- Boeing’s suspension of 737 Max production is an embarrassing symbol of the hubris it showed by trying to get the plane back in the air quickly.
- Boeing repeatedly picked dates for the plane’s return only for them to come and go and for the US Federal Aviation Administration to refuse to back the same time line.
- Airlines began to push their flights back much later than what Boeing was saying, and the FAA acknowledged that it was appearing to face pressure to speed up the plane’s recertification.
- The result was that the industry appeared to stop believing what Boeing was saying – or knew something the manufacturer was itself refusing to accept.
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Boeing’s decision Monday to temporarily suspend production of its 737 Max planes casts further doubt on the future of the aircraft, risks angering the customers of one of the US’s largest exporters, and will see the company go through billions in cash.
It is also hugely embarrassing sign of the world’s largest plane maker’s hubris.
The plane’s return date in the US has always been up to the Federal Aviation Administration, which has to certify Boeing’s updates to the plane before it can fly again.
But Boeing’s once cosy relationship with the regulator has been shattered in the aftermath of two fatal crashes that killed 346 people and left the planes grounded worldwide since March.
The FAA has come under increasing scrutiny for allowing Boeing, under Congress-approved rules, to certify much of the plane itself, leading to the FAA’s processes being repeatedly questioned in congressional hearings.
Breaking with Boeing, the FAA refused to commit to a time line for the plane’s return, instead repeatedly saying the plane would return when “ready.”
The FAA even acknowledged in November that its staff was facing “pressure” to get the plane back, though it did not specifically say Boeing was behind that pressure.
Since April, Boeing repeatedly claimed the plane would return within a few months – only to push that deadline back and say the same thing again and again.
And as these dates came and went with no planes in the air, airlines began to pick dates that were much later and out of line with Boeing’s stated plans.
Boeing said in November that it could be cleared to start delivering the planes at the end of this year. But the FAA called that time line “unrealistic” and said there was a “perception that some of Boeing’s public statements have been designed to force the FAA into taking quicker action.”
American Airlines has decided to suspend flights involving the plane all the way until April.
The result is that the industry appears to have stopped believing what Boeing is saying – or knew something the manufacturer was, until Monday, itself refusing to accept.
At the same time, airline employees have said they do not want to fly on the plane, even as Boeing vowed it would be one of the safest planes ever to fly upon its return.
Europe’s aviation regulator even refused to accept the US’s work on the plane, saying it would also recertify the plane itself.
And anger from airlines, which have already lost tens of millions of dollars, only continues to grow as they lose money from cancelled flights, delayed deliveries, and maintaining their grounded Max fleets.
The Irish budget airline Ryanair, which is one of the world’s largest airlines, said the grounding was costing the airline at least €100 million, or $US111.5 million, a year.
Analysts at Jefferies also estimated that Boeing’s new decision would mean more compensation from Boeing to airlines. “Given the grounding has stretched longer than expected, we believe we could see the payments/concession increase from initial levels,” they said.
Boeing said with its announcement on Monday that the decision was made to keep production going long-term and to keep the many suppliers that rely on Boeing healthy.
As Boeing emphasised that “safely returning the 737 Max to service is our top priority,” it no longer offered any insight as to when the plane would come back.
“As we have previously said, the FAA and global regulatory authorities determine the time line for certification and return to service,” it said.
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