Just months after returning to heaven, Boeing’s troubled 737 Max jet is facing another setback.
Boeing announced on Friday that it had notified 16 airlines and other customers of a potential electrical problem with the Max and recommended that it temporarily stop flying some planes. The company refused to say how many planes were affected, but four U.S. airlines said they would stop operating nearly 70 Max jets. Boeing wouldn’t say how long the planes would be out of action.
Airlines and Boeing have made an effort in recent months to convince passengers that the Max is safe. This recent problem is sure to raise doubts about the aircraft for some travelers.
“It’s a Max so everyone is interested and that makes perfect sense, but this is the aviation maintenance system that works the way it should,” said John Cox, former airline pilot and crash investigator and chief executive of Safety Operating Systems aviation consultancy .
Boeing said affected airlines should verify that a component of the power grid in certain Max aircraft is adequately secured. The airlines had resumed the flight after almost two years of landing because of two accidents in which almost 350 people were killed.
“We are working closely with the US Federal Aviation Administration on this production issue,” Boeing said in a statement. “We will also inform our customers of certain affected end numbers and will provide instructions on appropriate corrective measures.”
The FAA said Boeing informed them late Thursday of the problem that could affect the operation of an emergency power control unit. The agency said it worked with the company and its clients. “It is premature to estimate how long it will take as it may take a few hours or a few days,” Boeing said.
Boeing’s share price closed 1 percent and analysts said the problem was insignificant.
“The solution appears to be well understood and the timing will depend on the availability of technicians and access to equipment,” analysts at investment bank Jeffries said in a note.
Regulators around the world banned the Max from flying in March 2019 because of the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. After a lengthy review, the FAA allowed the Max to fly again in November, provided Boeing and the airlines made changes to the jet, including updating the flight control software and rerouting some electrical cables. Boeing and the FAA said the potential electrical issue reported this week had nothing to do with this earlier policy.
Since the FAA review, aviation regulators around the world have also approved the aircraft. By the end of March, 17 Boeing customers had put the aircraft back into service and used it for almost 14,000 flights.
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April 9, 2021, 3:29 p.m. ET
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, the three largest operators of the Max, announced on Friday that they had taken 63 aircraft out of service. Alaska Airlines said it had removed all four Max jets.
Southwest, which operates an all-Boeing fleet, said in a statement that there were no “known operational challenges” related to the problem identified by Boeing. Thirty of the 58 Max jets were affected by the notification, and the airline stated that only 15 or fewer Max jets should be flying per day, which have been swapped for other aircraft in their 737 fleet.
“Southwest expects minimal disruption to operations and we value the understanding of our customers and employees as safety is always our uncompromising priority,” said a statement.
United said 16 of its 30 Max planes were affected by Boeing’s announcement and would not be used to carry passengers. American Airlines said the problem affected 17 of its most recently delivered aircraft, all of which have been temporarily withdrawn from service. American said 24 Max planes that were delivered prior to landing in 2019 were unaffected.
“As we shared when we put the 737 Max back in commercial service, the safety of our customers and team members comes first,” American said in a statement. “With this clear standard, we strictly maintain and monitor all of our aircraft – including the Boeing 737 Max – to ensure that every aircraft is safe in the air.”
Wiring was a problem on at least one other Boeing aircraft. The company’s South Carolina employees have complained in the past of careless practices, including debris left dangerously close to electrical wiring on the 787 Dreamliner, a large aircraft used on long flights.
The families of those killed in the crashes criticized both Boeing and the FAA, saying neither did enough to eradicate the problems that caused the crashes.
“Boeing claims to be a changed company, but it is clear that their culture is designed to cut corners and make profits on safety,” said Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband Antoine died in the crash in Ethiopia. in a statement on Friday. “Since the death of 346 people, their only focus has not been on safety, but on doing what is necessary for the regulators to get them back in the air. This grounding shows that the Max is still not safe to fly. “
After working for the past two years to fix the Max and restore its credibility with airlines and regulators, Boeing has been on an upswing in recent weeks. United said it will expedite delivery of the Max and expand its order to 180 aircraft in the coming years. Europe and the United States have agreed to temporarily suspend tariffs in a longstanding dispute over Boeing and its rival Airbus. And February was the first month in more than a year that Boeing had positive net sales of commercial aircraft.
The company’s shares are up around 17 percent over the course of the year.