Boeing cuts back temporarily on 737 MAX production and plans to review design process

Boeing cuts back temporarily on 737 MAX production and plans to review design process

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The first 737 MAX 8 plane undergoes final assembly at Boeing’s Renton plant in 2015. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing will reduce its monthly production rate for its single-aisle 737 jets from 52 to 42, starting in mid-April, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said today.

In a statement, Muilenburg said he’s also asked the company’s board of directors to establish an internal committee to review Boeing’s policies and processes for airplane design and development.

The moves come in the wake of this week’s preliminary findings from an investigation into the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 plane that killed all 157 people on board. Less than five months earlier, a similar Lion Air 737 MAX crash in Indonesia killed 189 people.

Those two incidents led to a worldwide suspension in 737 MAX flights.

Both crashes were traced to the improper activation of an automated flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system, which was added to the 737 MAX to safeguard against stalls, relied on data inputs from a single angle-of-attack sensor — and in both cases, there were indications that the sensor was providing spurious data.

The MCAS problems have in turn raised questions about the process by which the 737 MAX, the latest incarnation of a 51-year-old narrowbody design, was certified for commercial service in 2017. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Justice Department are conducting separate investigations into that process, and it’s also been the subject of congressional hearings.

Boeing manufactures its 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes — as well as an earlier model known as the 737NG — at its plant in Renton, Wash. Muilenburg said the temporary reduction in the production rate would not affect employment levels. At one time, Boeing had planned to increase 737 production to 57 planes a month by the end of this year.

Here’s today’s full statement from Muilenburg:

“As we work closely with customers and global regulators to return the 737 MAX to service, we continue to be driven by our enduring values, with a focus on safety, integrity and quality in all we do.

“We now know that the recent Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents were caused by a chain of events, with a common chain link being erroneous activation of the aircraft’s MCAS function. We have the responsibility to eliminate this risk, and we know how to do it. As part of this effort, we’re making progress on the 737 MAX software update that will prevent accidents like these from ever happening again. Teams are working tirelessly, advancing and testing the software, conducting non-advocate reviews, and engaging regulators and customers worldwide as we proceed to final certification. I recently had the opportunity to experience the software update performing safely in action during a 737 MAX 7 demo flight.  We’re also finalizing new pilot training courses and supplementary educational material for our global MAX customers. This progress is the result of our comprehensive, disciplined approach and taking the time necessary to get it right.

“As we continue to work through these steps, we’re adjusting the 737 production system temporarily to accommodate the pause in MAX deliveries, allowing us to prioritize additional resources to focus on software certification and returning the MAX to flight. We have decided to temporarily move from a production rate of 52 airplanes per month to 42 airplanes per month starting in mid-April.

“At a production rate of 42 airplanes per month, the 737 program and related production teams will maintain their current employment levels while we continue to invest in the broader health and quality of our production system and supply chain.

“We are coordinating closely with our customers as we work through plans to mitigate the impact of this adjustment. We will also work directly with our suppliers on their production plans to minimize operational disruption and financial impact of the production rate change.

“In light of our commitment to continuous improvement and our determination to always make a safe industry even safer, I’ve asked the Boeing Board of Directors to establish a committee to review our company-wide policies and processes for the design and development of the airplanes we build.  The committee will confirm the effectiveness of our policies and processes for assuring the highest level of safety on the 737-MAX program, as well as our other airplane programs, and recommend improvements to our policies and procedures.

“The committee members will be Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, Jr., (Ret.), former vice chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who will serve as the committee’s chair; Robert A. Bradway, chairman and CEO of Amgen, Inc.; Lynn J. Good, chairman, president and CEO of the Duke Energy Corporation; and Edward M. Liddy, former chairman and CEO of the Allstate Corporation, all members of the company’s board. These individuals have been selected to serve on this committee because of their collective and extensive experiences that include leadership roles in corporate, regulated industries and government entities where safety and the safety of lives is paramount.

“Safety is our responsibility, and we own it. When the MAX returns to the skies, we’ve promised our airline customers and their passengers and crews that it will be as safe as any airplane ever to fly. Our continued disciplined approach is the right decision for our employees, customers, supplier partners and other stakeholders as we work with global regulators and customers to return the 737 MAX fleet to service and deliver on our commitments to all of our stakeholders.”

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