October 29 marks the first anniversary of the Lion Air 610 crash which killed everyone onboard. No one knew then that almost four months later another new 737 Max would crash in very similar circumstances, or that one year on the reverberations from these tragedies would still be occurring on an almost daily basis.
In total 346 lives were lost. Families across the world have been left devastated by these two accidents, with parents burying their children and future generations lost. In everything that has followed, including criticism in some quarters of the pilots, too often the victims and their families have been forgotten. Boeing recently started to settle lawsuits and will pay millions of dollars in compensation to each of the surviving families, yet nothing will ever fill the void or remove their loss.
Boeing’s loss is substantial in different ways. On October 23, they estimated the cost of the Max grounding at $9.2bn, a figure that will surely rise. Between July and September 2019, Boeing made just 62 commercial aircraft compared to 190 planes during the same period in 2018, in part because of the 737 Max grounding. Kevin McAllister has been dismissed as CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Dennis Muilenburg has been stripped of his Chairman’s role, though for now he remains as overall CEO.
As a company Boeing is too big and plays too critical a role across America to be allowed to fail. With Congressional investigations on-going, it is entirely possible that it may be forced to sell divisions, or even be broken up, for regulatory or financial reasons. All of this comes alongside certification delays with their 777X programme and rapidly shrinking orders for the 787.
No one knows how long it will take for fliers to believe Boeing and the FAA when they say the Max is safe to fly again; public confidence may be a long time returning. That process cannot start until there are no more revelations to come out of Boeing and that its internal culture and practices are seen to have changed.
The FAA has been badly damaged, with the exposure of their very close connection to Boeing. By allowing Boeing to sign-off their own safety work, they have fractured the certification process and ruined co-operation with international organisations who will now oversee their own certification, further delaying the 737 Max return to international routes.
The only people who really know how to validate these increasingly complex and sophisticated aircraft and their systems, are the ones who have worked, or currently work for that manufacturer. For the FAA, this means being visibly independent in order to rebuild credibility, whilst working with Boeing through co-operation not abdication.
Despite Boeing’s pronouncements throughout 2019, airlines still do not know when their aircraft will be updated, their pilots recertified so flights can resume. This leaves them losing millions in income, whilst paying higher operating costs and making debt payments for their grounded aircraft.
This on-going saga has no winner, only losers.