737 crash in Iran a new concern for Boeing

The crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 NG on Wednesday in Tehran is likely to aggravate the crisis of confidence in which the American aircraft manufacturer is plunged, even if for the moment we do not know all the causes.
Since two tragic accidents that killed 346 people and implying another model, the 737 MAX, the reputation of the aircraft manufacturer has been seriously damaged.

The black boxes – which can help shed light on the causes of the crash that left 176 people dead – have been recovered, but Tehran said the flight data would not be sent to the Americans, tensions between the two countries remaining alive.
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“Bad time”

“We are ready to provide (our) assistance in any way whatsoever,” a spokesman for Boeing repeated to AFP, refusing nevertheless to say whether, in view of the American embargo, employees of the group were allowed to travel to Tehran to assist investigators, as is traditionally the case in plane crashes.

“To participate in the investigation, the United States must be invited by the Iranians,” for his part, AFP said an American official on condition of anonymity.

“This accident comes at a very bad time for Boeing,” said Michel Merluzeau, expert at Air Insight Research. “Public confidence and perception are at a low point”.

If he considers that “appearances are not favorable to Boeing”, Richard Aboulafia, at Teal Group, nevertheless judges that “the statement by the spokesperson of the Tehran airport affirming that the accident was due to + difficulties techniques + is not credible, because the investigators neither inspected the black boxes nor the pilot’s communications. ”

Boeing has been plunged since mid-March into the worst crisis in its history, which led to the dismissal at the end of December of its CEO Dennis Muilenburg and aroused many criticisms of its culture.

Two 737 MAX planes, one owned by Lion Air and one by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed in five months, killing 346 people.

Investigations have implicated MCAS anti-dropout software. The aircraft manufacturer is working on a corrective measure to obtain the lifting of the flight ban on this aircraft, which constitutes more than two thirds of its order book.

This process is marred by tensions with the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) which has detected additional problems: one with the flight control system and another, more recently, with the electrical wiring. This fault also affects the 737 NG.

Distinct from MAX

But according to experts, like Michel Merluzeau, “it is really necessary to dissociate the crash of the Ukrainian 737-800 (NG) from the crisis of the 737 MAX”.

He urged to “look at the event in silos and analyze what happened: the location, the crew, the airport and the airline. These are the main elements that have an effect on what happened ”.

“Press articles which associate the crash of Ukraine (International) Airlines in Tehran with the MAX crisis are irresponsible,” says Scott Hamilton, an expert at Leeham.

Judging that it is still too early to draw any conclusions, Mr. Hamilton recalls that it is customary for investigators to explore several avenues such as “a pilot error, a maintenance problem, a technical error, external factors such as the weather, terrorism and, in this case, a military maneuver that went wrong.

Other experts interviewed by AFP do not exclude that the plane could have ingested debris that was lying on the runway at the time of takeoff.

According to Ukraine International Airlines, “the plane was manufactured in 2016. It was received by the airline directly from the factory (Boeing)” and “underwent its last regular technical maintenance on January 6, 2020”.

Roughly speaking, this new aircraft had less than 5,000 “life cycles”, according to experts, and was therefore not affected by the problem of structural cracks discovered on 737 NGs last October by Boeing. Life cycles correspond to takeoffs, pressurizations, depressurizations and landings without any difficulty.

At the time, the aircraft manufacturer reported a problem with the “pickle fork”, the part of the aircraft that links the wings to the fuselage and manages constraints and aerodynamic forces.

The American authorities had then ordered an inspection of Boeing 737 NG having accumulated at least 22,600 life cycles.

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