Two deadly plane crashes within five months have rocked Boeing and the aviation industry, forcing the worldwide grounding of the Chicago-based company’s 737 Max airliners.
Changes in the planes’ flight control system that were made because of a shift in engine placement are suspected of playing a role in both of the crashes and Boeing is working on software changes.
Here’s a timeline of events so far:
Oct. 29, 2018
Lion Air flight crashes, killing 189 people
A Lion Air flight crashed into the sea moments after takeoff in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.
Nov. 28, 2018
Automatic safety system pushed plane’s nose down, black box data shows
Lion Air pilots struggled to control the Boeing aircraft as its automatic safety system continually pushed the plane’s nose down, investigators said.
The plane’s pilots asked to return to the Jakarta airport two minutes after takeoff, citing an unknown “flight control problem.”
March 10, 2019
Ethiopian Airlines jet crashes, killing 157 people
An Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. It was the second fatal accident involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet in five months.
Among the victims was Antoine Lewis, an Army captain from Matteson who served in Afghanistan.
March 12, 2019
Boeing promises update on flight control systems
Boeing announced it would update flight control systems on its 737 Max 8 commercial jetliners hours after the FAA issued an advisory mandating design changes by April.
March 13, 2019
U.S. temporarily grounds Boeing 737 Max jets
The FAA temporarily grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft on March 13, 2019.
A day earlier, the FAA stood by Boeing, saying a review “shows no systemic performance issues,” despite the fact that the European Union and many other countries grounded the planes.
March 19, 2019
Boeing CEO addresses safety
Dennis Muilenburg sought to assure pilots and passengers that the company is addressing safety concerns about its 737 Max 8 jet, writing in an open letter that the company will soon release a software update and offered pilot training.
“We know lives depend on the work we do, and our teams embrace that responsibility with a deep sense of commitment every day,” the letter says. “Our purpose at Boeing is to bring family, friends and loved ones together with our commercial airplanes — safely.”
March 20, 2019
New detail in Lion Air crash
An off-duty pilot who was riding in the cockpit of a Lion Air flight helped the flight crew control their diving Boeing 737 Max 8 jet on Oct. 28, 2019, the day before the same jet, with a different crew, crashed into the sea, killing 189 people.
The off-duty pilot helped the crew disable a malfunctioning flight-control system, Bloomberg News reported. This detail was not included in Indonesia’s report on the crash in November.
March 22, 2019
Indonesia carrier seeks to cancel jet orders
PT Garuda Indonesia, which had ordered 50 of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 jets in 2014, sent a letter to Boeing seeking to cancel the order worth $4.9 billion over safety concerns. It was the first cancellation since Boeing’s planes were grounded.
March 27, 2019
Boeing rejects calls for broader oversight
Boeing executives gathered with aviation leaders to defend the safety of its 737 Max commercial jetliners, denying that there is something inherently wrong with them and rejecting calls for an investigation of its relationship with its regulator, the FAA.
March 29, 2019
Anti-stalling feature engaged in Ethiopia crash, black box shows
Black box data showed an automatic anti-stalling feature was engaged before the Boeing plane crashed. The feature was also a factor in the Lion Air crash, investigators said.
Evidence found weeks earlier at the crash site was consistent with the black box finding.
April 1, 2019
Boeing needs more time, FAA says
The FAA said that it expects Boeing’s final software improvements for its 737 Max airliners “in the coming weeks.” The changes, which reportedly include making a previously optional safety feature standard, had been expected to be completed a week earlier.
April 4, 2019
Faulty sensor data cited in Ethiopia crash report
Faulty sensor data led to a series of events that caused pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines to lose control of the airplane before a fatal crash, according to a preliminary report.
The pilots of the doomed plane followed Boeing’s emergency steps that the company recommended for handling a sudden downturn of the nose of their plane, but still couldn’t save it, according to the report released by the Ethiopian government
The report recommended that Boeing review its “aircraft flight control system related to the flight controllability." The findings were the strongest link yet between this crash and the crash of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia.
April 10, 2019
Shareholder lawsuit accuses Boeing of hiding problems
Richard Seeks filed suit in a Chicago courtroom alleging that Boeing misled investors by hiding problems with its 737 Max jet in order to push its shares higher. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for shareholders who bought stock between Jan. 8 and March 21.
April 11, 2019
Boeing makes flights to test software
Boeing made 96 flights to test a software update on its 737 Max jets, the company’s CEO said. More test flights are expected.
April 15, 2019
American Airlines joins Southwest in canceling Boeing 737 flights
American became the second major airline to cancel flights involving 737 Max jets through the summer, announcing it was canceling 115 flights per day through mid-August. Southwest had already canceled its 737 Max flights through early August. The following day, United announced it was extending its cancellations too.
April 29, 2019
Boeing CEO defends safety record to shareholders
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg defended the company’s safety record to shareholders in a meeting in Chicago, as protesters gathered outside. Muilenburg said a software fix would make Boeing’s 737 Max jets “one of the safest airplanes ever to fly,” but insisted the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes were caused by a “chain of events,” not “any single item.”
May 22, 2019
United CEO vows to be on his airline’s first 737 Max flight when they resume
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, in an attempt to reassure passengers, vowed to be on his airline’s first flight on a Boeing 737 Max jet once regulators allow them to fly again.
Dec. 23, 2019
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is fired
Boeing ousts CEO Dennis Muilenburg as the crisis involving the company’s 737 Max jet gets ready to stretch into the new year.
Boeing said board Chairman David Calhoun, a longtime Boeing director with ties to the aviation and private equity industries, would officially take over as president and CEO on Jan. 13.
March 6, 2020
House panel slams Boeing for ‘culture of concealment’
A congressional committee investigating Boeing said Friday that a “culture of concealment” at the company and poor oversight by federal regulators contributed to the two deadly crashes involving the 737 Max.
In a preliminary summary of its nearly yearlong investigation, the House Transportation Committee said Boeing had undue influence over the Federal Aviation Administration, and FAA managers rejected safety concerns raised by their own technical experts.
Sept. 30, 2020
FAA chief gives revamped Boeing 737 Max a flight test
Federal Aviation Administration chief Stephen Dickson, a pilot who flew for the military and Delta Air Lines, conducts a test flight of Boeing’s revamped 737 Max jetliner as his agency considers whether to allow the plane to return to flight.
The crew put the jet through repeated changes in direction, speed and altitude as it headed east over the Cascade Range into central Washington state, according to data from a tracking website.
Nov. 18, 2020
FAA approves Boeing 737 Max to fly again
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announces it has cleared Boeing’s 737 Max for flight after a “comprehensive and methodical” 20-month review process.
The planes won’t return to the skies for a while. The FAA says it must approve pilot training changes for each U.S. airline and airlines must perform required maintenance on the planes.
The FAA says the move was made in cooperation with air safety regulators worldwide. “Those regulators have indicated that Boeing’s design changes, together with the changes to crew procedures and training enhancements, will give them the confidence to validate the aircraft as safe to fly in their respective countries and regions,” the FAA said in a statement.
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Sources: Chicago Tribune, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Bloomberg