By Alison Sider and Doug Cameron
U.S. airlines removed dozens of newly built 737 MAX jets from
service after Boeing Co. flagged a potential electrical problem
just months after carriers began flying them again following a near
two-year grounding of the global fleet.
The newly discovered issue could undermine efforts by Boeing and
airlines to restore passenger confidence in the plane and as the
company works to resolve quality issues that have dogged some of
its commercial and military jets.
The potential problem also creates operational headaches for
U.S. airlines just as travel has started to pick up again, forcing
some to cancel flights and reaccommodate customers or quickly
substitute jets as flights have been getting fuller.
Boeing said it had told 16 MAX operators to inspect their jets
for a potential electrical problem that was discovered during
assembly of a plane being built in Seattle. Some carriers were
alerted to the problem overnight or early Friday morning. The four
U.S. airlines that fly the MAX said they had pulled 67 of the
planes from schedules.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that a
manufacturing issue that could affect the operation of a backup
power control unit, and said it would ensure the issue was
addressed. Boeing on Friday said it is working with the FAA on
resolving the issue and was continuing production of the MAX.
The MAX re-entered service in December having been grounded
since March 2019 following two fatal accidents which claimed 346
lives. Boeing has delivered 89 new planes since the MAX was
ungrounded, according to data provider Ascend by Cirium.
Boeing said it was too early to know how long it would take to
inspect the planes, ensure that the affected part is correctly
installed and make any required fixes.
Fewer than 100 planes in airline fleets around the world could
be affected by the potential problem, according to people familiar
with the matter. Federal regulators don't consider it to be an
immediate safety issue, one of the people said.
In another new snag for the company, Boeing found that a
particular type of motor that moves the MAX's horizontal stabilizer
could be prone to problems, a spokeswoman said late Friday. The
specific version of the motor had been installed on seven MAX
aircraft, and has been replaced on five of them. The remaining two
will have the part replaced before they fly again, she said.
"This is not a safety issue; in the event of a failure, the
airplane remains capable of continued safe flight and landing," she
said. The Seattle Times previously reported the issue with the
motors. American Airlines Group Inc. said it removed the component
from two of its planes.
Until now, the MAX's reintroduction had gone smoothly. Carriers
have said few customers were seeking to avoid the plane. Airlines
had been flying 175 of the jets, most of them manufactured before
the prolonged grounding, according to Ascend by Cirium.
While thousands of airliners remain parked, airlines have been
eager to take new jets such as the MAX that are more fuel
efficient. And Boeing has won new orders for the MAX, including
from Southwest Airlines Co., the jet's largest customer.
Boeing is relying heavily on the resumption of MAX deliveries to
generate cash and reverse heavy losses caused by the grounding of
the global MAX fleet and the pandemic-driven travel slowdown.
Boeing shares were down 1.4% in midday trading.
The workhorse jet has faced intense scrutiny from regulators and
was finally cleared by U.S. authorities in November to fly again,
with others including Brazil and the European Union following
Regulators have looked at Boeing's production system, as well as
the redesign of the faulty flight control system implicated in the
two crashes. Boeing also addressed other problems that emerged
during the review, including electrical wires that were laid out in
a potentially hazardous way, and debris that workers mistakenly
left in fuel tanks or other interior spaces of MAX aircraft.
The company has been producing a small number of planes, but
planned to boost monthly output to more than 30 early next
The electrical issue relates to a component unrelated to the
automated flight-control system malfunction that led to the crashes
of planes flown by Indonesia's Lion Air in October 2018 and
Ethiopian Airlines in March 2019, according to a Boeing
David Seymour, chief operating officer of American Airlines,
said in a message to employees Monday that Boeing had traced the
issue to a production change made in the installation process that
occurred after American had received its last aircraft before the
The airline said it took 17 of its most recently-delivered MAX
aircraft out of service to complete necessary inspections. American
still has 24 other MAX jets in its fleet that it said were produced
before the plane was recertified by regulators last year.
Southwest said 30 of its 58 MAX jets were involved and had been
removed from flying, but didn't expect its operations to be
affected as the pandemic-driven travel slowdown has left it with
United Airlines Holdings Inc. said it was taking 16 MAX jets out
of service, out of the 30 it has in its fleet. The airline said it
was working to cover the flying with other planes and didn't have
an estimate of when it would be able to bring back the affected MAX
Alaska Air Group Inc. said it had taken all four of its MAX jets
out of service for inspection.
More than 100 MAX jets have re-entered service since regulators
cleared the plane to restart commercial service, with Boeing
working through a backlog of 400 undelivered jets as well as 380
operating when regulators grounded the global fleet.
Write to Alison Sider at firstname.lastname@example.org and Doug Cameron
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 09, 2021 22:16 ET (02:16 GMT)
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