Boeing’s 737 MAX fleet is set for takeoff in the US as the FAA has finally signed off on its re-certification. However, that clearance comes more than a year and a half after the company’s original expectations for a return as software and other defects uncovered by investigators showed the MAX was a deeply-flawed jet. The plane, which has faced many cancellations and a complete drop-off in new orders, returns to an aviation market very different from when it left, now racked by a global pandemic.
Related Stocks & ETF: The Boeing Company (BA), Airbus SE (EADSY), U.S. Global Jets ETF (JETS)
20 months after Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX jets were grounded globally in the wake of two separate crashes within a 5-month span, culminating in the death of all 346 passengers and airline crew on board, they are finally back on a sure path to takeoff.
Last week, the FAA finally gave the go-ahead to the embattled MAX jet to get back in the air. As CNN writes, the process of approving the plane to carry passengers has stretched on far longer than most expected and cost Boeing more than $20 billion, according to the company. Lost orders for the jet during that time could make it among the most expensive mistakes ever made by a company.
At the onset of the grounding, Boeing led investors and airlines to believe that a fix of the faulty Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software present in the jet, along with re-certification would come as soon as mid-May 2019. The MCAS is an adjustment that is supposed to account for the plane’s relatively large engines (in comparison to the small frame that has not been scaled up in decades), which tended to lift the plane’s nose during takeoff. Therefore, the MCAS would automatically shift a powerful control surface at the tail to force the front of plane downward. This downward momentum, however, could become too great, overriding the pilot’s ability to manually control the plane, sending it nosediving toward the ground.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FAA’s internal analysis of the MAX’s first crash projected that, without an intervention, the faulty MCAS software could have caused 15 MAX crashes over the next 30 to 45 years, an average of one fatal crash about every two or three years.
MRP initially expressed skepticism about the simplicity of the fixes in the month following that first missed target date, noting that, in addition to software problems, almost 150 parts inside the wings of 312 Boeing 737 jets were potentially defective and needed to be replaced.
Several missed recertification deadlines later, software bugs had only become more problematic and issues effecting other components of the MAX were piling up. Though the company appeared very confident re-certification would come before the end of 2019, those estimates were not even close. By Q3 of last year, MRP had concluded that any estimated return date provided by Boeing could not be relied upon.
In January of this year, the company laid out its longest timetable yet, aiming for re-certification by June. Obviously even this projection was a gross underestimation.
While it appears Boeing has ultimately cleared the biggest hurdle in their race to return the MAX to the skies, it is certainly not the last one.
Customers Cautious as Regulatory Barriers Remain
Even when the MAX does make a return to the sky, Boeing is not out of the woods as survey results present a mixed outlook for passenger sentiment.
To start, a recent Bank of America survey found that 50% of respondents were actually “unaware of what the 737 MAX is and/or that it is grounded”.
However, of the people who are aware of the Boeing’s MAX jet, about 20% said they would fly the plane immediately, meaning 80% would wait some amount of time before stepping foot on the plane. 60% would wait at least six months or never fly the plane again, BofA said…