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Boeing goes negative in 2019 on net airplane orders

Parked 737 jets
Dozens of 737 MAX jets were parked at Seattle’s Boeing Field in July, as seen in a Planet SkySat satellite image. (Planet Image Processed by Leanne Abraham)

Amid its 737 MAX crisis, Boeing Commercial Airplanes is reporting a negative number for net orders in 2019, meaning that it booked more cancellations than new orders over the course of the past year.

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In a reversal, Boeing calls for 737 MAX training

Boeing CEO in 737 MAX cockpit
Two Boeing test pilots check out a 737 MAX plane with updated flight control software in April 2019 while then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg watches from behind. Muilenburg was forced out of his corporate role last month due to his handling of the 737 MAX controversy. (Boeing Photo / Paul Weatherman)

Months after two accidents forced the worldwide grounding of 737 MAX passenger jets, Boeing is now recommending that pilots go through new rounds of MAX simulator training before the planes return to service.

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Year in Aerospace: Past troubles, future triumphs

737 MAX assembly
The first 737 MAX 8 plane undergoes final assembly at Boeing’s Renton plant in 2015. (Boeing Photo)

2019 was a tough year for the aerospace industry — a year when a control system flaw caused the second catastrophic crash of a 737 MAX jet and sparked a worldwide grounding of Boeing’s fastest-selling plane.

Nine months after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed 157 people, the 737 MAX is still grounded. Boeing’s CEO and the head of its commercial airplanes unit have been replaced, and the prospects for the MAX’s return to flight are uncertain.

It’s not a good-news story. But it’s the biggest aerospace story of 2019 — especially for the Puget Sound region, where the 737 MAX and most of Boeing’s bigger airplanes are made.

I’ve been highlighting the top stories on the aerospace beat in year-end roundups for 22 years, and it’s hard to think of a bigger transitional time than 2019-2020 (though 2011-2012, marking the end of the space shuttle era, comes close).

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Boeing gives 737 MAX 10 jet a low-key rollout

737 MAX 10 rollout
Employees gather around Boeing’s first 737 MAX 10 jet after its rollout in Renton, Wash. (Boeing Photo)

Hundreds of Boeing employees turned out today for the official rollout of the company’s biggest 737 MAX — a traditional rite in the birth of an airplane that was more muted this time, due to the eight-month-long grounding of all 737 MAX jets.

The 737 MAX 10 is a stretch version of the MAX 9, capable of accommodating 10 more seats (230 vs. 220 maximum) with slightly less maximum range (3,800 vs. 4,080 miles with an auxiliary tank). The smaller MAX 7 and MAX 8 fill out the product line.

Boeing has more than 550 orders and commitments for the MAX 10 from more than 20 customers around the globe. But the whole 737 MAX family is still in limbo because of the grounding that followed two catastrophically fatal accidents last year in October and this year in March.

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Boeing shifts execs amid 737 MAX controversy

Stan Deal
Stan Deal, who was in charge of Boeing Global Services, now heads the aerospace giant’s commercial airplanes division. (Boeing via Twitter)

Boeing is shifting the head of its growing Global Services division to take over its troubled Commercial Services division, in hopes that his familiarity with supply chains and customers will counter a growing controversy over automated control systems on Boeing’s 737 MAX jets.

The company said Stan Deal, who had been president and CEO of Boeing Global Services, is replacing Kevin McAllister, who was president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

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Boeing says 737 MAX software update is done

Boeing CEO in 737 MAX cockpit
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg sits behind pilots during a 737 MAX airplane flight that demonstrated the performance of a flight control software update. (Boeing Photo)

Two months after a pair of catastrophic crashes led to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jets worldwide, the company says it has finished work on a software update aimed at heading off future safety issues with an automatic flight control system.

Boeing announced the completion of software development today, and said it’s working with the Federal Aviation Administration to finish the process of getting the plane certified for its return to flight.

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Acting FAA chief admits fixes are needed

FAA chief Daniel Elwell
Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell testifies at a congressional hearing. (House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee via YouTube)

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged during a congressional hearing today that his agency will tighten up its regulatory procedures as a result of the investigation into two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets.

Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said he was concerned to hear that Boeing waited more than a year before informing the FAA that a cockpit indicator known as the AOA Disagree alert didn’t work as designed, due to a software gap. The agency was told about the gap only after a Lion Air 737 MAX crashed in Indonesia last October, killing all 189 people on board.

“I’m concerned that it took a year, and we’re looking into that, and we’re going to fix that,” Elwell, a former airline pilot, told Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., during a hearing before the House Aviation Subcommittee. “It shouldn’t take a year for us to find out that that discovery was made.”

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Boeing knew about a 737 MAX software gap

Boeing 737 MAX 9
Boeing’s first 737 MAX 9 jet makes its debut at the company’s Renton plant in 2017. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing says a warning alert system that figures in the investigation of two catastrophic 737 MAX crashes didn’t work the way it was supposed to because of a software flaw that engineers identified a year before the accidents.

The revelation adds a new twist to the debate over the company’s safety practices.

In this case, the debate focuses on a feature known as the “AOA Disagree” alert, which is supposed to light up in the cockpit if there’s a mismatch in data coming from two angle-of-attack sensors on the plane. Investigators suggest that bad sensor data played a key role in October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia, which killed all 189 people aboard the plane; and March’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed 157.

Within days of the Ethiopian crash, all 737 MAX airplanes were grounded worldwide.

Boeing engineers knew about a problem with the “AOA Disagree” alert well before that. The alert was originally intended to be a standard feature on the 737 MAX and the previous generation of 737 planes, known as the 737 NG (for “Next Generation”). But in a statement issued on May 5, Boeing said that in 2017, several months after deliveries began, engineers became aware that the 737 MAX display system software didn’t meet the original requirements.

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Boeing CEO rebuffs idea of resigning over 737 MAX

Dennis Muilenburg
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg takes questions at a news conference in Chicago. (AP via YouTube)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stuck to his positions on the safety of the 737 MAX airplane today during a contentious annual shareholder meeting and news conference in Chicago.

Muilenburg took questions in a face-to-face public forum for the first time since last month’s grounding of the 737 MAX due to concerns raised by two catastrophically fatal crashes last October and this March.

At one point, a reporter asked Muilenburg whether he’d resign.

“My clear intent is to continue to lead on the front of safety and quality and integrity,” he replied. “That’s who we are as a company.”

Muilenburg said that he’s been talking with factory workers in Renton, Wash., and with Boeing test pilots over the past few weeks.

“To the core of our people, they care about this business and the safety of our airplanes,” he said. “That’s what I’m focused on.”

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Boeing estimates cost of 737 MAX troubles at $1B

Boeing 737
Boeing’s first 737 MAX jet makes its way through the production line in 2015. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing’s first-quarter financial stats took a serious hit in the wake of two fatal crashes involving its bestselling plane, the 737 MAX. The company estimated the additional costs associated with grounding the 737 MAX fleet at $1 billion, but more uncertainty lies ahead. Boeing executives held off on providing updated financial guidance until the impact of the 737 MAX issue becomes clearer.

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