Boeing’s troubled 737 Max aircraft has been grounded globally since March 2019 after it was determined that two fatal crashes were caused by a fault with the aircraft’s software that sent the doomed planes into nosedives.
To get the Max flying again, the aerospace giant has to convince regulators that it has incorporated the necessary changes to make the jet safe. But the process, which requires close examination of all parts of the aircraft, may have uncovered more problems that might require attention prior to the issue of an airworthiness certificate.
During a full safety review of the Max that was requested by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December 2019, Boeing discovered a potential problem with the wiring that controls the plane’s tail, the New York Times reported recently.
The Times, citing a senior Boeing engineer and three others familiar with the matter as its source, said Boeing is currently trying to determine whether two bundles of wiring inside the jet are too close together. Such a setup could potentially cause a short that could lead to a crash if the pilots failed to respond in the correct way.
If Boeing decides that a short is at risk of occurring when the Max is in the air, it will have to separate the bundles of wire in the 800 or so Max planes that have already left the factory, a task that it says would take a couple of hours to complete for each affected jet.
Boeing spokesperson Gordon Johndroe told the Times the aircraft manufacturer is working closely with the FAA and other regulators “on a robust and thorough certification process to ensure a safe and compliant design.”
Confirming the news outlet’s report, he added: “We identified these issues as part of that rigorous process, and we are working with the FAA to perform the appropriate analysis,” But Johndroe said that it would be “premature to speculate as to whether this analysis will lead to any design changes.”
Two crashes in five months
The 737 Max was grounded globally following two crashes in the space of five months. The first occurred in October 2018 when a Lion Air flight came down shortly after takeoff near Jakarta, Indonesia, resulting in the deaths of all 157 passengers and crew. Then, in March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, killing 189 people on board.
Boeing has developed a fix for the software that’s believed to have been behind the catastrophes, but it still needs to be approved by the FAA, with the process taking much longer than expected. The wiring issue could further impact the timetable.
In December 2019, Boeing said it would suspend production of the 737 Max until the plane receives permission to fly again.
The grounding is proving costly for airlines that use the aircraft, with flight cancellations and rescheduling causing widespread disruption. U.S. carriers have removed the aircraft from their schedules until at least March 2020, though it could be out of service for longer if the regulators continue to hold off on a decision. The issue has so far cost Boeing a reported $9 billion, with the figure continuing to climb.