Many shook their heads when Boeing’s 737 Max was again grounded just six months after fixing the problems that caused two horrific crashes in quick succession. The cause of this second grounding was a potential electrical problem. This put 100 planes owned by 24 airlines on the ground. It also put a hold on 300 new models previously scheduled for delivery.
According to recent reports, the plane manufacturer and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are working together to solve the issue – they determined that the electrical systems on the planes did not function as designed. They identified the problem during testing of the newly built 737 Max 8 before delivery to its buyer. The ultimate cause was poor electrical bonding of panel assemblies designed to conduct electricity and connect to the aircraft’s frame. In other words: the electric panels were not properly grounded. The affected equipment included the pilots’ main instrument control and the standby power unit. A design adjustment in 2019 that was so minor that it was not necessary to notify regulators is the cause of this new issue.
According to a statement issued by the FAA, this could “affect the operation of certain systems, including engine ice protection, and result in loss of critical functions and/or multiple simultaneous flight deck effects, which may prevent continued safe flight and landing.”
Are the planes safe?
In the previous case, the flaw was errant flight control software, which misinterpreted data from sensors. The error prompted flight control to put both planes in fatal nosedives that killed 346 people.
The second grounding is unrelated to the issues that caused the crashes, but it led to new calls by critics to claim that the plane was cleared too quickly the first time without thoroughly analyzing the data and address the results. It is also a stark reminder that the airplane manufacturing industry is not as safe as it would have airlines and passengers believe.