegated again.

  2. And there is so much about “restarting” MAX production. 1 per month is just greasing machinery.

    I would be surprised if MAX will be recertified by the end of the year. And will be surprised if Spirit will make 50 fuselages till end of the year.

    MAX certification is a lingering wound. MCAS fix still not 100% ready – “we are ready and fixed everything but we have to only audit this, only found that, only fix… , only revised… but we are ready”. Efect is that MAX is still not handed over to FAA/EASA for certification flight.

    • While I think they are at the bottom of the pile, I would not disagree with anyone who feels Boeing over promises and under delivers.

  3. So, is the pause command down to overall reduced operations under Covid or is it down to a need for clarity on specific customers, any revised order sequencing etc.?

    Also, any thoughts on what effect the (presumably) reduced ramp acceleration will have on the success of the ramp? Employees re-learning existing procedures, learning new procedures, finances of needing to increase staffing etc in chunks that may not now match requirements as well as before?

    • It seems related to COVID for the moment, but you’re right that the market and some orders may be soft as well.

      Articles in the Seattle Times and Reuters discussed some of the changes being incorporated on the production line. Boeing is trying to enable and build-up quality control and monitoring, They have now already resumed at a low rate but I’m sure will be looking carefully at build quality and the effectiveness of their changes thus far. So slow at first.

      I don’t think that says anything about their commitment to the MAX, it’s just a recognition o the reality of the quality problems that had developed.

      • “Boeing is trying to enable and build-up quality control and monitoring”

        Hopefully it will work this time.

  4. Resuming production at the moment is insane and irresponsible when there are 400 units produced and lying in storage where rework has to be done to bring them up to certification requirements which is still months away. Boeing seems to have not learn from their past habits.

    • I agree. Boeing may be lucky to sell those 400+ models in the next few years. Can’t see a demand and cash isn’t flowing through airlines coffers.

      • I think if that were true, you’d see large-scale cancellations of the booked orders. Over the past year, through two major crises, we’ve seen cancellations on the order of 10% to 15%, and those have mostly occurred in the second crisis, not the first.

        I don’t think Boeing is looking to greatly expand upon the inventory of 400, but at the same time is not concerned that they will be able to move them. They represent about 15% of the booked orders. Airlines still will want to replace their older fleets. Financing that activity is less risky than other forms of investment, because the aircraft themselves are collateral.

        Boeing wants the line started and moving so they can ramp up as quickly as circumstances will allow. It also allows them to work on quality control issues. That helps everyone involved: customers, suppliers, employees, and Boeing itself. So it’s not a bad thing.

        • @ Rob:

          “I think if that were true, you’d see large-scale cancellations of the booked orders”

          The airlines have been canceling orders as fast as they can without suffering contractual penalties since March (past the 1-year anniversary of the grounding). We haven’t seen the end of airline bankruptcies, and in fact, I believe what we have seen so far is just the beginning. Once the bankruptcies and liquidations start to fully materialize, the order cancellations will mount much faster (in bigger increments) and I expect a bigger chunk of the backlog to evaporate. And let us not forget the ever-looming possibility of the Chinese airlines (effectively, extensions of the Chinese government) dumping Boeing orders as a part of a trade war. [Was glad to hear you are still employed at Boeing – hoping you are doing well].

          • While there are going to be cancelled, there are also going to be a lot of deferred.

            The twisted part is that the 737NG or MAX is still fully competitive with its A320 counterparts (fully agreeing there is NO A321 competitor)

            So Ryan Air gets fantastic deals and sticks with Boeing as does South West (who may well be looking to diversity with A220)

            AK Airlines may shift partly to A321NEO but the core will be 737NG and MAX.

            Down the road with deferred, Airbus may well pick off Airlines here and here as they have for the first time slack production (I believe this is going to linger 3-5 years even after a Vaccine is made)

            Sans a Vaccine, traffic is going to be way down. Restaurants are seeing the same thing, people not willing to risk it.

            Boeing continues to have its real market share eroded to 60-40 favor of Airbus. I think it stabilizes there but it could be a bit worse.

          • Airlines’s strategy maybe to replace two or three older models with one new MAX 8-10, or A320/1Neo as they come off lease, or require C/D checks.

          • The majority of MAX orders have been in the pipeline for years Those can be cancelled without much penalty, if any. In 2017 there were more than 4000 orders. Those have remained in place.

            I’m sure it’s true that more will be cancelled in future. It may be that some cancellations will not occur until the order production slot arrives, as that is when airlines become committed.

            But I think the program overall is far from dead, as has been predicted endlessly.

            And it’s good to be back at Boeing after my brief leave of absence at Lockheed.

          • Hmmm, Boeing employee explains the posts, as does the Lockheed stint.

            The non objective bias becomes clear. I am not associated with any aircraft mfg or supplier by the way so I am free to have an informed view.

          • Yes, TW, you are an equal opportunity curmudgeon. We get that, no topic and no commenter has immunity.

            Hoping you are able to recognize sarcasm in my response to the A Jones implication that I work for Boeing. I responded with an affirming joke, since I had defended Lockheed as well as Boeing, but I guess that is lost on some.

            You see what you want to see, but to make a bad pun, I’m sure you won’t see it that way.

    • don’t underestimate the willingness of top boeing executives to put their heads in the sand

  5. The headline: ‘Boeing tells Spirit pauses 737 MAX fuselage production’ doesn’t make sense.

  6. That truly is sobering news and shows the magnitude of both Covd and the MAX debacle.

    1 a month just keeps the line warm.

    Suppliers are going to go out of business entirely, Boeing will then have to intervene costing even more money.

    Contract wise, Boeing is in a dilemma. With the 1 year rolling timeline, more and more air-frames can be canceled or deferred.

    Probably the contracts get renegotiated and heavily favor the airlines (price you pay for hosing up)

    The 400 are now no longer legally obligated (and built to each Airline spec)

    A year from now a handful are obligated (assuming Cert is done) – for all practical purposes no contract is valid.

    Airlines just have to cite the MAX cert issue and Covd is not a defense though Boeing might be stupid enough to try.

    How long can Boeing keep forking over compensation for a program that will never deliver profits again?

    Split Boeing into defense and commercial aircrat and declare bankruptcy ?

    At current deliveries 767 the only program returning any money (USAF has held up the KC-46 final orders until its problems are solved)

    All that overhead of Everett and Charleston on the shoulders of the 787.

    777CEO limping along.

    I don’t see any recovery from this other than staggering along. Shades of drinking too much one night and staggering down the hallway bouncing form one wall to another in the morning. Bad day.

    Imagine waking up every day like that?

    • These are all good questions. What is the willingness of an airline to accept minimal badging changes to another airline spec? I don’t know. Airlines buy aircraft from each other and leasing companies provide charters at times. I suspect not very one of those requires a full rework. But exactly how this all plays out, again I don’t know. It will be interesting to watch.

      • Sorry the above was supposed to be under jbeeko’s post, not in response to TW..

  7. Not all cancelations will hurt in the same way. Cancellation of an aircraft to be delivered in 5 years is not much of an issue, yes it affects the backlog but does not result in a cost. Cancelation of a fully build aircraft is a different matter. In that case the deposit may need to be returned and the aircraft reworked or sold at a discount.

    So some questions:
    * How many of the 400 completed Max’s have been cancelled, how many of the 120 customer specific fuselages stored at Spirit have been cancelled and how much customer specific inventory such as seats, corresponds to cancelled aircraft?
    * What is the average cost to rework an aircraft or fuselage to the point where it will be accepted by another airline?

    • Lets not forget Boeing may not have to pay penalties for late deliveries if a carrier decides to cancel an order as well.

      • Not necessarily, these are independent things. Airlines are loosing money because of not having MAX, then need anyway to buy a new aircraft somewhere else.

        • That is what the compensation is all about.

          If you get compensation though does that mean you have so agree to a new timeline?

          Lot of stuff in play.

          I could see an airline getting all they can and then cancelling the orders.

          I would not be surprised to see AK Airlines go all in on the A321NEO. Nothing Boeing offers comes close let alone a possible future variant.

          Keep you foot in the door and an early customer and good deals to be had as well, not to mention the glee with Airbus for taking a former pure Bo0eing customer to mixed.

          Boeing will have a 737MAX market, its just going to move from the 55-45 to a worse 60-40 or 65-35.

  8. One of the things we miss is route analysis. I watch for these but don’t have the time to look in depth.

    But when they pop up, I pay attention. An A321 from Atalanta to Charlotte North Caroline had an incident.

    That is only 350 miles. Welcome to the strange world of a trans con capable aircraft flying a puddle jump that is solidly in turbo prop ops envelope.

    At some point its probably going to make a big jump, but it gets back to averages and just how often that range used?

    Kind of amazing.

    • That incident was in 2015, and yet the result of the investigation comes 5 years later.
      Some one was dragging the chain on this .

      • The NTSB said that staff were working from home during the lockdown, and cleaning up a backlog of reports. So this may be one of those. The incident was fairly well understood at the time, so may not have been a priority.

        • The point was not the incident but the route it was on being a totall waste of an A321 range capaiblity.

          On a issue that is an alert and warning that is not a immediate crisis (MAX) they take their time as other failures have higher priority

          A high priority (MAX) takes a year.

          Issuance of a high alert will come much sooner if they see a critical aspect that is active (MAX being a good example again).

          • More likely just a shift of a plane to Atlanta after coming in from say Los Angeles or DFW to Charlotte. They dont just spend every flight going back and forth between both cities.

          • Opposite. Going from Atlanta. No idea what the next leg was.

            Not likely cross country from Charlotsville though.

            One more hop to a major hub maybe.

            I followed a 737 flight that did 3 under 300 miles hops and did not find where it went next.

  9. A321 are used for lift on such short routes all over Europe.

    • But do they then have long legs in those routes?

      Otherwise an A320 makes sense though the number of pax might play into it, but I can’t imagine a full A321 to Charlotville (basically its no wheres ville USA)

  10. Boeig should really take these next 2 years to scrap the MAX and come up with the next concept. You can bet that Airbus will be working on the A220-500. When we come out of this, Boeing will be in pretty bad shape with a flawed plane, while Airbus will have a plane with 2 engine options + a new model with superior economics.

    • I disagree that the MAX when fixed is flawed. As good as an A320 (the GTF jumps might back seat it a bit but until fuel prices come up not as major a factor as when its $80 a barrel)

      But Airbus is going to beat Boeing into the ground with now excess capability as well as the A220 let alone the 500.

      Boeing management is incapable of seeing the issues (does not want to see them) and will continue down the current spiral down until forced to.

      What it will take to force them? Big question.

      Keep in mind they have contractual obligations , ergo paying out huge sums for failure to meet them.

      What that would cost them to get off their backs?

      Bankruptcy would be one way to dump it but they don’t qualify as stands.

      An all new aircraft is minimum 5 yeas away.

      And you need two. One would have to match the A220 or better and the other the A321.

      That is the killer for Boeing, you can’t make one air-frame that can do both as good as the two air frames Airbus has now.

      Airbus will kill off the A320 with the A220-500, but just shift to the ever more popular A321.

      Worst case a new wing on the A321 and Boeing can match it but not beat it.

      That is what happens when your whole focus is stock buy backs and your golden parachute and you ignore what is going on in what is supposed to be your mfg field.

      • I do agree that the Manual Trim is flawed, but that goes back to the dawn of time and includes all 737s as well as DC-8, 707 and a number of other aircraft still flying (717 etc?) though the 737 would be by far the most numerous.

        There are some aspect that they can figure out how to deal with so they just accept them as nothign we can do.

        Have to see.

    • We already know that part of the French Government’s Covid aerospace support package includes work on an A320 successor – I doubt if the A220-500 is seen as being it by them!

      • Well in the meantime……………………………..

        A bird in the hand is worth two in the visionaries eyes.

  11. I would think a new MAX will be delivered in September. Why? Politics. In this election year the FAA will not dally getting the plane certified. At this point, it’s probably one of the safest planes. And consumers are more concerned with Covid than MCAS.

    • Less politics (at this point) and more they seem to have their ducks in a row and its a matter of confirming and testing.

      But at rate 1, its so what?

      Bigger part will be delivery of the backlog and fixing the delivered.

    • “”At this point, it’s probably one of the safest planes.””

      After the Ethiopian crash Muilenburg said “We own safety”.
      That didn’r work well.

      I expect the MAX will not pass flight tests. EASA can’t be blind because other regulators won’t be blind.

      • Will have to see.

        The real remaining issue is the manual trim.

        That goes back to the originals.

        It needs addressed but then so should all the other Original, Classic, NG and any other aircrat that has that setup.

        I think they will punt and mandate training and hope it does not bite them.

        EASA knew about that characteristic in the NG and Classic and did not catch its drop off in the MAX training. That is a huge flub.

  12. The MAX is at this point certified against designs and requirements that are 20, 35 and 53 years old. And rushed under competitive and political pressure.

    What makes you believe this one of ghe safest planes? International authorities and victims do not agree.

    As far as I can judge, quality and safety credentials look weak for the 737 MAX.

    • The grandfathered regulations thing is one of the fallacies that are argued endlessly about the MAX.

      We have just seen the FAA hold Boeing accountable for the latest EWIS regulations, even though they acknowledge it’s not a safety issue, but a compliance issue. The MAX has to be compliant with all regulations of its generation, just as every other commercial aircraft.

      I agree it will be a safe aircraft at RTS. We have two accidents that were a result of a number of factors, and a major factor was the MCAS system, which was entirely Boeing’s fault but has now been fixed. The MAX been thoroughly reviewed for other possible problems, and every one found has been addressed, whether safety-related or not.

      Customers have stuck with it and are looking forward to RTS. Other regulators besides the FAA will have to approve it as well, but there is no reason to believe that they won’t.

      • Rob:

        As usual you give a partial accounting and call it good. Selective use of facts has a very different meaning.

        The Manual Trim issue have not been addressed.

        The only factor in the MAX crash was Boeing deliberate using slight of hand to cover up a severe safety issue.

        They know better and have system on other aircraft that handle that.

        That wiring regulation was put in place because it was a safety issue and nothing you say changes that.

        From your statements we can easily see why Boeing went down that MAX crash path and will continue to do so until management is purged and then its replacements gut the culture that produced the MAX.

  13. “it’s not a safety issue, but a compliance issue”

    Really you think that?

    I thought that every compliance issue is a safety issue. Compliance requirements in aviation are made for sake of safety, not for sake of fashion or painting.

    • Pablo, if it truly were a safety concern, the same changes would be required on every aircraft that contains the issue, including the NG. It’s not because the issue has to do with compliance rather than safety. The NG is compliant with the regulations that govern it. The MAX was not compliant due to the change in the EWIS regulations that govern it.

      Also it’s not just a matter of what I think, Here is a quote from Seattle Times:

      “Because the danger is remote and the lack of separation is not considered an imminent safety of flight issue, the FAA will have the option to issue an airworthiness directive requiring the work be done within a certain time period.”

      So again, no dispute that the work should be carried out. But it shouldn’t be represented as a safety issue when it isn’t. This issue, as well as the flight software rewrite due to the cosmic ray issue, are not equivalent to the MCAS issue, where there was a true flight safety concern.

      • What you discribe above is gambling on safety for sake of grandfathering. You treat compliance issue as a compliance just for compliance itself, not compliance for safety.

        “MAX was not compliant” means forme that MAX was not safe. But I see it means something more less for you.

        • Nothing whatever to do with grandfathering. That is a fallacy, as I’ve pointed out many times.

          If it’s gambling, then the FAA is gambling on the lives of every person flying the NG, which has the same issue.

          Of course they are not gambling. They know the NG is both compliant and safe. The MAX was safe but not compliant.

          When Boeing proposed that the MAX be evaluated under the old regulations, the FAA responded that all aircraft must be compliant. They did not make the argument that the MAX was unsafe. They could not make that argument and allow the NG to go unaddressed.

          Same logic applies to the cosmic ray issue. Boeing cannot prove that it cannot occur, no matter how remote, so it had to be addressed. But the change is not pushed back to the NG, because the NG is not unsafe.

          Do these changes function to enhance safety, even if only statistically? Yes they do. But that is not the same as saying the alternative is unsafe. The NG is proof of that.

          • Rob:

            So, Air Bags are just a compliance issue? Safety crush zones?

            We make things safer by learning, then putting regulation in place to addressed what we learned.

            Those wiring issues were deemed an issue.

            The MAX was fine until it was not.

            I assume you are in the cherry pick group as to what regulation you think should be applied and what should be shucked?

            Same thinking got us the MAX and many other disasters.

            NTSB has recommended Boeing change its auto throttle ops, I guess that just a we won’t comply thing.

            funny that pilots (who you think are king) have a label for it, called the FLCH (Flack) Trap.

            What you fail to detail is that there are issues with disruption of older wring. Its a risk assessment (right or wrong) as to the hazards of one vs the other.

            We know of two aircraft that were brought down on wiring issues with total loss of life (MD-11 and 747).

            So all Boeing needs to do is hire people like you with a happy face stamp and we are good to go (in an Airbus).

          • TW, this is yet another diatribe to attack someone with whom you disagree.

            The FLCH trap did not result in grounding of the aircraft, because it was not an imminent safety issue.

            The NTSB always seeks to eliminate the potential for pilot error. The trap was one such example. It did not occur if the pilot followed recommended procedure. All pilots should be aware and should not make that mistake. But it makes sense to remove the potential. Nor was there an issue of compliance like the MAX.

            As with the MAX issues, there is no argument that the work should be done, just in the representation of it being some horrendous safety issue.

            Again if you read the case made by the FAA for the change in EWIS regulations, they were clear that the goal was to strengthen the statistical analysis for identification of potential issues. They were also clear to reassure the public that this did not imply unsafety of aircraft evaluated under the previous rules.

            The MAX wiring issues were not deemed a safety issue, otherwise they would be altered in the NG as well.

            There is a very remote possibility of an issue developing in the future, which under the new regulations, is now considered statistically significant enough to warrant a design change.

            It’s an excess of caution because, as you pointed out, two other accidents occurred involving wiring hazards that were statistically unlikely. Yet even those were not considered imminent safety hazards, based on the many years of study, consideration and comment that went into the EWIS rule change. Why wait 10 years if it’s unsafe to fly in the meantime?

            You wait 10 years because it is safe, you just want to make it safer, and you want that to be as effective as possible, given that you can only use statistical models to predict the outcome.

          • Nothing wrong with disagreement if its backed by facts and a good persuasive argument.

            Per the norm, you try to change the subject point to defend Boeing.

            The fact is that the NTSB recommended (which is all they can do) it be changed to what Airbus does (which is the right way from a pilots perspective and passenger safety)

            FLCH is called a trap because its hidden under a decent mode variation.

            You can argue all the MAX pilots had to do was follow the right procedure (which was Boeing Rev 1.0 of 15 or 20 before they admitted they had totally hosed it up).

            Boeing refused to even consider it. Just like they refused to consider the AOA MCAS link up was a complete debacle.

            So, IWIH (it was invented here) and a bad idea vs it was though of at Airbus and is better matters not a whit.

            Boeing has claimed that MCAS is not intervention, but it is. Prior supposedly you could over ride with normal controls. But they took the cutout switch out as well. Another trap. And it was not even trained for as it was deemed uneeded.

            Based on AOA devices that Boeing flat knows fail vastly more often than there faked data.

            But oh, that is different, its an outside reasons they fail, they don’t fail by themselves.

            Really? If it quacks like a duck, swims like a ducky, has duck bill, duct feet and has duck DNA is it not a duck? Nope.

            I will challenge you to look up the BA debacle out of Jo Burg on a 747-400 pax some years back and the rational for taking slats away on takeoff.

            Oh, well, nothign to see here, just disable it. Sheese.

            Boeing does not change or admit anything unless the world is ending (MAX de-certified). Otherwise its clear that safety is not the top aspect of aircraft building and profits are (or they think they are)

            Remember where Calhoun said we had to re-think how the cockpit works? FLCH is not included of course.

            But Boeing will borrow 13 billion so they can pay a dividend when there are not only no profits, but won’t be any for years if ever.

            Actions are what counts, words are worth less than the oxygen they consume.

            Until actions change its all lip service and the ether is overwhelmed with that.

          • TW, this is a typically negative assessment of Boeing. It’s based as much on anger as on reason. Some of it is legitimate and some not, but you are not going to adjust your views on any of it, anymore than on the F-35. Arguments don’t really have an effect, or purpose. So we just need to stop and leave it alone. We disagree and probably always will.

          • @Rob

            “But that is not the same as saying the alternative is unsafe.”

            Contrary, it is exactly saying the alternative is unsafe. But not in your aviation vocabulary.

            “Do these changes function to enhance safety, even if only statistically?”

            On these kind of changes is based aviation statistical safety.

          • Rob:

            When you kill 348 people, the use of the term “negative assessment ” becomes a horrible joke.

            Its that kind of attitude that pervades Boeing management when the perceived bottom line is paramount over peoples lives.

            I worked on machinery for 40 years, you could never BS it into working right, you had to fix it.

            Boeing is the same, its going to limp from one disaster and mess to another until its fixed.

            No, I won’t agree do disagree, I will challenge the pure spin I read.

          • Pablo, if the alternative is unsafe, then the NG should also be grounded right now. Perhaps that is really what you want. Your arguments make no sense otherwise. They are consistently against Boeing and the MAX, so possibly that includes the NG now too.

            On the enhancement of safety, I agreed and have supported the change in regulations and this work being done on the MAX. Yet you attack anyway, you follow the same practice with me as you do with the MAX.

            Like TW, I don’t think you understand that this practice diminishes your position. You don’t answer the facts of the argument, you just get angrier and attack the person instead. That’s much easier and allows you to unleash your emotions, which you can do against the person, but cannot against the facts.

          • @Rob
            NG is old design which will be phased out in next few years dramatically. But we were talking about MAX, which is a new aircraft entering the market, and it’s no-compliance.

            For you it’s not a big deal – some in-compliance, not a safety concern.

            The end.

    • Here is the source article from the Seattle Times. It goes into the details of the proposed Senate legislation. It seems very reasonable and measured.

      It would restore the appointment of Boeing delegates by the FAA. Also require periodic audits of delegate performance and regular meetings of delegates with FAA. Also prohibit incentivizing of delegates by Boeing for schedule-enhancing bonuses. And provides protection for whistleblowers at all levels of the supply chain.

      It also closes down the path to greater certification autonomy laid out in the 2018 legislation. Further advances are now prohibited without being permitted by law. Basically it restores the delegate rules of the earlier legislation.

      To help the FAA achieve these things, it boosts funding by $10M per year. That can be used for the FAA to hire specialists in the emerging technologies for which they are currently reliant on manufacturers.

      The families of the victims want to go much further, they want a sunset provision for existing certification types, as well as the FAA approving all flight control systems independently without Boeing participation.

      I think this bill will find wide support. The House will have its own bill so we’ll have to see how similar it is, and how they are reconciled.

      • Much improved, yes. But the delegate reporting line should still be to the FAA, not to BA line management — they are doing FAA’s work, after all.

      • An experienced ODA delegate is suggesting that manufacturers have compliance risk assessments, using risk models as is done for hardware now. A manufacturer with higher risk would have more oversight involvement and thus higher costs for certification. This would create an incentive for manufacturers to reduce their risk rating.

        Also the current law allows for delegates to be third party contractors, paid by the manufacturer, reporting to FAA, but being independent of both. This method is required in other large public construction projects, to ensure compliance and allow independent evaluation. So greater use could be made of this option.

        Lastly there could be FAA “embedding” for large and complex projects so that there is direct awareness of practices. NASA is doing this with Boeing on the Starliner project. It could also be tied to the risk assessment as per the above.

        There will be a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday with FAA on aircraft certification.

      • I don’t think it’s practicable, or necessary for the FAA to be involved in absolutely everything. the delegates can handle the run of the mill stuff that is well understood, and has been standard practice for decades.

        I think there is one thing though which would make a difference, and it’s a variation of this:
        “But everything that is safety-critical has to be seen and validated by us.” a quote from Patrick Ky of EASA.

        “But everything that is new, or novel, or safety-critical has to be seen and validated by us.”

        So new dimmable window shades, no problem delegate.
        MCAS type system, no, must be investigated, and specifically authorised by the FAA.

        Patrick Ky quote from:

        Lastly I agree with Thysi the delegate reporting line should be to the FAA, not Boeing.

        • Jakdak, I agree. I would only point out that the FAA did see and approve the MCAS system, but changes made later in the development process, subsequent to approval, were not flagged by anyone as being significant or requiring re-evaluation.

          So the ODA delegate responsibility in that case would be to be alert and speak up, drawing the attention of both Boeing and FAA. I think that is the aim of the legislation, to make sure someone in the process has the independence to flag potential issues.

          We never got to the bottom of how this happened at Boeing, but I’d be trying to resolve that kind of issue as a first priority going forward. Boeing has said they’ve tried to do this within their culture.

          That goes back to requiring and supporting the implementation of SMS as culture, which was recommended by the FAA review board. That has worked well for airlines, it could for Boeing too. I was surprised not to see that listed in the bill, but perhaps it will be added later.

          • Yes the FAA did ‘see’ MCAS, my theory is that they glanced at it, and thought if Boeing think it’s ok, it’ll be fine. I think the perceived wisdom was that Boeing knew best. Budget, staffing, and funding may have played a role here.

            As someone who writes software I am shocked that there doesn’t appear to have been any sanity checking of the input ( from x degrees to x + 180 degrees or more almost instantly – why sure that’ll be valid input … NOT ).

            I would love to know exactly how many people were on the team writing, and reviewing the specification for MCAS, and how many programmers actually cut the code, how many were involved in testing it.

            We will probably never know, but I hope someone in a position to make sure lessons are learnt does fully understand how it happened, and is able to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

            When I say “But everything that is new, or novel, or safety-critical has to be seen and validated by us.” anything like MCAS would need a technical paper produced by the Airframer, and then critically review by the FAA.

            What I mean by a critically review is that a specialist team must go through every eventuality in a scientific manner, including in effect attempting to break the system, asking the awkward “what if” questions.

            Most importantly, absolutely no changes to the system unless signed off by the FAA team responsible for analysing the new feature.

          • I agree that a white paper for MCAS, as suggested by JATR, would have been the right way to go. It would have ensured review at the level that was needed.

            The safeguards in place in the original MCAS would have prevented the accidents, if not removed in the second iteration. But I agree with your comments that common sense was missing from the code.

            We’ve seen similar issues in the vision system of KC-46, and in software for the Starliner. All related to carelessness and inadequate checking, and all products of Rockwell/Collins.

            That’s not to excuse Boeing, they have a responsibility to ensure quality control of their contractor’s work. The story is that Collins underbid Honeywell based on cheaper overseas coders. That has led to criticism of those coders, but it may be they wrote the code to spec, as they were told, so not sure I would put the blame there.

            Bottom line, the buck stops with Boeing.

  14. @Rob,

    On 03 Sept 2019 Patrick KY, the Executive Director of the EASA, titled “Exchange of views European Union Aviation Safety Agency” which expressed EASA’s view of the B737 safety concerns at that time. The EASA review involved an unprecedented level invoving around 20 multi-disciplinary experts, including test pilots and engineers, 2-3 weekly web based meeting with Boeing and the review of some 500+ documents and actions.
    From the this review EASA found and published a list of bullets points detailing what they classified to be the “Significant Technical Issues” concerning the B737 Max. These are listed below:

    1 Lack of exhaustive monitoring of the system failures resulting in stabliser.

    2 Too high forces needed to move the manual trim wheel in the case of stabiliser runaway.

    3 Too latae disconnection of the autopilot near stall speed (in specific conditions)

    4 too high crew workload and risk of crew confusion in some failure cases, especially Angle of Attack single failure take-off.

    All these findings were communicated to Boeing and the FAA in July 2019.

    Well its now June 2020. This means that Boeing have had nearly a year to address the above issues raised by the EASA.

    Most of the above can be addressed by updates/rewrites of the flight control software, even a third digital airspeed indicator can be created to help identify faulty airspeed indications, but not so the excessively heavy forces on the manual trim wheel.

    I have carefully followed the 737 Max re-certification reports in the technical press but have failed to find any details of how this particular problem is being addresses. Can you (Rob) or any others that have information please enlighten me on how Boeing have gone about fixing the issue.


    • Bernard, the best evidence we have on the trim wheel forces is the interim report on the Ethiopian accident. They did experiments to quantify the forces at the altitude and airspeeds encountered on that flight.

      They compared the forces to the Boeing specs using a flight control test rig. Note that they could not run the actual stabilizer deflections that occurred in the accident flight. The testing was limited to 1.5 units mistrim, whereas the mistrim in the accident flight was 2.5 units.

      Here is what they found:

      Case 1: 0 feet and 0 knots (on ground)
      — trim wheel spec 10 lbs, measured 9.3 lbs.

      Case 2: 12,000 ft, 250 knots, no mistrim
      — trim wheel spec 15 lbs, measured 15 lbs

      Case 3: 12,000 ft, 340 knots (Vmo), no mistrim
      — trim wheel spec 21 lbs, measured 21 lbs.

      Case 4: 15,000 ft, 340 knots (Vmo), mistrim 1.5 units
      — trim wheel spec 35 lbs, measured 30 to 40 lbs.

      This more or less confirms that trim wheel forces are a function of aerodynamic loading, as created by combinations of airspeed, altitude, and mistrim. They are more or less as predicted by Boeing. They also confirm that aerodynamic unloading may be needed if the forces become too high, due to either mistrim or overspeed.

      For the 4th case, it’s clear that the wheels would be difficult to move with one arm. Two would be required, or two pilots working together. This would become much worse at 2.5 units of mistrim. Thus the statements of the ET302 pilots that the wheels were not working, are valid.

      So the discussion becomes, whether the trim wheels are ineffective for flight control, such that their hardware operation needs to be altered, as requested by EASA.

      It’s clear that under expected flight conditions, the trim wheels are adequate. Under extreme flight conditions, they are not, without additional actions to unload the aerodynamic forces.

      The recommended speed limit for the MAX at these altitudes is 250 knots. So in this specific case, it was possible for the pilots to unload the forces by reducing airspeed, or correcting the mistrim with electric trim, before disengaging. So pilot training does also offer a solution.

      The other issue is the history of the trim wheels over some 300 million hours of flight in the 737 series alone. They have never before contributed to an accident.

      Therefore the regulators will have to decide whether to institute a hardware change to address the extreme conditions, or to address those issues in pilot training so they are better prepared for mistrim situations. The pilot testing conducted by Boeing and the FAA indicated this may be a weak spot, because it happens so rarely in flight.

      I cannot say what will happen, but from the lack of discussion of this topic, I suspect they are leaning toward the training rather than a hardware change. But I could be wrong, we’ll have to see. The FAA and EASA may also split over this, but I believe they are working together to avoid that.

  15. Very interesting table thank you Rob.

    I’m wondering why they were looking at 12,000 feet ? I understand that due to air density, there would be more effect at a lower altitude.

    12,000 feet also allows time for the “yo-yo” maneuver, lower altitudes perhaps not so much room for mistrim error ?

    If I recall, Lion Air 610 didn’t even get to 6,000 feet. Flight 302 didn’t get much above 8,000 AMSL, they were only around 1,000 feet AGL, so would have had problems with using the “yo-yo” maneuver.

    Basic lesson here do NOT let the aircraft get out of trim.

    • Yes, good point. Actually ET302 reached a slightly higher above ground level than JT610. Thus I think they used 12,000 feet based on sea level so as to get the right air density conditions.

      I wish they would have run the case for 1.5 units mistrim at 250 knots, that would have helped isolate the relative contributions from airspeed and mistrim.

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