Boeing Succeeds In Lobbying For Exemption To Safety Measures For 737 MAX

Boeing has reportedly succeeded in lobbying against safety measures for Boeing 737 MAX -7 and -10 aircraft, with Congress sticking the airframe manufacturer’s language into the must-pass year-end budget bill.

Any plane that’s certified starting in 2023 requires new cockpit alerts as a result of legislative reaction to problems with the Boeing 737 MAX. But Boeing is about to get an exemption from this for the new 737 MAX variants.

The Chicago-based company has been intensely lobbying for months to convince lawmakers to waive the Dec. 27 deadline that affects its MAX 7 and MAX 10 airplanes that was imposed by Congress in 2020 after two fatal 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Congressional leaders have agreed to attach the extension to a bill to fund U.S. government operations and to require new safety enhancements for existing MAX aircraft proposed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, the sources said. That massive spending bill still must be passed in the coming days.

Boeing doesn’t want to implement these new safety requirements for the new 737 MAX 7 and MAX 10 variants of the aircraft. They didn’t complete certification requirements in time to avoid them and the FAA wasn’t moving quickly on its end either. So they turned to Congress to pass an exemption.

And it looks like their lobbying has paid off at the last minute.

  • The Boeing 737 MAX is safe as-is. Changes aren’t needed for it to ‘be’ safe. It was probably a safe aircraft for U.S. airlines even before the grounding, given pilot training, maintenance record-keeping and use of proper replacement parts, and angle of attack disagree indicators (which frankly shouldn’t have been an option carriers might opt out of). Now there have been safety upgrades and training and it’s the most extensively scrutinized aircraft in history and it’s been operating well since it returned during the pandemic.

  • Having different cockpit elements for the 737 MAX -7 and -10 compared to the -8 and -9 could be worse for safety? That’s an argument proponents are making, but retrofitting the -8s and -9s seem like it would make sense here and fleet commonality is what got us into this mess in the first place. Boeing had committed to no separate training for the MAX compared to previous 737 NG aircraft, and so they instituted the MCAS system to compensate for differences in how the MAX behaved.

  • It’s a bad look for Boeing to lobby against safety measures for the MAX after high profile crashes and long-term grounding of the aircraft.

  • It’s a bad look for Congress to do Boeing’s bidding. Congress passed a requirement for safety changes, but is backing off in response to pressure from Boeing, led by their home state Senator Maria Cantwell who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. That’s hardly ‘deliberative’ not least of which because the switch is being stuck in at the last moment as part of unrelated legislation.

  • The new rules were never intended to apply to the MAX -7 and -10. When passed they didn’t go into effect right away. It was assumed that the two new MAX variants would be approved before the new rules started. But Boeing has been more fraught than anyone realized, and so the grace period they were given has run out.

United is a big customer for the as-yet unreleased aircraft and so is Alaska Airlines. United is expected to fly these planes on premium cross country routes. Boeing even scored a big order from Delta, a huge win from an airline that hasn’t bought new planes from Boeing in years. But applying new safety requirements to the planes would impose both costs and delays.

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