Boeing 737 Max Cleared for Flight

December 30, 2020
Boeing 737 Max Cleared for Flight

On November 18, 2020, the FAA lifted the grounding order for Boeing’s 737 Max airplanes. After two fatal crashes, which were determined to be the result of flaws in a system software upgrade, the 737 Max has been grounded for about 20 months.

Southwest is the largest customer for the 737 Max (though not mentioned in the article, its entire fleet is comprised of 737 models).  34 completed aircraft are in “desert hibernation” in Victorville, CA, awaiting upgrades and FAA certification.  With the grounding order lifed, company mechanics are heading to Victorville to make the planes airworthy for travel to maintenance facilities for further work.

Although the planes were maintained in active storage, each one will require 280 hours of work and approved changes prior to this flight out of storage.

The bigger question is how customers will react.  Surveys indicate 25% are not comfortable flying the plane, so Southwest will allow penalty-free flight changes for those who choose to avoid this aircraft.

The Max is expected to enter revenue service in the second quarter of 2021.  In the meantime, 8,000 Southwest pilots will receive additional training including simulator time.


Video Spotlight: 


This post is based on the Reuters article, Southwest Prepares 737 Max Jets’ Return from Desert, by Tracy Rucinski, November 19, 2020, and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Getty Images

Discussion Questions:

1. In what way does this article demonstrate the topic of cost of quality?

Guidance: The four costs of quality are appraisal, prevention, internal failure and external failure.  Each one represents a progressively MORE expensive consequence for any quality failure.  The experience of the 737 Max is the most severe example of external failure as a result of two crashes that were responsible for 346 deaths.

Despite the article’s focus on Southwest, it is actually the plane producer, Boeing, that is responsible for the quality issues (there were other issues uncovered, in addition to the MCAS).

2.  Since there is public opinion both against and wary about flying the 737 Max, why is Southwest moving to return the plane to its fleet operations?

Guidance: Southwest still wants the jets because they get 15% better fuel efficiency, which means lower operating costs, and the planes are needed to enable Southwest’s expansion plans.

3.  What is the timeline for the restoration of 737 Max service on Southwest routes?

Guidance: The FAA lifted the mandatory grounding of this model on November 18, 2020. Southwest announced that it would re-enter service “in the second quarter of 2021”.

Southwest mechanics were already on-site at the desert storage facility maintaining the aircraft, to allow faster return to service. 280 hours of work are projected to be needed to get these stored planes airborne.

Separately, 8000 pilots have to go through fresh training, including 2 hours of simulator work, in preparation for flying this aircraft.

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