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Updated January 30th, 2024 at 08:38 IST

Boeing faces deepening crisis as MAX 7 exemption request withdrawn

Blowout incident, occurring at 16,000 feet, has not only triggered a safety crisis but also led to delays in the production of Boeing's MAX family of jets.

Business Desk
Boeing 777-9
Boeing 777-9 | Image:Boeing newsroom
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In a setback for Boeing, the aerospace giant withdrew its request for a crucial exemption, which would have expedited the certification process for its upcoming 737 MAX 7, on Monday. The move comes amid escalating safety concerns following a distressing mid-air cabin blowout incident on a 737 MAX 9 operated by Alaska Airlines earlier this month.

Pressure from lawmakers urging Boeing to retract the exemption request intensified after the alarming incident, highlighting pervasive safety and quality control issues at one of the world's leading aircraft manufacturers. While no fatalities occurred during the blowout, the aftermath has thrust Boeing into a full-fledged safety and reputational crisis, jeopardising its market share against rival Airbus.

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Boeing CEO David Calhoun's decision to withdraw the exemption request adds further uncertainty to the certification timelines for both the MAX 7 and the more commercially successful MAX 10. The incident has prompted Boeing to expedite design changes, disrupting the company's initial plans.

The blowout incident, occurring at 16,000 feet above ground, has not only triggered a safety crisis but also led to delays in the production of Boeing's MAX family of jets. Previously optimistic forecasts aimed for approval of the MAX 7 and 10 by the end of 2022, but ongoing setbacks have hindered progress.

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Major carriers such as Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, primary customers for the MAX 7 and MAX 10, now face disruptions to their fleet plans. Boeing's decision to withdraw the exemption request precedes its fourth-quarter results announcement, expected on Wednesday.

The requested exemption would have facilitated the certification of the MAX 7 before implementing crucial design changes related to the nacelle inlet structure and engine anti-ice system. The MAX 10 would also require design alterations if a similar exemption is not pursued. A nacelle is the component that houses an aircraft engine.

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Boeing's initial proposal for the exemption, extending until May 31, 2026, faced uncertainty following the Alaska Airlines incident. Despite the setback, Boeing remains confident in incorporating engineering solutions during the certification process.

US Senator Tammy Duckworth, leading the Senate Commerce Committee's aviation safety subcommittee, had urged Boeing to withdraw the exemption request. CEO Calhoun, in communication with Duckworth, expressed gratitude for the decision, acknowledging it as the right course of action.

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The MAX 10 certification delay raises concerns of potential customer shifts to Airbus, eroding Boeing's 40% share of the narrowbody market. Reports of United Airlines exploring Airbus A321neo jets as an alternative to MAX 10 orders highlight the competitive challenges Boeing faces.

As Boeing contends with these challenges, industry insiders speculate about potential leadership changes at the company or its commercial division. An upcoming National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report and a Senate Commerce Committee hearing may further impact the company's management landscape.

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Boeing's ongoing crisis underscores the need for swift resolutions and transparent communication to regain trust in its aircraft safety and production processes.

(With Reuters inputs)

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Published January 30th, 2024 at 08:38 IST

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