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Are Boeing 737 Max planes safe to fly?

Updated: Jan 8, 2024. Tim Das.
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Boeing is once again facing scrutiny as the US aviation regulator has grounded 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes following an incident where an Alaska Airlines plane’s fuselage fell off. This, once again, raises concerns about the safety of Boeing 737 Max series aircrafts.

The troubled history of the Boeing 737 Max dates back to October 2018 when Lion Air Flight 610 (Boeing 737 Max 8) crashed shortly after takeoff, resulting in the loss of all passengers and crew on board. A few months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 met a similar fate. In both cases, a malfunctioning flight control system was identified as the cause of the crashes. These incidents prompted governments worldwide to ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes and launch investigations.

During the investigations, it was revealed that Boeing had prior knowledge of the issues but failed to disclose them and continued selling the aircraft. Whistleblowers who raised concerns were ignored and faced retaliation. As a result, Boeing faced fraud charges and settled by paying a hefty sum of $2.5 billion.

Both these crashes could have been avoided.

This is how the Boeing 737 Max was described by someone in the company, in an internal email.

This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.

After a couple of years addressing these issues and undergoing multiple rounds of certification attempts, the Boeing 737 Max resumed operations in early 2021. It was believed that all problems had been resolved, and air travel could return to normalcy.

However, in December 2023, new safety concerns emerged when a missing bolt was discovered in a plane’s rudder-control system by an airline. Another loose bolt was found by Boeing in an undelivered plane shortly after. Boeing then notified all airlines globally to check for loose bolts on their planes.

And just a few days later, a portion of a Boeing 737 Max 9 fuselage blew out midair, exposing passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight to strong winds. It is important to note that this incident is unrelated to the previous bolt issue, and the plane involved is not the same model as the ones involved in the 2018 crashes.

So, is the Boeing 737 Max safe to fly or not?

The recent grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 planes has reignited the debate on whether these aircraft are safe to fly.

I am no expert in evaluating an aircraft’s safety. Nor are hundreds of bloggers and AV geeks who claim that the 737 Max planes are the safest. I am sure that none of them have ever done a safety audit of a 737 Max.

It is possible that these planes are indeed very safe, but it is also plausible that these statements are the result of significant PR efforts aimed at alleviating public fears about flying on a Max.

It should be acknowledged, however, that these planes have been approved by authorities worldwide. Nevertheless, one cannot disregard the safety incidents associated with them.

While some argue that the issues should not be generalized across all models, others find it even more concerning that now multiple models within the same series have safety problems.

The full extent of these issues will be determined once investigations are complete, but it undoubtedly tarnishes Boeing’s reputation.

Despite ongoing safety concerns, airlines continue to order Boeing 737 Max planes due to business reasons. No airline would intentionally purchase an unsafe aircraft. However, there is a high demand for airplanes, and supply is very limited.

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