Should the 737 MAX Be Grounded?

Should the 737 Max Be Grounded?


When a former Boeing Senior Manager refuses to fly a 737 MAX and recommends that it be grounded until its many production issues and Boeing's quality control issues are fixed, it makes sense to at least hear why.

Ed Pierson, previously a Boeing senior manager of industrial engineering, recounts that by the time he left in 2018, Boeing's processes were chaotic, plagued by late-arriving engines and other parts, numerous defects and mistakes, significant overtime and exhausted employees. Only months after he left Boeing, Lion Air Flight 610, using a Boeing 737 MAX, crashed 13 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board.

“Unfortunately, this problem has been going on for several years…we've looked at the data, incident report data, and there's been unfortunately at least 20 serious production quality defects that have come to light in the past couple years.”

Pierson emphasizes that even after the two 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 passengers and crew, the NTSB didn't go into Boeing's factory or look at the planes' production records: “Had they looked at those production records, they would've seen the two planes that crashed, had electrical issues on those planes. There was a program that started in about 2017 to remove inspections…to accelerate production. The executives all know about it, because they were the ones who sponsored it. And the planes that crashed had inspections removed from them.

It was called QA Transformation Plan. Then it became what's called Verification Optimization. They removed thousands of quality control inspections, not just on the 737 MAX airplanes, but on other airplanes, 77 7, 787…this was done without the FAA's knowledge in most cases.

[Boeing] had two fatal crashes, killed 346 people, over a $20 billion loss to the company. Criminal charges being placed for criminal fraud still in the courts, and the company is removing quality control inspections. Quality control inspections have been in place for decades, which contributed to the success of the quality of that airplane.”

In 2023, Pierson wrote to Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci, pointing to the obvious production quality defects on Alaska's 737 aircraft: over just a couple years, Alaska Airlines submitted over 1200 reports on 53 new 737-9 Max airplanes. Minicucci never replied.

Pierson is now Executive Director of the Foundation for Aviation Safety. “Our recommendation from the foundation is that [737 MAX planes] get grounded — period. Get grounded and inspected and then, depending on what they find, get fixed.”

When asked by Politico whether he was surprised that so little had been done to fix things inside Boeing five years after he originally testified to Congress on the 737 MAX issues, Pierson said: “I’m horrified and I’m not surprised. It’s horrifying to think that the company did such a minimal effort. They spent 90 percent of their energy telling the media things [like] “renewed quality” and using language in their press releases and their financial statements like “a renewed safety focus.” And then meanwhile, I’m hearing from people, “No, it’s actually just as bad or worse in the factory now than it was before.””

Pierson isn't the only one concerned. A new FAA report that was commissioned by Congress after the deadly Boeing 737 crashes highlighted a “disconnect” between Boeing's senior management and workers, with employees charged with checking the company's planes expressing concern about potential retaliation if they raised issues. 

It's well known that commercial flying today (even in a 737 MAX) is far safer, probability-wise, than driving in a car, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't consider making it even safer.

What do you think of Boeing's track record with the 737 MAX? Are you agnostic about flying a 737 MAX vs. a different plane, or do you actively avoid the 737 MAX?

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