737 MAX: A jet born of Boeing's frantic race to outdo a rival
Boeing faced an unthinkable defection in the spring of 2011. American Airlines, an exclusive Boeing customer for more than a decade, was ready to place an order for hundreds of new, fuel-efficient jets from the world’s other major aircraft manufacturer, Airbus.
The chief executive of American called Boeing’s leader, W James McNerney, to say a deal was close. If Boeing wanted the business, it would need to move aggressively, the airline executive, Gerard Arpey, told McNerney.
To win over American Airlines, Boeing ditched the idea of developing a new passenger plane, which would take a decade. Instead, it decided to update its workhorse 737, promising the plane would be done in six years.
The 737 Max was born roughly three months later.
The competitive pressure to build the jet — which permeated the entire design and development — now threatens the reputation and profits of Boeing, after two deadly crashes of the 737 Max in less than five months. Prosecutors and regulators are investigating whether the effort to design, produce and certify the Max was rushed, leading Boeing to miss crucial safety risks and to underplay the need for pilot training.
While investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the crash in Ethiopia this month and one in Indonesia in October, they are focused on a newly installed piece of software designed to avoid stalls. The software was meant to compensate for bigger, more fuel-efficient engines and ensure the plane flew the same way as an earlier version.
Months behind Airbus, Boeing had to play catch-up. The pace of the work on the 737 Max was frenetic, according to current and former employees who spoke with The New York Times. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Engineers were pushed to submit technical drawings and designs at roughly double the normal pace, former employees said. Facing tight deadlines and strict budgets, managers quickly pulled workers from other departments when someone left the Max project. Although the project had been hectic, current and former employees said they had finished it feeling confident in the safety of the plane.
The specter of Boeing’s chief rival was constant. Airbus had been delivering more jets than Boeing for several years. And losing the American account would have been gutting, costing the manufacturer billions in lost sales and potentially thousands of jobs.
“They weren’t going to stand by and let Airbus steal market share,” said Mike Renzelmann, an engineer who retired in 2016 from Boeing’s flight control team on the 737 Max.
The push for automation was a philosophical shift for Boeing, which for decades wanted to keep pilots in control of the planes as much as possible. Airbus, by comparison, tended to embrace technology, putting computers in control. Pilots who preferred the American manufacturer even had a saying: “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going.”
The new software system is now a focus of investigators who are trying to determine what went wrong in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air tragedy in Indonesia. A leading theory in the Lion Air crash is that the system was receiving bad data from a faulty sensor, triggering an unrecoverable nose dive. All 737 Max jets around the world are grounded, and Boeing has given no estimate of when they might return to flight.
In Renton, Washington, where the 737 Max is produced in a 1.1-million-square-foot plant, the mere possibility that Boeing engineering contributed to the crashes has cast a pall over the factory. After the Lion Air crash, Boeing offered trauma counseling to engineers who had worked on the plane.
“People in my group are devastated by this,” said Renzelmann, the former Boeing technical engineer. “It’s a heavy burden.”
Boeing is working on an update to MCAS software. The company was meeting with carriers over the weekend to discuss the update, which is expected to roll out by April. It also intends to make a previously optional safety indicator in its cockpit standard in new Max jets.
Boeing now makes a record 52 Maxes a month, and aims to reach 57 by April.
Prabjit - 17 hours ago -Follow
Boeing should be held liable and they should compensate for the lost lives
Spaceman - Earth - 17 hours ago -Follow
Haste makes waste
Subodh - 17 hours ago -Follow
Boeing never experienced this type of nose dive problem in any of its earlier models.Before these flying coffins are allowed to fly ,the reason for these two air crashes ,needs thorough investigation. Airlines should cancel their orders.
Pankaj - Mumbai - 17 hours ago -Follow
Boeing should pay up for the losses of the airlines and fined heavily for these 2 accidents. anything below $10 billion will not make any sense
P S G - 17 hours ago -Follow
You see, corporate cronies are the same everywhere. Their only goal is profit, profit and profit. Profit comes above everything else, even the lives of people. Hope Boeing is royally sued if found guilty
Rajeev Narayan - Nagpur - 17 hours ago -Follow
Boeing would be under tremendous pressure. When Airbus was A320 was introduced, there were problems and in India 2 accidents had taken place. Boeing will surely come out of this problem, which I hope will not occur again.
Pappu Kongressi - 17 hours ago -Follow
IF IT''S BOEING I''M NOT GOING.
Siv Sarkar - 17 hours ago -Follow
Greed ! Lust ! Compromise ! Shame on the corporate world ! ☹
Vijay - 16 hours ago -Follow
Business at the cost of safety and death. When Volkswagen cheated America in pollution manipulation billions of dollars was collected by USA. Here the Boeing a US company's gross negligence resulted in two crashes and hundreds of death. Let us see how much penalty will be imposed and what kind of action would be taken
Shawn - Kolkata - 17 hours ago -Follow
It''s everywhere in the developed countries.
Known Unknwon - 17 hours ago -Follow
The article is beyond comprehending ability of most Indian.
saksh - 17 hours ago -Follow
THE MORALS OF STORY IS HUMAN BEING IS NOT A MACHINE AND MACHINE CANT BE HUMAN
Axa Aga - 17 hours ago -Follow
This thug & fraud company has to be SUED, PENALIZED for being responsible for killing so many passengers, causing enormous harm to equal no. of families . .it is a CRIMINAL offence against them
tvenak B - US - 14 hours ago -Follow
Had any one of these two recent Boeing Max 8 crashes with no survivors happened in the US, BOEING WOULD HAVE BEEN SUED their pants of and victims'' families would have been awarded.
Spidey - 14 hours ago -Follow
Boeing should gift one of its Aircraft to Feku
Amol P - 17 hours ago -Follow
Shows Americans will go to any lengths to cut down competition.
Gyani - 14 hours ago -Follow
At any given time European machines are the best ever, next best match is Japanese technology.
Americans better forget competing in terms of quality.
Chat - 15 hours ago -Follow
interesting article.... Boeing is clearly behind, in the race of bigger market share
Shashi Srivastava - 14 hours ago -Follow
Corporate greed usually costs human lives. Nothing new.
Virat - 14 hours ago -Follow
Another achievement of Mr Modi
Mohit - 14 hours ago -Follow
Boeing should invest in R&D to capture global market .
Dr - 16 hours ago -Follow
Mad rush to dominate aviation market share led fatal crash a stringent capital punishment for Boeing's top brass who jeopardized passengers safety___"__
Sunny - 17 hours ago -Follow
Thank god Boeing rejected me last year in an interview.
With No Malice - India - 12 hours ago -Follow
So, who is responsible for the hundreds of lost lives?
Sameer - India - 15 hours ago -Follow
why government bailout to these private airlines , Kingfisher was 1st victim
Chokidar - Earth - 16 hours ago -Follow
can we start #BoycottBoeing campaign and force all airlines to drop Boeing? who killed 350 people just to make money?