American Airlines seeks to return to use of the 737 Max in December 1:11
Would you fly in a Boeing 737 MAX?
That question will be real for passengers in the near future, when aircraft that have been on the ground for close to 600 days are back on track.
The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019, after two accidents five months apart that killed 346 people.
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All indications now point to the aircraft being certified to return to service soon in the US This, after changes required by regulators.
Steve Dickson, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said earlier this week that the review of the proposed design changes could "be completed in the next few days."
And the regulatory process from there is expected to be relatively simple.
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In 2020, normality has been marked by unprecedented events.
And, of course, the current state of Washington is no exception.
But even if the FAA manages to meet that schedule, it is no exaggeration to claim that aviation does not have a plan to convince passengers that the latest generation of the world's best-selling aircraft, the Boeing 737, is safe.
American, United and Southwest discuss the Boeing 737 MAX
Some airlines, including American Airlines, have already started selling tickets on the MAX (though, in this case, on a single daily round trip).
"Our customers will be able to easily identify if they are traveling in a 737 MAX even if itineraries change," said American Airlines spokesman Curtis Blessing.
"The type of aircraft will be visible through the reservation part and, if the schedules change, there will be a notification."
United Airlines promises passengers that they will be able to change their reservation if they do not want to fly on the Boeing 737 MAX.
A Boeing 737 MAX piloted by FAA Chief Steve Dickson takes off during a test flight Sept. 30 in Seattle.
(Credit: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)
For its part, Southwest Airlines indicated that it will take longer to fly this plane again.
In fact, he suggested that it may be three to four months from completion of legal affairs to return to duty.
Southwest Airlines had the largest Boeing 737 MAX fleet in the United States, before the planes were grounded.
Southwest COO Mike Van de Ven said on an industry earnings conference call last October: “We have significant operating experience with the aircraft.
It is our most profitable aircraft, our most reliable aircraft.
It is our most environmentally friendly aircraft, and it is our most comfortable aircraft.
So we're looking forward to flying it again.
Making passengers comfortable is a challenge
But arguments that could placate investors are unlikely to convince passengers.
Fundamentally, part of the problem with convincing passengers that the Boeing 737 MAX is safe is that there is no manual for doing so.
Also that the airline and commercial aviation sector does not like to talk about safety.
How does Boeing continue to survive?
There is a substantial segment of the population that already has some sort of fear of flying, and they don't want to increase those numbers.
In addition, there is a risk that a security campaign could increase passenger fears.
If Boeing and the airlines that operate the 737 MAX bet everything on a grand PR strategy, they risk reminding people of the problems with the aircraft.
Or even make those who did not see the news two years ago end up knowing it.
Plus, such a strategy is costly and the biggest recession in history doesn't seem like exactly the time for that.
The consequences of talking about the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX
"Boeing has to worry about the unintended consequences of talking about safety," explains Addison Schonland, a partner at the US firm AirInsight Group, dedicated to aviation analysis.
“It's a delicate thing because you want passengers to basically forget that they are in a 737 MAX.
How can Boeing do this smoothly?
American talks about educating their customers, that helps.
But, again, there may be unintended consequences.
Or you just face it and claim that the 737 MAX is the most tested aircraft Boeing has ever delivered. "
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX planes parked in California in March 2019 (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)
In fact, airlines have been strategizing for some time on how to balance the use of MAX jets, which is a necessity they have, with the fact that some (or even many) passengers will not want to fly in them.
There is some leeway for airlines to avoid being the first to decide on the Boeing 737 MAX.
Precisely, because the Covid-19 crisis has reduced the pressure on existing fleets.
However, at some point some airline will have to be the first to take the MAX to the skies again.
And that will come with unprecedented levels of interest from regulators, the media and passengers.
Greater scrutiny for Boeing 737 MAX flights?
We live in the 2020s, where almost everyone who flies has a cell phone to record what is happening.
In that sense, it only takes one passenger to go viral while crying out of fear of boarding a Boeing 737 MAX, after an overworked airline worker refuses or cannot change their reservation, to create a problem. serious image.
Or even the first time a Boeing 737 MAX has to detour or return to the departure airport for a relatively routine problem.
Regardless of whatever public relations blitz is put in place, you can expect most airlines to have a policy (openly or quietly) where passengers who do not want to fly in a 737 MAX can change their ticket, at no additional charge.
A Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on the company's production line in March 2019 in Renton, Washington.
(Credit: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)
So when will AirInsight's Schonland be ready to jump into a 737 MAX?
Not for a while is my answer.
Maybe I'll wait to see what happens.
I'm pretty confident that the revised MAX will be a better aircraft in terms of systems and safety, ”he says.
"But still," concludes Schonland, "I'm in no rush to try it."
Boeing has another problem: the rest of the world
Crucially, Boeing doesn't just need to persuade the Americans or US regulators.
There were damning revelations in investigations into Boeing, the FAA as a regulator and the relationship between them.
Including the blunt report from the US House of Representatives Transportation Committee, that report clearly established that “Boeing failed in the design and development of the MAX, and the FAA failed in its oversight of Boeing and its certification of the aircraft. ».
And after these events, the international aviation security regulatory agencies insist on making their own decisions.
Decisions by Europe's aviation regulator EASA and China's CAAC will be key.
But certification from smaller independent regulators in countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates will also be crucial.
The relationship between China and the US
Add to that, for Boeing and the United States, a broader problem with China.
The increasingly complicated political-economic relations between Washington and Beijing have the US exporter Boeing as a key player.
Beyond CAAC's essential safety certification role, China's interests lie in developing its own aircraft programs, which would be assisted by an in-depth analysis of the MAX systems.
And of course, Boeing is a very useful advantage against this White House or the next.
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But Boeing has a problem that is even more daunting.
It's about persuading passengers that the fundamental flaws of the Boeing 737 MAX have been addressed and resolved.
And therefore they will not make them the 347th person to die aboard these planes.
In the manufacturer's position, says AirInsight's Schonland, the immediate program priorities for the Boeing 737 MAX should be "FAA certification, upgrading the aircraft to meet certification requirements and deliveries, in that order."
But part of the delivery piece of the puzzle revolves around airline demand.
Which is already at historical lows due to covid-19.
And that will be even less for a plane that has been the subject of convicting investigations for two years, and in which many experts and passengers do not trust for their safety.
Ultimately, it will be a courageous airline that wants to be the first to receive criticism from the rest of the industry for putting the Boeing 737 MAX back into service.
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