Last week on Thursday, the 23rd of May, American plane maker Boeing met with the US’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other aviation regulators to discuss the fate of the troubled Boeing 737 MAX line of jets.
What does the future hold for the MAX series as things currently stand?
“Exceedingly positive” meeting
Last Thursday saw Boeing subject to scrutiny during an 8-hour meeting that Daniel Elwell, acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, said was “exceedingly positive” and “constructive,” as per Reuters.
Nearly 60 air regulators from 33 governmental agencies, including from China, Brazil, Australia, the European Union, France, Ethiopia, Indonesia and South Korea, were in attendance, the news agency confirmed.
The meeting discussed what would need to happen for the 737 to return to service after being grounded by most international airlines during March, following two fatal crashes barely 6 months apart. The circumstances surrounding the crash were among the points discussed.
The two crashes were caused by defective MCAS software installed on the 737’s, which Boeing addressed in a software update last week. MCAS, or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, is an automated safety feature on the 737 Max 8 designed to prevent the plane from entering into a stall, or losing lift.
This software fix has to be submitted for approval by the FAA before it can be implemented on commercial flights.
“The public can trust that the FAA will not let the 737 Max fly again in the U.S. until it is safe to do so,” Elwell said, as per NPR, adding, “I’m not going down the timetable road. The only timetable we have is the analysis that says the Max is good to fly, and safe to fly.”
When asked if August is a realistic deadline by which to expect the 737 to go back into service, Elwell rebuffed the question, stating that he was unsure how long it’ll take. It is possible the grounding would extend to October or even the end of the year, as long as the FAA “find everything we need to give us the confidence to lift the (grounding) order…”
According to Simple Flying, citing Reuters, it is going to take up to 150 hours of work to get each grounded 737 MAX back in the air. With 387 aircraft sitting idle around the world, that’s 58,000 hours. This figure does not include pilot training.
As for the costs involved, we have some idea of what to expect.
Maintenance, lost flights, and more
Bloomberg reported that Chinese carriers, a total of 13, are saying their losses from the 737 MAX grounding will top $580 million. Besides the cancelled flights and loss to revenue, it will also cost airlines to keep their grounded planes in tip-top condition.
Another report by Bloomberg revealed that it costs US-based Southwest Airlines $2,000 per grounded plane, of which the airline owns 34. Globally, there are around 500 grounded jets. The costs involve fees for routine maintenance, as well as sealing the plane from the elements, as well as fauna and flora, of the Mohave Desert.
Flydubai, Boeing’s number one customer in the Middle East and the second worldwide, has had to ground its 14 planes, probably incurring similar costs in the sweltering desert of Dubai.
Boeing itself saw its market value drop by $41.5 billion in recent months.
On the bright side, some firms have benefited from the grounding.
According to Dubai-based Novus Aviation Capital, in an interview with UAE media, aircraft leasing companies are benefitting in the short-term as airlines are forced to extend the service lives of existing aircraft. This, according to managing director Hani Kuzbari, has led to an uptick in lease rates and value.
If Boeing’s jets remain grounded, we could see more usage of older planes.
Rigorous tests are in order
As reported by The Guardian last week, Boeing said it had completed simulator testing and engineering test flights as well as developed training and education materials, which were being reviewed by the FAA, global regulators and airline customers.
To date, Boeing had flown the 737 Max with the updated software for more than 360 hours on 207 flights, the company said.