The 737 Debacle; Hubris and Nemesis

By David Hopwood | November 25, 2019

Hubris, (noun) excessive pride or self-confidence

Nemesis, (noun) a long-standing rival, an arch enemy.

Since 1967 the 737 has proven itself an outstanding aircraft. In 2014 Boeing reported the 737 family as having carried 16.8 billion passengers; as if the entire world’s population had flown twice.

As a company, Boeing earns enormous revenues and makes massive profits; in 2018 the manufacturer made $101 billion and from that $10.5 billion in net profit. By comparison, the second-largest manufacturer Airbus earned $70.1 billion in global revenue and $3.4 billion profit. By any measure, that’s an incredible amount of money for which to be responsible. The pressures on the executive teams of both organisations are staggering, especially in the US where the pressure to produce improved quarterly results is immense.

American A320 Image;

The A320 series has recently overtaken the 737 in total orders; 15 157 vs. 15 136. The A320 was first delivered to launch customer Air France in March 1988. Since then Boeing has been playing catch up, but for Airbus it was a major challenge to make significant inroads to the US market. In July 2011 after many years of effort, Airbus secured an order for over 350 aircraft from American Airlines. Prior to that, American had only purchased Boeing.

American is now both the largest airline and the biggest operator of the A320 family in the world.

Earlier in 2011, Boeing’s then- CEO Jim McNerney announced that they were not going to re-engine the 737, but rather develop a new aircraft; the so-called NMA, the New Mid-size Aircraft. (they’re still considering it) Airbus made clear they were going to re-engine the A320.

Eager not to upset their established customers, hamstrung by years of delays on the 787 Dreamliner and wary of spending yet more billions on development, Boeing were taken by surprise and reversed the NMA strategy. The 737 was their cash cow; committing to a new aircraft and risking Airbus taking a bigger share of the US (and global) market was a huge step too far.

In order to accommodate the new larger and heavier engines for the 737-MAX, slung forward and below the wings rather than simply suspended below, Boeing added the MCAS sensor/software system to prevent stalling under certain conditions. The rest is tragic history. After the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes and some ham-fisted attempts at apportioning blame elsewhere, the MAX was grounded around the world—with the US being the last country to do so.

American Airlines A321. Image;

Since the beginning of flight, the development of a single aircraft has always had its limits. Boeing have pushed since the early ’70s and now reached and passed those limits for the 737.

Now, there’s a situation where every incident with a Boeing aircraft is seized upon as another possible- potentially lethal- flaw by the manufacturer. This is unfair, but understandable.

Boeing has lost a great deal of trust in its products and management. How quickly they can regain that trust will determine its future success. Or otherwise.

The 737 Debacle; Hubris and Nemesis was provided for Mentour Aviation by Travel Radar – Home of Aviation News. Travel Radar Media brings the latest aviation & travel news!


  • Niels Rasmussen

    “… Boeing added the MCAS sensor/software system to prevent stalling under certain conditions.”

    Really? I thought that they did it to make the MAX handle similar enough to previous 737 models that it would not require a separate type rating. Am I wrong in that assumption?

    • Thanks for comment Niels. Of course both points are correct; MCAS to ‘fix’ the performance/safety issue resulting in the MAX and previous models behaving similarly. The matter of commonality isn’t necessarily ignoble; Airbus have been doing the same on the 320 and variants for years, (and perhaps with others?) The point is (amongst other things) that the MCAS work-around didn’t work, that it was at best camoflaged, and FAA failed in their obligations. I see that the FAA now wants to approve each MAX aircraft (!) and the Europeans are not going to as it were take FAA’s word and approve independently.

    • Barbara Evenden-Bartley

      No you are not wrong. This is an attempt to make it seem different than it is. It will be interesting to see if the “ “fix” is actually sufficient for the need to fix the aircraft. I will never understand why they didn’t make both side essential from the start. It would have saved them in the long run.

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