Boeing 737 MAX groundings
A parking lot at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, filled with undelivered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft
  • Lion Air accident: October 29, 2018
  • Ethiopian Airlines accident: March 10, 2019
  • First grounding: March 10, 2019 (2019-03-10) by Ethiopian Airlines (superseded)
  • First grounding order: March 11, 2019 (2019-03-11) by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) (ended on December 2, 2021 (2021-12-02))[1]
  • FAA grounding order March 13, 2019 (2019-03-13) – November 18, 2020 (2020-11-18)
  • between accidents: 4 months and 10 days
  • of grounding by the FAA: 1 year, 8 months and 5 days (619 days)
CauseAirworthiness revoked after recurring flight control failure
  • direct costs: US$20 billion[2]
  • indirect costs: US$60 billion[2]
Deaths346 total:

The Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner was grounded worldwide between March 2019 and December 2020 – longer in many jurisdictions – after 346 people died in two crashes, Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) resisted grounding the aircraft until March 13, 2019, when it received evidence of accident similarities. By then, 51 other regulators had already grounded the plane,[3] and by March 18, 2019, all 387 aircraft in service were grounded.

In 2016, FAA approved Boeing's request to remove references to a new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) from the flight manual. In November 2018, after the Lion Air accident, Boeing instructed pilots to take corrective action in case of a malfunction, when the airplane would enter a series of automated nosedives. Boeing avoided revealing MCAS until pilots requested further explanation. In December 2018, the FAA privately predicted that MCAS could cause 15 crashes over 30 years. In April 2019, the Ethiopian preliminary report stated that the crew had attempted the recovery procedure, and Boeing confirmed that MCAS had activated in both accidents.[4]

FAA certification of the MAX was subsequently investigated by the U.S. Congress and multiple U.S. government agencies, including the Transportation Department, FBI, NTSB, Inspector General and special panels. Engineering reviews uncovered other design problems, unrelated to MCAS, in the flight computers and cockpit displays. The Indonesian NTSC and the Ethiopian ECAA both attributed the crashes to faulty aircraft design and other factors, including maintenance and flight crew actions. Lawmakers investigated Boeing's incentives to minimize training for the new aircraft.[5] The FAA revoked Boeing's authority to issue airworthiness certificates for individual MAX airplanes and fined Boeing for exerting "undue pressure" on its designated aircraft inspectors.

In August 2020, the FAA published requirements for fixing each aircraft and improving pilot training. On November 18, 2020, the FAA ended the 20-month grounding, the longest ever of a U.S. airliner. The accidents and grounding cost Boeing an estimated $20 billion in fines, compensation and legal fees, with indirect losses of more than $60 billion from 1,200 cancelled orders.[6][2][7] The MAX resumed commercial flights in the U.S. in December 2020, and was recertified in Europe and Canada by January 2021.[8]


Five Shenzhen Airlines 737 MAX 8s (foreground, red livery) grounded at the Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport, March 2019
Five Shenzhen Airlines 737 MAX 8s (foreground, red livery) grounded at the Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport, March 2019

Main article: List of Boeing 737 MAX groundings

After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, China and most other aviation authorities grounded the airliner over perceived safety risks. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg assured President Donald Trump the airplane was safe, in response to Trump's social media comments.[9] Having new evidence of accident similarities, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded the aircraft on March 13, 2019, reversing a Continued Airworthiness Notice issued two days prior.[10][11][12] About 30 MAX aircraft were flying in U.S. airspace at the time and were allowed to reach their destinations.[13] By March 18, regulators grounded all 387 MAX aircraft in service with 59 airlines worldwide and making 8,600 flights each week.[14] Several ferry flights were operated with flaps extended to circumvent MCAS activation.

The grounding subsequently became the longest ever of a U.S. airliner.[15][16] As of January 2020, another 400 newly manufactured aircraft await delivery to airlines pending the aircraft's return to service.

Accident investigations

Vertical airspeeds of both flights, showing altitude loss in 20 second intervals.
Vertical airspeeds of both flights, showing altitude loss in 20 second intervals.

See also: Aviation accident analysis

ICAO regulations Annex 13, "Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation", defines which states may participate in investigations. For the two MAX accidents these are:[17]

  1. Indonesia, for Lion Air Flight 610 as state of registration, state of occurrence and state of operator.
  2. Ethiopia, for Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, as state of registration, state of occurrence and state of operator.
  3. The United States, as state of manufacturer and issuer of the type certificate.

The participating state or national transportation safety bureaus are the NTSB for the US and the NTSC for Indonesia. Australia and Singapore also offered technical assistance, shortly after the Lion Air accident, regarding data recovery from the new generation flight recorders (FDR).[needs update] With the exception of Ethiopia, the officially recognized countries are members of the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR).

Lion Air Flight 610

Main article: Lion Air Flight 610

PK-LQP, the aircraft involved in the crash of Flight 610
PK-LQP, the aircraft involved in the crash of Flight 610

Preliminary investigations revealed serious flight control problems that traumatized passengers and crew on the aircraft's previous flight, as well as signs of angle-of-attack (AoA) sensor and other instrument failures on that and previous flights, tied to a design flaw involving the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) of the 737 MAX series. The aircraft maintenance records indicated that the AoA Sensor was just replaced before the accident flight.[18] The report tentatively attributed the accident to the erroneous angle-of-attack (AoA) data and automatic nose-down trim commanded by MCAS.[19][20]

The NTSC final report, published on October 23, 2019, was prepared with assistance from the U.S. NTSB. NTSC's investigator Nurcahyo Utomo identified nine factors to the accident, saying:

"The nine factors are the root problem; they cannot be separated. Not one is contributing more than the other. Unlike NTSB reports that identify the primary cause of accidents and then list contributing issues determined to be less significant, Indonesia is following a convention used by many foreign regulators of listing causal factors without ranking them".[21][22]

The final report has been shared with families of Lion Air Flight 610, then published on October 25, 2019.[23][24][25][26]

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

Main article: Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

ET-AVJ, the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that crashed as Flight 302
ET-AVJ, the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that crashed as Flight 302

On March 11, FAA defended the MAX against groundings by issuing a Continued Airworthiness Notice to operators. The initial reports for Flight 302 found that the pilots struggled to control the airplane in a manner similar to the Lion Air flight 610 crash.[27] On March 13, 2019, the FAA announced that evidence from the crash site and satellite data on Flight 302 suggested that it might have suffered from the same problem as Lion Air Flight 610 in that the jackscrew controlling the pitch of the horizontal stabilizer of the crashed Flight 302, was found to be set in the full "nose down" position, similar to Lion Air Flight 610.[28] This further implicated MCAS as contributory to the crash.[29][30][31]

Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Biniyam Demssie said that the procedures for disabling MCAS had just been incorporated into pilot training. "All the pilots flying the MAX received the training after the Indonesia crash," he said. "There was a directive by Boeing, so they took that training."[32] Despite following the procedure, the pilots could not recover.[33]

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) is leading investigations for Flight 302. The United States Federal Aviation Administration will also assist in the investigation.[34] Both flight recorders (voice and data) were recovered from the crash site on March 11, 2019.[35] The French aviation accident investigation agency BEA announced that it would analyze the flight recorders from the flight.[36] BEA received the flight recorders on March 14, 2019.[37]

On March 17, 2019, Dagmawit Moges, Ethiopia's transport minister, announced that the black box had been found and downloaded, and that the preliminary data retrieved from the flight data recorder show a "clear similarity" with those of Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed off Indonesia.[38][39] Due to this finding, some experts in Indonesia suggested that the NTSC should cooperate with Flight 302's investigation team.[40] Later on the evening, the NTSC offered assistance to Flight 302's investigation team, stating that the committee and the Indonesian Transportation Ministry would send investigators and representatives from the government to assist with the investigation of the crash.[41]

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority published an interim report on March 9, 2020, one day before the March 10 anniversary of the crash.[42] Investigators have tentatively concluded that the crash was caused by the aircraft's design.[43][44] As of March 2021, the final report has not yet been published.[45]


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Type certification and return to service

Main article: Boeing 737 MAX certification

Investigations in both crashes determined that Boeing and the FAA favored cost-saving solutions, but ultimately produced a flawed design of the MCAS instead.[97] The FAA's Organization Designation Authorization program, allowing manufacturers to act on its behalf, was also questioned for weakening its oversight of Boeing.

Boeing wanted the FAA to certify the airplane as another version of the long-established 737; that would limit the need for additional training of pilots, a major cost saving for airline customers. During flight tests, however, Boeing discovered that the larger size and position of the engines tended to push up the airplane nose during certain maneuvers. To counter that tendency and ensure fleet commonality with the 737 family, Boeing added MCAS so the MAX would handle similar to earlier 737 versions. Boeing convinced the FAA that MCAS could not fail hazardously or catastrophically, and that existing procedures were effective in dealing with malfunctions. The MAX was exempted from certain newer safety requirements, saving Boeing billions of dollars in development costs.[98] In February 2020, the DOJ investigated Boeing's hiding of information from the FAA, based on the content of internal emails.[99] In January 2021, Boeing settled to pay over $2.5 billion after being charged with fraud in connections to the crashes.

In June 2020, the U.S. Inspector General's report revealed that MCAS problems dated several years before the accidents.[100] The FAA found several defects that Boeing deferred to fix, in violation of regulations.[101] In September 2020, the House of Representatives concluded its investigation and cited numerous instances where Boeing dismissed employee concerns with MCAS, prioritized deadline and budget constraints over safety, and where it lacked transparency in disclosing essential information to the FAA. It further found that the assumption that simulator training would not be necessary had "diminished safety, minimized the value of pilot training, and inhibited technical design improvements".[102]

In November 2020, the FAA announced that it had cleared the aircraft type to return to service.[103] Various system, maintenance and training requirements are stipulated, as well as design changes that must be implemented on each aircraft before the FAA issues an airworthiness certificate, without delegation to Boeing. Other major regulators worldwide are gradually following suit: Transport Canada and EASA both cleared the MAX in 2021 after two years of grounding, subject to additional requirements.[85][87]

Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System

Main article: Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System

This article duplicates the scope of other articles, specifically Boeing 737 MAX groundings#Accident investigation. Please discuss this issue on the talk page and edit it to conform with Wikipedia's Manual of Style. (July 2021)
The MAX uses an adjustable stabilizer, moved by a jackscrew, to provide the required pitch trim forces. Generic stabilizer illustrated.
The MAX uses an adjustable stabilizer, moved by a jackscrew, to provide the required pitch trim forces. Generic stabilizer illustrated.

MCAS on the 737 MAX was designed to mimic the pitching behavior of the previous generation of the series, the Boeing 737 NG, by pushing down the aircraft nose from an elevated angle of attack (AoA) by automatically adjusting the horizontal stabilizer and trim tab. The system was intended to protect pilots from inadvertently flying at too steep an angle, which could result in a stall. Boeing, however, asserted that MCAS was not an anti-stall system, as the media widely reported it to be. Pilot movement of the control column on the MAX did not disable MCAS, unlike an earlier implementation of MCAS on the U.S. Air Force Boeing 767 Tanker. During certification of the MAX, Boeing requested and received permission from the FAA to remove a description of MCAS from the aircraft manual, leaving pilots unaware of the system when the airplane entered service in 2017.[104][105] Boeing had also knowingly withheld knowledge, for at least a year before the Lion Air crash, that a system to warn of a possible AoA malfunction did not work as advertised.[106]

On November 6, 2018, Boeing published a supplementary service bulletin prompted by the first crash. The bulletin describes warnings triggered by erroneous AoA data could cause the pitch trim system to repeatedly push down the nose of the airplane and referred pilots to a "non-normal runaway trim" procedure as resolution, specifying a narrow window of a few seconds before the system would reactivate and pitch the nose down again.[107] The FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive, 2018-23-51, on November 7, 2018, requiring the bulletin's inclusion in the flight manuals, and that pilots immediately review the new information provided.[108][109] Pilots wanted to know more about the issue, and Boeing responded by publicly naming MCAS for the first time in another message to airlines, noting that MCAS operates "without pilot input."[110][111]

In December 2018, the FAA had privately predicted that 15 MCAS-related accidents could result if the system was not redesigned. Boeing said it would revise MCAS software by April 2019 to correct any problems. The study was only revealed a year later at the December 2019 House of Representatives hearing. Stephen Dickson, who became FAA administrator during the accident investigations, testified at the hearing about his agency's response after the Lion Air accident, saying "the result was not satisfactory".[112]

After the March 2019 crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Ethiopian investigators determined that pilots had attempted the recommended recovery procedure.[113][114] Boeing admitted that MCAS played a role in both accidents by activating when it received faulty data from an exterior AoA sensor.

In 2020, an FAA Airworthiness Directive approved design changes for each MAX aircraft, requiring input from two AoA sensors for MCAS activation, elimination of the system's ability to repeatedly activate, and allowing pilots to override the system if necessary.[115] Boeing also overhauled the computer architecture of the flight controls to provide greater redundancy. For each aircraft, the FAA would issue the airworthiness certificate, without delegation to Boeing, upon completion of an AoA sensor system test and a validation test flight.[116] The FAA also required that all MAX pilots receive MCAS-related training in flight simulators by 2021. Before the accidents, simulator training on the MAX was not required, because the FAA accepted Boeing's position that the MAX was sufficiently similar to the previous 737 series, the NG.


Main article: Reactions to the Boeing 737 MAX groundings

The Boeing 737 MAX groundings drew mixed reactions from multiple organizations. The first authority to ground the MAX, Civil Aviation Administration of China said the accidents "had certain similarities" because both aircraft were newly delivered and crashed shortly after takeoff.[117]

Boeing expressed its sympathy to the relatives of the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash victims, while simultaneously defending the aircraft against any faults until rebutted by evidence. Boeing provided several outdated return to service timelines, the soonest of which was "in the coming weeks" following the March 2019 grounding. On October 11, 2019, David L. Calhoun replaced Dennis Muilenburg as chairman of Boeing, then succeeded Muilenburg's role as chief executive officer in January 2020.

Congressman Sam Graves of the House Transportation Committee had blamed the 737 MAX crashes on substandard-quality training of the Indonesian and Ethiopian pilots; stating that "pilots trained in the U.S. would have been successful" in handling the emergencies on both jets, at the House Aviation subcommittee hearing in Washington D.C.[118][119] Airbus downplayed that it is "winning" in any way due to the MAX grounding, citing its own logistical and supplier capacity to fulfill orders for the A320 family aircraft.

Pilots and flight attendants opinions are mixed as some expressed confidence in the certification renewal, while others are disappointed as Boeing had hidden an important safety feature to their knowledge. Mica Endsley of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society testified that "The cues received by the pilots [...] were significantly different than the cues received with a runaway stabilizer trim".

Most airlines sought compensation from Boeing to cover costs of the disruption, while the 737 MAX received some support when International Airlines Group (IAG) announced at the June 2019 Paris Air Show it could order 200 jets. Opinion polls suggested most passengers are reluctant to fly again aboard the 737 MAX when it will be reintroduced, while most should be comfortable boarding it again after some time passes to prove its safe operations. Chesley Sullenberger commented upon the "cozy relationship" that exists between the industry and its regulators.

Financial and economic effects

Main article: Financial impact of the Boeing 737 MAX groundings

The Boeing 737 MAX groundings have had a deep financial effect on the aviation industry and a significant effect on the national economy of the United States. No airline took delivery of the MAX during the groundings. Boeing slowed MAX production to 42 aircraft per month until in January 2020, when they halted until the airplane is reapproved by regulators. Boeing has suffered directly through increased costs, loss of sales and revenue, loss of reputation, victims litigation, client compensation, decreased credit rating and lowered stock value. In January 2020, the company estimated a loss of $18.4 billion for 2019, and it reported 183 canceled MAX orders for the year.

In February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting travel bans created further uncertainty for Boeing. In March 2020, news that Boeing was seeking a $60 billion bailout caused a steep drop in its stock price, though Boeing eventually received $17 billion in funds from the coronavirus stimulus.[120] Its extensive supply chain providing aircraft components and flight simulators suffered similar losses, as did the aircraft services industry, including crew training, the aftermarket and the aviation insurance industry. At the time of the recertification by the FAA in November 2020, Boeing's net orders for the 737 MAX were down by more than 1,000 aircraft,[6] 448 orders canceled and 782 orders removed from the backlog because they are no longer certain enough to rely on; the total estimated direct costs of the MAX groundings were US$20 billion and indirect costs over US$60 billion.[121] On January 7, 2021, Boeing settled to pay over $2.5 billion after being charged with fraud.

See also


  1. ^ install new flight control computer software and new display system software; incorporate certain Airplane Flight Manual flightcrew operating procedures; modify horizontal stabilizer trim wire routing installations; conduct an angle of attack sensor system test; and conduct an operational readiness flight


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Further reading