Aviation

Boeing confirms debris found in 737 MAX engines, as Qantas eyes cut-price deal

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

Debris that could pose potential safety risks have been discovered in dozens of Boeing 737 MAX jets.

The discovery of foreign object debris (or FOD), an industrial term for rags, tools, metal shavings and other materials left behind by workers during production, was made during ongoing inspections of the aircraft manufacturer.

Around 35 aircraft thus far have been found with debris in fuel tanks, which could pose a potential safety risk, Reuters reported. A person familiar with the matter added more than 50 per cent of the undelivered 737 MAX jets inspected so far have had debris found in them.

A spokesman from Boeing told Travel Weekly flights of the airplanes effected were completed safely without incident, while the findings led to a “robust internal investigation” and immediate corrective actions in its production system.

The company added it continues to inspect all of the more than 400 airplanes in storage.

“FOD is a serious matter, and we are taking appropriate steps to prevent it from happening again,” the spokesman told Travel Weekly.

The discovery comes as Boeing struggles to restore trust in the grounded 737 MAX from airlines and the travelling public.

The jet and its manufacturer have been under constant scrutiny since two crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, which combined killed 346 people, in part associated with the 737 MAX’s flawed anti-stall software known as MCAS.

This saw the subsequent grounding of the 737 MAX worldwide last March after the crashes, and a pause in production of the jet in December as Boeing awaits re-certification by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Qantas’ safety reputation positions airline for cut-price deal on 737 MAX

Meanwhile, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce believes his airline’s “unmatched” safety reputation positions it to negotiate a discounted deal with Boeing for a new fleet of 737 MAXs when the jet is re-certified.

Qantas is preparing to make a $5 billion aircraft order in 2020 to replace its fleet of 75 older model 737s. The airline is reportedly weighing the 737 MAX against Airbus’ A320neo family of jets.

Speaking to The Age, Joyce said Boeing remained a contender despite the 737 MAX currently being grounded.

“Qantas itself will put the [MAX] aircraft through its own lens to make sure we’re comfortable with it,” he said.

“If you look at it from an opportunity point of view, given the aircraft is going to be very safe, what will Boeing do to get the safest airline in the world to buy the aircraft?”

Boeing continues its battle to stem cash flow losses associated with the grounding of the 737 MAX, which have surpassed $US28 billion ($41.6 billion).

Furthermore, adding to its financial losses are those to its reputation – with Boeing employees found to have deceived federal regulators on the safety of the grounded jet, following the release of redacted documents sent to congressional investigators in early January.

Former senior manager says 737 MAX fleet had at least 13 other safety incidents

But the safety of the grounded jet has been called into further question, following an ABC News interview with former Boeing senior manager Ed Pierson, who said “at least” 13 other safety incidents were reported between May 2018 and the following March.

“Something happened in the translation from, ‘let’s build a high-quality, safe product’ to ‘let’s get it out done on time,’” Pierson told the outlet. “When you take unnecessary risk, that’s unacceptable.”

Pierson remains concerned production problems at the plant in the lead up to the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 tragedies may also have inadvertently embedded safety defects in subsequent planes.

Ethiopian interim report on Flight 302 crash expected in March

Credit: iStock/mtcurado

Pierson’s comments come as Ethiopia prepares to release an interim report into the deadly Boeing 737 MAX crash that claimed the lives of 157 passengers and crew in March, Reuters reported.

In April last year, a preliminary report by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority revealed faulty sensor readings and multiple automatic commands to push down the nose of the Boeing aircraft contributed to the crash of Flight 302, and left the crew struggling to regain control.

Lawyers representing the families of victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash continue to negotiate access to documents related to the now-grounded 737 MAX on its design and development, and are asking why the jet continued flying after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610.

They say the materials are critical for assessing liability by Boeing and punitive damages, Reuters reported. However, Boeing has thus far resisted sharing the “confidential” documents, arguing the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is restricting release of them under international guidelines on crash probes.

According to the outlet, Ethiopian crash victims want to know whether the aircraft manufacturer “hid materials” – a notion rejected in court by the Boeing’s lawyer Dan Webb, who said that some “haven’t been produced yet”.

Boeing and the plaintiffs’ lawyers have, however, agreed to brief the US Federal Court on the outcome of a conference call with NTSB assistant general counsel Benjamin Allen scheduled for Thursday, as reported by Reuters.

Featured image: The Boeing 737-Max passenger plane in-flight, before being grounded for safety reasons (iStock.com/Oriaz)


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