Second fatal Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash in just 5 months raises serious safety concerns


Serious safety concerns raised after Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed shortly after takeoff outside Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people onboard. This is the second deadly crash only 5 months after the Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash in Indonesia, killing all 189 people onboard. Initial reviews of these accidents reveal similar circumstances with the crew encountering large variations in vertical speed during climp shortly after takeoff, making the aircraft uncontrolable.

The 737 MAX 8 is one of Boeing top-selling aircraft and is operated by many airlines around the world, making it the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history with about 5,000 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide, according to Boeing information. Boeing was eager to introduce its newest 737 model, the MAX 8, in order to compete with the Airbus A320neo.

Boeing 737 MAX 8 grounded worldwide

In response to the fatal crashes, most governments worldwide ordered these aircraft grounded until proved safe to operate. As goverments and airlines around the globe ground their 737 Max 8 planes, Boeing and FAA continued to claim the planes are safe to fly, stating in an official FAA Tweet "The FAA continues to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX. Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft."

The FAA’s hesitation in handling the safety issues around the Boeing 737 Max aircraft have damaged its standing among other aviation regulators. The Europeans and Canadians now plan to conduct their own assessments of Boeing’s changes to configuration of the MCAS anti-stall system, indicating they don't trust the Federal Aviation Administration's ability to safely solve the issues.

MCAS anti-stall system

The safety feature MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) designed to prevent stalls is now suspected to have caused both planes to crash. Satellite data suggests both planes had similar very erratic flight paths and vertical speed before crashing minutes after takeoff.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 is designed differently from the basic 737 model in one major way: It has larger engines placed farther forward and higher on the wings. The new design increased the risk that the plane could stall if pilots angled the nose too high. To mitigate this risk, Boeing introduced the MCAS system, which automatically nudges the nose down if onboard sensors detect that the plane risks stalling. This very critical safety system relied on only one single sensor to measure the airplane’s angle of attack, with no build-in redundancy for back-up in case of system failure. The big question is how could this system even pass the certification process?

Certification process under scrutiny

Apparently responding to pressure from Boeing to speed up its safety certification of the aircraft, US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers put pressure on the FAA’s team of safety engineers assessing the aircrafts safety to speed up their assessments or to delegate the safety testing back to Boeing itself, which is allowed under US law.

According to Seattle Times the FAA has delegated many of the Boeing 737 MAX safety inspections to Boeing, claiming that the agency doesn’t have the budget to complete all the work itself.

Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft

The type entered service in May 2017 and is an equivalent of the Boeing 737-800, but with new LEAP-1B engines and a lot of new technology and software.

By implementing 787 technology in the design of the 737 MAX series, Boeing had been aiming for a 737-800 replacement the would improve operating costs by 20-25%, but only achived around 10% improvement.

  • Lenght 39.52m / 129 feet 8 inches
  • Single class passenger capasity of 189
  • MTOW 82.190 kg
  • Range 3515nm