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History’s Precedents for the 737 MAX

Boeing isn’t the first manufacturer to miss critical problems when certifying a new aircraft.

Frenzied headlines aside, the recent Boeing 737 MAX crashes fit a long pattern in the imperfect history of aircraft-certification programs, which sometimes miss fatal flaws.

Start with the de Havilland Comet, made in Britain. While the Boeing 707 popularized jet travel, the Comet was the world’s first commercial jetliner, entering service in 1952.

Less than two years later, a Comet broke apart 20 minutes after taking off from Rome and plunged into the Mediterranean for undetermined reasons. The fleet was grounded temporarily, but a few months later a second Comet broke up over the sea. This time the fleet was grounded permanently, and the aircraft was extensively redesigned to combat a problem then little understood: metal fatigue.

The aircraft-certification program had failed to detect that. It hadn’t known what to look for.

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GM and Boeing Show How Safety Miscues Happen

Each design choice may be imperfect, but it takes a piling up of circumstances to create a fatal defect.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s comments at the company’s annual meeting last month left many baffled. Why not acknowledge that Boeing had screwed up with its now-notorious MCAS software that contributed to two fatal crashes of its new 737 MAX jets? His performance left a different taste in the mouths of specialists: The lawyers are in charge now.

An accepted duty of management nowadays is to facilitate eventual liability settlements by not using words that acknowledge faulty decisions. In a better world it would be otherwise, but word-parsing is what lawyers advise. CEOs and boards can themselves be sued by shareholders if they put a foot wrong or even if they don’t.

Less deservedly, Mr. Muilenburg was also derided for his insisting that a “chain of events,” and not a specific defect, was behind the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters. He was right in a way that bears reflection given the many complex systems and imperfect machines we rely on.

Excerpt from WSJ

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When MAXs Fly Again, Will Passengers Get on Board?

Boeing Co.’s MAX plane could return to service this summer, yet convincing passengers the plane is safe will be one of the aviation industry’s toughest consumer-relations challenges in decades.

The aircraft has been grounded world-wide since March after two MAX jets crashed within five months of each other. The crashes, and what some carriers and pilots have described as Boeing’s lack of transparency in their aftermath, have undermined confidence in the plane maker.

Industry officials expect U.S. regulators may lift the flying ban for the MAX in June, but it increasingly looks like late summer before the planes start flying passengers again.

Lance White, a 39-year-old radiologist who flies a few times a year, says he has no plans to board the jets once they do.

“I just don’t know there’s anything Boeing could do to re-instill my confidence in this plane,” Mr. White said. The St. Louis resident said he would want to see the jet fly safely for at least five years before he considered boarding one.

Excerpt from the WSJ
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WOW Air Flights Canceled as Budget Airline Collapses

Icelandic low-cost carrier WOW Air, which specialized in linking cities in the U.S. with European destinations, has collapsed, adding to a string of airlines overseas that have faltered in recent months amid stiff competition and rising costs.

The carrier, founded in 2011, had been trying to steal business from established airlines such as American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. It targeted the trans-Atlantic market by offering cheap fares while funneling passengers via its Icelandic hub. It said Thursday it had cancelled all flights, stranding thousands of passengers.

WOW Air served such U.S. destinations as New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston. It had previously announced plans to cut flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Excerpt from WSJ

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