An explosive New York Times report reveals that Boeing was under incredible pressure to engineer and deliver the next generation 737 MAX to avoid losing a critical market share to European aviation giant Airbus. According to some sources, the designers were pushed to complete the project in half the time normally expected.
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded from nearly every controlled airspace around the world in the wake of dual tragedies in less than six months. Now, a New York Times report sheds light on the U.S. aircraft manufacturer’s rush to deliver the next generation passenger plane in a bid to avoid ceding a critical market share to European rival Airbus.
According to the report, indications that American Airlines was seriously considering a major Airbus order in early 2011, inspired Boeing officials to create the 737 MAX. The plan would allow the company to launch a new mid-sized passenger jet without starting entirely from scratch. As an added benefit, the new plane could be marketed as requiring very limited additional training for pilots already certified on the prolific and long-serving 737 family of planes.
Some of those close to the MAX program now say that pressure to redesign the 737 in a way that would allow customer airlines to avoid expensive, time-consuming training and flight simulator time, coupled with a drive to launch the new product before losing any more of the key market segment to Airbus led to uncomfortable compromises. According to at least one source familiar with the process, designers and engineers were pushed to deliver the 737 MAX in about half the time normally expected for a project of such scale.
“This program was a much more intense pressure cooker than I’ve ever been in,” former Boeing designer Rick Ludtke told the NYT investigative reporters. “The company was trying to avoid costs and trying to contain the level of change. They wanted the minimum change to simplify the training differences, minimum change to reduce costs, and to get it done quickly.”
“The timeline was extremely compressed,” another unnamed, now retired, engineer who previously worked on the 737 MAX project told the newspaper. “It was go, go, go.”
Boeing officials completely dismissed the notion that the 737 MAX aircraft was rushed at any point during the design, production, training or testing process. The company pointed out that the project was first conceived in 2011 and the first 737 MAX aircraft was not delivered until 2018. “A multiyear process could hardly be considered rushed,” the aerospace giant told the reporters. Boeing officials have bristled at any suggestion that safety concerns ever took a backseat to beating out the competition.
“Our entire team is devoted to the quality and safety of the aircraft we design, produce and support,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg wrote in a March 18th release. “I’ve dedicated my entire career to Boeing, working shoulder to shoulder with our amazing people and customers for more than three decades, and I personally share their deep sense of commitment. Recently, I spent time with our team members at our 737 production facility in Renton, Wash., and once again saw firsthand the pride our people feel in their work and the pain we’re all experiencing in light of these tragedies. The importance of our work demands the utmost integrity and excellence—that’s what I see in our team, and we’ll never rest in pursuit of it.”
[Image Source: Wikimedia/ Steve Lynes]