In March 2019, aviation authorities around the world grounded the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner after two new airplanes crashed within five months, killing all 346 people aboard. After the first accident, Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018, investigators suspected that the MAX’s new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which Boeing omitted from flight manuals and crew training, automatically and repeatedly forced the aircraft to nosedive. In November 2018, Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent airlines urgent messages to emphasize a flight recovery procedure, and Boeing started to redesign MCAS. In December 2018, studies by the FAA and Boeing concluded that MCAS posed an unacceptable safety risk. On March 10, 2019 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed, despite the crew’s attempt to use the recovery procedure. The airline grounded its MAX fleet that day.
On March 11, the Civil Aviation Administration of China was the first regulator to ground the MAX. The FAA publicly reaffirmed the airworthiness of the aircraft on March 11, but grounded it on March 13 after receiving new evidence of accident similarities. By March 18, all regulators worldwide banned the airliner. The groundings affected 387 MAX airplanes making 8,600 weekly flights for 59 airlines.
After the second accident, the U.S. Congress and Department of Transportation began investigating how the FAA certified the airplane, especially the agency’s delegation of self-approval authority to Boeing. In March, Seattle Times reported on fundamental flaws with the MCAS: it gained power and lost safeguards, changes not adequately communicated to the FAA during certification. In April, Boeing admitted that MCAS played a role in both accidents. In October 2019, Indonesia’s Lion Air accident report concluded that airplane design flaws, inadequate certification and safety regulation, maintenance errors, and flight crew actions contributed to the crash. In November 2019, the FAA revoked Boeing’s authority to issue airworthiness certificates for individual MAX airplanes.
Affected airlines canceled thousands of flights, and Boeing suspended deliveries and reduced production of the MAX. The grounding became the longest ever of a U.S. airliner, as other control system problems emerged and regulators required more corrective work. As of November 2019, Boeing had lost over $10 billion in revenue and compensation expenses to airlines and bereaved families, and faced lawsuits from pilots and victims’ families. In December 2019 Boeing forced its CEO to resign over mismanagement of the crisis. With more than 400 of the aircraft awaiting delivery, Boeing planned to temporarily halt MAX production in January 2020 until regulators clear the airliner to fly again.