Since the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX was first lifted, the airplane has made a strident return to the fleets of
dozens of airlines worldwide. Despite all the worries about the reputational damage from two high-profile accidents, Boeing’s flagship narrow-body has been inducted back into service with confidence.
Since November 2020, Boeing has also logged 1,215 gross orders for the MAX, 360 in this year alone (as of the end of July 2022). Boeing has been hard at work to get its outstanding orders delivered to customers as well, with 476 airplanes flying out of the factory to customers since December 2020. With around 45 airlines flying the MAX today, the aircraft has been thoroughly put through its paces over the last year and a half. So how is it performing? Let’s take a look
Stan Deal, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, tells Simple Flying: “The 737 MAX fleet has operated for 1.8 million flight hours – about 800,000 flights – since November 2020. Fleet reliability is above 99.5% – that is actually where the Next-Generation 737 was at, so it’s on par with the airplane it’s replaced.” As with any new airplane type, there are often some teething problems. Previous issues aside, the reported faults with the MAX have been as expected and non-safety critical. Deal told Simple Flying, “We’re in that what I would call a normal routine of having fleet team meetings with every customer in attendance, to say, ‘Where are your top fleet issues?’ Then we work on those issues – what are the things that we need to improve on.” This could range from minor software updates to
problems with components. If the issue is found to be widespread, Boeing will offer a fix and issue a service bulletin to advise all its customers to implement the fix. In some cases, an Airworthiness Directive (A.D.) from the FAA is issued, which means all US carriers at least have to undertake the fix within a specified period of time.
Since returning in late 2020, the MAX has had a handful of ADs implemented. This included a fix to electrical grounding; a fuel shutoff issue needing a new processor and relevant software update, and this year, an AD was issued regarding radio altimeters and 5G interference. None of these problems are safety-critical and pale in comparison to the routine ADs issued for other, older aircraft types.
Boeing is keen to weed out any minor faults with the 737 MAX in a proactive manner. As well as regular meetings with the MAX operators, the company chose to take health monitoring of the fleet into its own hands, as Stan Deal explained, “We deliberately put our Aircraft Health Monitoring on every 737 MAX as they return to service. Before, that was a feature that each customer could select. We said that was a strategy of returning the fleet that we should do … I get a cloud report on aircraft health that is invaluable to our engineers to be able to diagnose and then get feedback.” Having this regular, timely feedback allows Boeing to rapidly identify any trends or underlying problems, and to take the lead in developing the fixes needed. So, with almost 800,000 revenue flights under its belt, the MAX has regained the confidence of many- even those who vowed ‘never set foot on a MAX again’ back in 2019.
But what about you? Have you been on a MAX yet? Do the stats ease your safety concerns? Let us know in the comments.