An Analysis of the Boeing 737 Crisis
Author: Tamanna Gupta, RGNUL
The year of 2019 has been disastrous for Boeing Airlines. After two fatal disasters within months, the company, one of the largest stakeholders in the aerospace industry, found itself struggling against bans in several countries. The crashes, which led to almost 350 deaths, resulted in several airports grounding the flights and refusing to let such flights commence for trips. Due to this, the company, its investors and stakeholders as well as customers faced losses to the tune of billions of dollars.
Due to the tragic events, Boeing’s present Board of Directors sacked erstwhile CEO Mr. Dennis A. Muilenberg, the move being perceived as an attempt to salvage the tarnishing image of the company. However, several welcomed the move as it was being widely speculated that Mr. Muilenberg was responsible for events that led to the accidents, due to lack of foresight and precautions on his part. The present Chairman of the company, Mr. David L. Calhoun is set to replace Mr. Muilenberg as the CEO of the company from 13th January 2020. The present CFO of the company, Mr. Greg Smith, shall serve as CEO for the interim period.
These incidents sent a wave of shock worldwide and led to a widespread debate on what can be done to prevent such incidents from happening again, and what measures have to be taken in this regard.
The Two Crashes which led to the fall of Boeing 737-
The Lion Air Flight 610 crash-
This incident involved an upgraded version of the Boeing 737 model, called the Max 8 Flight Model. The crash took place on October 29, 2018, when the Lion Air Flight left Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and was en route Pangkal Pinang, the capital city of a small island located in the Java Sea. Despite calls being made by the air traffic controllers minutes after the take-off instructing the flight to return to Jakarta, no heed was paid to the distress signal which led to this incident. Based on data calculated by Flight Radar 25, which is in control of air-traffic, it was concluded that the plummet began from an altitude of about 5000 feet, resulting in the plane plunging into the sea, which such a force that the plane’s body and structure got disintegrated.
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee took up the investigation post the accident. INTSC was tasked with creating a report which enumerated the reasons behind the crash. The investigators’ main concern revolved around MCAS [Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System]software and they also affirmed this through their report that how there were incorrect assumptions made on the working of MCAS, and how these deficiencies were poorly overlooked.
The report laid down a series of failures such as poor communication with Air Traffic Controllers, improper design of the flight to inadequate flying skills.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302-
Before the memories regarding the tragic incident in October 2018 could be erased, and while people were still reeling over the Lion Air Flight’s tragedy, another incident took place which shook the nation and had a global impact. Six months after the incident in October 2018, on March 10th, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, from Ethiopia to Kenya, crashed within 6 minutes of takeoff. All the people on board, as well as the crew, were killed.
On the surface, no discrepancy arose about the functioning of the machinery. However, upon detailed investigation, it was revealed that the faults were similar to factors that led to the Lion Air Crash.
In both cases, the Boeing Company acknowledged that the ‘erroneous activation’ of MCAS was the reason behind these airplane mishaps.
After both the crashes took place, the U.S Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] along with the aviation set-up of several other countries such as China, Canada, and India grounded the flights of Boeing 737 Max. This has been in implementation since March 2019 and continues to remain so. Boeing will now have to apply for approval of the U.S Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] to fly, and Boeing is yet to receive this permission. Whereas with regards to European operators, the clearance from the European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] is required. India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation stated that India would be joining EASA in sending their pilots to test the amended improved version of the flight before ascertaining whether it is fit to fly after the changes. Apart from these measures, the company faces more than one hundred lawsuits instituted by families of people killed during these crashes.
Airplane safety laws in India –
The Indian Aviation sector is governed under The Aircraft Act 1934, domestic legislation whose basic functions include empowering the government to make rules for regulating the manufacture, sale, use import-export and operation of all civil aircraft.
The Aircraft Rules 1937 lays down the requirements for flying conditions, registration, and licenses, etc. These stated rules along with few exceptions apply to all aircraft registered within India wherever they may be.
Airplane crashes not only lead to an economic loss but also leads to loss of valuable human lives. Loss of lives due to the gross negligence on the part of the Companies to save money on their production expenditure cannot be taken lightly. In the current situation, Boeing must shoulder the responsibility of these incidents and should take measures to ensure that such incidents do not take place again by ensuring proper compliance with all the safety standards as laid down under several acts.
Several factions such as the crew, companies, and airports have to cooperate to ensure that such standards are followed strictly, to ensure the safety of passengers, and to prevent such mishaps in general. A revival of trust in Boeing is far from reality, however, these incidents should be seen as lessons and all possible measures should be taken to avoid such incidents in the future.