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Boeing under global scrutiny after mishaps

NewsBoeing under global scrutiny after mishaps

Between 2006 and 2021, Boeing 737-800 has met with 11 accidents, killing 787 people.


Over 500 people have been killed in the last five years in fatal air accidents across the world, involving the “Next Generation” Boeing aircraft, bringing the world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft under the serious scrutiny of global aviation watchdogs.
The recent air crash involving the Boeing 737-800, the “Next Generation” aircraft operated by China Eastern Airlines that left 132 passengers and crew on board dead, has brought all such 737-800 aircraft operated by different airlines in India under heightened scrutiny by India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Chinese aviation officials have recovered the two flight recorders, or black boxes of the ill-fated Chinese aircraft that crashed on 21 March and are in the process of decoding it to understand the reason for the crash. The first black box of the Boeing 737 aircraft, believed to be the cockpit voice recorder, was recovered on 23 March, while the second was found on 26 March. The 737-800 that was carrying the passengers of flight number MU5735, operated by China Eastern Airlines, is one of the Chicago-based aviation company’s safest models when one considers flight-to-crash ratio.
It is totally different from the 737 Max that was at the centre of a major safety related controversy that erupted three years ago in March 2019 when all 387 Max aircraft were grounded following two fatal crashes that were blamed on a fault in the 737 Max’s autopilot software. The software forced the planes into unintended nosedives.
India has 75 Boeing 737-800 aircraft in operation with the largest fleet of this aircraft being used by low-cost carrier SpiceJet. SpiceJet has 36 Boeing 737-800 “Next Generation” aircraft in operation, while Vistara has about 14 such aircraft in operation in India. Air India’s low-cost carrier, Air India Express, has 25 Boeing 737-800 aircrafts in operation. Between 2010 and 2022, two Boeing 737-800 aircraft operated by Air India Express had crashed in India, killing 170 passengers and crew on board. The latest incident involving the Boeing 737-800 in India was in 2020 when an Air India Express flight from Dubai to Kozhikode overshot the runway during landing and fell into a gorge, killing 20 people on board, including the pilot and co-pilot, and leaving several others injured.
In 2020 alone, Boeing’s 737-800 reported four accidents globally, which led to hull loss (damage to the aircraft beyond repair). Out of these four accidents involving this aircraft of Boeing, two were being operated by Pegasus airlines, a low-cost carrier of Turkey and one each by Swift Air of Spain and Air India Express from India, according to Boeing’s “Statistical summary of commercial Jet Airplane accident” report, released in 2021.
In 2021, no fatal accident or any accident termed to be “substantial” was reported involving the Boeing Next Generation aircraft. It is pertinent to mention that a major part of 2021 witnessed a shutdown/lockdown across the globe due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Boeing 737-800 is a narrow-bodied aircraft that can seat 189 passengers in a single-class configuration and 162 passengers in a two-class configuration. It was first launched in September 1994 and is a stretched version of the 737-700. This variant of Boeing’s “Next Generation” aircraft can fly a maximum distance of 5,600 km with a typical cruise speed of 840 km/hr. The world over, Boeing has 117 airlines using their 737 series, with over 7,283 deliveries completed by the company for this variant of the aircraft. This variant is mostly used by low-cost carriers as it provides fuel economy and more passenger seats.
According to Boeing’s own accident report, the company’s Next Gen 737 series, which includes the 737-600/700/800/900, has reported 21 major accidents since the aircraft’s launch in 1994. Between 2006 and 2021, Boeing’s second most advanced narrow body aircraft, the Boeing 737-800, has met with 11 accidents, killing 787 people, and leaving 271 severely injured.
The Boeing’s 737 Max, which is an advanced version of 737-800 and a part of Boeing’s 737 family, was launched with much pomp and show by the aircraft manufacturer, terming it as the most advanced aircraft, both aesthetically as well as technologically. But soon, the 737 Max started reporting technical problems. The aircraft was involved in two successive crashes that killed 346 passengers within a span of six months. On 29 October 2018, the Indonesian carrier, Lion Air flight 610 crashed. Less than six months later, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed on 10 March 2019 soon after taking off. After this, all 387 Max aircraft in service across 59 airlines worldwide were grounded and investigation was launched into the aircraft with Boeing being put to question over “faulty design”. Later, Boeing was charged with “fraud” for hiding information from safety regulators. In January 2021, Boeing entered into an agreement with the American Department of Justice (DoJ) to resolve the criminal charge related to a “conspiracy to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) in connection with the FAA AEG’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane”.
Under the terms set by the DoJ, Boeing was asked to pay a total criminal monetary amount of over $2.5 billion that composed of a criminal monetary penalty of $243.6 million, compensation payments to Boeing’s 737 MAX airline customers of $1.77 billion and the establishment of a $500 million crash-victim beneficiaries fund to compensate the heirs, relatives, and legal beneficiaries of the 346 passengers who died in the Boeing 737 MAX crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. “The misleading statements, half-truths, and omissions communicated by Boeing employees to the FAA impeded the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the flying public,” the statement by DoJ said.
Indian airline SpiceJet currently operates 13 Boeing 737 Max aircraft and according to Boeing, the company has an order book of 214 Boeing 737 Max from India’s SpiceJet and its newest client, Akasa Air. The Boeing 737 Max, grounded in March 2019, was allowed to take to the skies once again by the DGCA through an order dated 26 August 2021 after Boeing had made the necessary changes in its design and the US aviation watchdog Federal Aviation Administration issuing an Airworthiness Directive certificate in November 2020.
This was followed by Boeing’s 737 Max receiving airworthiness certificate from the European Aviation Safety Agency in February 2021. In total, over 17 regulators have permitted the operation of Boeing 737 Max as of August 2021.
The Sunday Guardian sent a detailed questionnaire to Boeing seeking details on safety regulation for Boeing’s 737-800 aircraft, the steps that the manufacturer has taken for ensuring that the aircraft is safe to operate and whether the company has done any audit to unravel reason/reasons for the multiple air crashes and whether Indian air carriers using these models of Boeing, have been re-briefed.
In response to The Sunday Guardian’s questionnaire, Boeing said, “We extend our deepest condolences for the loss of those on board China Eastern Airlines Flight MU 5735. Our thoughts and prayers are with the passengers and crew, their families and all those affected by this accident. Boeing will continue to support our airline customers during this difficult time. In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB and the Civil Aviation Administration of China who will lead the investigation.”
Here’s a breakup of the accidents involving deaths of passengers:
1. September 2018-Air Niugini Flight 73 – under shot the runway and landed in a lagoon-1 killed, Boeing 737-800; 2. 29 October 2018-Lion Air, Flight 610 – Nosedived and crashed 11 minutes after taking off-189 people killed, Boeing 737 Max; 3. 10 March 2019-Ethiopian Airlines-Flight 302, Nose-dived and crashed-killed 157, Boeing 737 Max; 4. February 5, 2020-Pegasus Airlines, Flight 2193-Skidded off runway during landing-3 killed, 737-800; 5. August 7, 2020-Air India Express-Flight 1334-Overshot the runway during landing–20 killed, Boeing 737-800; 6. March 21, 2020- China Eastern Airlines-flight 5753-unknown–132 killed, Boeing 737-800.
In January 2020, a Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752, which was a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, was shot down by mistake by the Iranian military killing 176 people on board.

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