The 737 MAX Is Being Grounded Around The World, Except For North America; Here’s What You Need To Know

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pjs2005 [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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While we don’t yet know the cause of the Ethiopian flight 302 tragedy, airlines across the world are grounding their 737 MAX fleets until they know that they are safe. Planes in the air are even being diverted to land as I write this post.

North American airlines are the exception for now, as Air Canada, American, Southwest, United, and Westjet continue to operate them as normal. Boeing and the FAA insist that the airplane is safe to operate, though even Consumer Reports is calling on Boeing to ground the fleet worldwide.

2 fatal accidents within 5 months on a new plane is extremely rare. 3 fatal accidents within a year on the de Havilland Comet in the 1950s grounded that fleet and proved that it was not airworthy as designed.

It is worth noting that the safety standards will vary by country. The captain of Ethiopian flight 302 was 29 years old and had 8,000 hours of flight time. The co-pilot had a scant 200 hours of flight time. In the US you need at least 1,500 hours of flight time in order to fly a commercial flight and you would typically start on a smaller regional plane.

With airlines clamoring for a more fuel efficient version of the 737, Boeing added larger engines onto the decades old 737 design to create the 737 MAX, rather than design a new narrowbody airplane from scratch. This design required that the engines be mounted higher up and further forward than on older 737s.

The problem with the new design is that the planes are more prone to have an angle of attack (how the plane in pointed) that is too high, which can cause a stall. Boeing added angle of attack sensors that automatically point the nose down in order to avoid a stall. This system is called MCAS or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.

Faulty sensors in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash caused MCAS to take over and push the nose downward. Pilots typically respond to a situation like that by pulling back on the yoke (which is basically the steering wheel) to point the nose back up, but MCAS kept getting erroneous data from the angle of attack sensors and pushing the nose back down to avoid a stall as the sensors indicated that the nose was pointed too high.

Boeing decided to feed MCAS with data from just one angle of attack sensor, which leaves it vulnerable to a single malfunctioning sensor.

Boeing also failed to tell airlines about MCAS and the FAA signed off on pilots being able to move from the 737 to the 737 MAX without needing to learn about the MCAS in training. Doing so lowered the costs of training, which made the overall cost of the plane lower for airlines, making the 737 MAX more competitive versus the Airbus A320neo.

Boeing maintains that nothing has changed from the emergency procedures that should be followed from older 737s. By switching off two stabilizer trim cutout switches it would stop the plane from pitching up or down against the controls from the yoke. There were other sensors in older 737s that could have gone bad, and like MCAS, pilots are able to override them by following that same emergency procedure. That is the main reason that Boeing maintained that MCAS training is not required.

However the exact MCAS response would be new for pilots without training for it, and especially in an inexperienced young crew, they may not properly follow all of the emergency procedures. On the ill-fated Lion Air flight, the pilots tried more than 2 dozens times to pull the nose up by pulling back on the yoke and by activating switches on the yoke that control the angle of the stabilizers on the plane’s tail. However they never followed the emergency procedure from their checklist to turn off the two stabilizer trim cutout switches, which would have disabled MCAS.

Time will tell if the same problem caused Ethiopian Flight 302 to crash as well.

Pilots from many airlines were furious with Boeing for failing to disclose the MCAS system in order to properly train in how to override the system.

Boeing maintains that the 737 MAX is a safe plane and one would hope that by now all pilots are being trained in overriding MCAS when needed.

In the meantime, Boeing is rolling out new software for the 737 MAX. I’d presume that the new software will receive data from both angle of attack sensors and alert the pilots if one malfunctions. I’d also assume that Boeing will also make it easier to override MCAS.

Should you avoid flying the 737 MAX? Pilot training in the US is excellent and I have confidence in our system and in the FAA. However it’s also understandable if people want to avoid the plane type while these issues are being sorted out.

If you are booked on a 737 MAX and feel uncomfortable about it, I’d suggest that you call or Tweet your airline to express your concerns and request a free change to a flight operated by another aircraft. You may need to ask for a manager or HUCA (Hang up and call again).

It’s not hard to check and see what plane your flight is being operated by. You may need to click details or the flight number when searching for a flight, but it would be obvious if it’s operated by a 737 MAX as it will always say MAX as can be seen in the screenshots below:

 

 

 

 

 

United doesn’t fly the 737 MAX 8, but they do fly the similar 737 MAX 9:

 

Are you booked on any 737 MAX flights? Will you be changing to another flight?

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93 Comments On "The 737 MAX Is Being Grounded Around The World, Except For North America; Here’s What You Need To Know"

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Israel Leibovitz

I have a LOT ticket JFK-WAW-TLV this coming Motzei shabbes. WAW-TLV is the Max 8.
If they cancel my flight will they have to put me on another flight to TLV (UA for example)

TGIShabbos

I’m not an expert, but I somehow doubt that they will put you on UA from WAR to TLV. A penny wise but a pound stupid.

A.b.

I flew Norwegian from Rome to Tel Aviv Feb 27 and Tel Aviv to Rome March 5th how do I know if it was a Max and how much to thank Hashem?

TGIShabbos

Max has been flying for some period of time. Two fatal crashes are purely tragic and concerning, but I wouldn’t be benching Gomel over it. A lavish kiddush is always nice!

a yid

You should thank hashem for the safe flight regardless of the plane model.

R

relax. 737 MAX is flying hundreds of times a day for year. Don’t get into the hysteria that every 737MAX is bound to fall out of the sky

Marc

I think many of the groundings are a political maneuver as well. China as a bargaining chip and EU countries because they prop up Airbus. It’s an unfortunate side of the business iinm.

I think many US carriers can’t afford to ground it if they can avoid it. For example Southwest has so many cancellations due to union bargaining they can’t afford to ground more planes unless absolutely necessary.

Myi

Does that mean prices are going to go up as there a less aircrafts to fly?

uri katz

Delta 737-900ER a different aircraft?

Mark

on southwest my flight shows:

Aircraft information
Aircraft type Boeing 737-800
No. of seats 175

Is this the 737 Max?
TIA!

L

My brother is on one now he tried calling airline didn’t let him change

Shmuli

200 hours of flight training to co-pilot a massive airplane?

Dan: Can you make a list of which airlines/countries where pilots don’t have sufficient flight training so we know what to avoid?

Marc

It’s quite surprising how few hours that is. That’s got to be under 3 months of flying. I guess Ethiopia doesn’t have regional jets to practice on.

Wow

At age 29, Yared Getachew was the youngest captain at Ethiopian Airlines, though he had accrued 8,000 flight hours.

The first officer, Ahmed Nur Mohammod Nur, had logged only 200 flight hours.

Captain – 29 years old
First officer – only 200 hours

Must have been really ugly the last few minutes… R.i.p. all innocent people

Steve

With a name like Ahmed Nurse Mohammod Nur…….never know but terrorism always a possibility

Shaul Yaakov Morrison

With a name like John’s moth it could also be terrorism. Your comment is blatantly racist.

Jordan

In Israeli airports a person called Ahmed Nurse Mohammod Nur would be questioned much more thoroughly than a person called John Moth. The only reason for that is cultural profiling, which means people of Arab descent pose a much higher risk to airport and air travel safety. This is partly why Israel hasn’t had an airport terror attack for decades now.

Calling this racist and ignoring the problem is wrong in many levels.

Dr. B. M. Nemon

Islam is NOT a race. Islam is multiracial. Don’t see how Steve’s comment could be seen as blatantly racial. Morrison is blatantly stupid.

Gary

Ten years experience and thousands of flights under his belt isn’t enough for you? Commenting on the fact that the pilot was 29 is pretty stupid.

Chuck

Was slated to fly on the 737-8 Max in July, TLV-JMB, on Ethiopian. Glad to see that they are grounding the fleet, otherwise I probably would have cancelled and found an alternate airline.

Shmuli

I’d probably be more worried about the 200 hours of experience than the airplane…

Ely

Is the 737-800 same as the 737-8MAX ??

Rabbi

excellent article – well written (better the WSJ’s article, ahem)

CS

I have my kids booked LGA to MIA the Wednesday before Passover on AA, and yes it’s a MAX 8. I literally don’t know what to do. It’s one of the busiest travel times of the year and there is barely availability on other AA flights that are NOT Max 8. I also booked with points and don’t have any points left, so even if they were to switch my flight, how would they charge me?

Dd

If “they” r switching u’r flight, y should u b charged?

Yossi

AA Awards tickets are free to switch (if there’s availability).
If you can’t find availability from LGA, try from EWR.

CS

Free even if the “price” is higher now?

Jacob

I booked with BA and they refused, directed me to BA as expected. That was Sunday, maybe with all this publicity going around maybe they will cave in

Glushtygiz

I was recently on a 737 max 8 and there were engine issues

Curious

Airline? Route?

Yoel

I won’t fly again with a 737 MAX, unless they provide complimentary parachutes.

TGIShabbos

We are in the day in age where carry on bags, seat selections, a can of soda, and not boarding the very last- are not complimentary. What are you thinking, of course parachutes will be charged $9.99 to a major credit card! 😛

Glushtygiz

How much wud u pay to have a parachute for one flight

abey

i bet you if that jet crashed in lower Manhattan the FAA would be singing a different a song

Dd

Oh please don’t reminded us of that scary day

abey

twas just a metaphor

h

Its a restricted airplane zone…

googwallet

No expert here but if there was previously two ways to override the system (yoke and stabilizer trim cutout) and this new model only supported the latter override, that is a major change and training should be required. The fact that the documented and correct way to maneuver out of the situation was still available doesn’t help. Even if something is not the official method, there needs to be awareness of it retiring. You cannot predict how the mind will operate under a crisis of this sort. Of course had the pilots followed the documented procedure, the outcome would have probably been different, but how does that help us now? Clearly Boeing is also in the wrong. Big time IMHO.

JC

Have a connecting flight late march from mia to lga on a max 8.(booked with mileages) Just Twittered to AA to switch to a different aircraft. They said they couldn’t find other availability so no. 🙁

Cholentfresser

Excellent article.

MC

I was flying NDJ-IST on Turkish last month and was discussing routing options to/from NDJ with a guy who was was there on a business trip (he works for a US oil company). He said his company does internal checks on different airlines and he was not allowed to fly Ethiopian. I had flown Ethiopian to NDJ and it seems like it has a great reputation, especially in Africa, so that was surprising to me, but so is seeing that a co-pilot would be flying with only 200 hours.

Shaul

There’$ obviou$ly a rea$on why most of the EU (home of Airbus) and China (trying to break into the aircraft business) would ground, but the US (home of Boeing) isn’t. I wonder what that reason i$.

Ben

Hmmm…I ju$t cant think of a good reason why that i$?

Moe

If the s key is not working on your laptop you can use an onscreen keyboard to type properly.

paul

the accident happened on a plane from nairobi to kenya, iw onder why it didnt happend from ewr to miami? would anyone here go in on boeing stock?

Jason

Excellent WELL WRITTEN article. Clear and to the point. Thanks!!

Yes

I’d like to see a report on how many times pilots had to overide the sensors on this aircraft. This model does thousands of flights a day I assume.

Ahmad Ali

I’d be very surprised if American allows you to change for free. I can see all the others allowing but American……:(

Captain בואינג

Well articulated, great article.

Chaim

Wow Dan great article.
Amazing to see your patience on a sensitive topic and answering all the comments relating to people concerned to fly. (And not responding with your typical “read the post?”).

Chaim

So we’re assuming that us pilots are better trained. These faulty sensors it seems so far triggered twice the mcas system in error and the pilots didn’t know how to override it.
It would be interesting to know how many times this system was deactivated in the past by well trained pilots thereby preventing more disasters

southwest

Aircraft information
Aircraft type Boeing 737-700
No. of seats 143
is this the 737 MAX?

Dd

I think it’s a good time to buy the boing stocks now, cause I think it’s s matter of time till they are going to got back to where they were it even higher up as boing is the leading airplane company in the world today’s days

Jo Ann Friedman

We can’t find out if our Norwegian flight from Rome to tlv will fly

Yossi Fisch

If indeed the problem was the MCAS system than I wouldn’t be afraid to fly a 737 MAX. By now every commentator knows how to override the MCAS, let alone every pilot.

A

I’ve read several different articles about the crash and they all mentioned the MCAS but none mentioned the reason for adding the new system. Thanks for breaking it down and going through it. Makes more sense now!

Texas Totty

Thanks for clarifying Reb Dan. A little bit unrelated- Will you post the latest story of an Orthodox Jew being thrown off a flight for no reason? https://hamodia.com/2019/03/10/jewish-passenger-ejected-united-airlines-flight-alleges-anti-semitism/

eli

Dan!!
How do you get time to educate yourself on all the exact detailed mechanics of this aircraft

Shimmy

The AP has an article about US pilots having the same problem when switching to auto pilot.
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/pilots-have-reported-issues-in-us-with-new-boeing-jet/ar-BBUGJmB?ocid=AMZN

Bruce

When you make a new product, part of that product is ensuring the end users know how to use it as designed. Boeing should have sent their own educators out in the field to educate pilots. Not doing this out of the box was very poor management. Not doing this after the first crash was incredible hubris and stupidity. Stupidity beyond belief. Stupidity beyond human understanding of stupidity. If pilots can’t fly the plane the error is Boeing’s alone. This is a classic poor management move. Boeing will take years to recover.

Gary

Nobody knows the reason for the Ethiopian crash yet.

Bruce

Gary,
Two planes, 6 months with stability control issues? The problem is Boeing’s. They need to make sure the mechanics understand how to repair the plane. Boeing needs to make sure the pilots know how to fly the plane. Otherwise we a filed product.

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