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Has Boeing Flown Too Close to the Sun?

Published onApr 18, 2024
Has Boeing Flown Too Close to the Sun?

Minutes after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland International Airport on January 5, 2024, a side panel of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft blew out at 16,000 feet. Despite the “gaping hole” left by the detached door plug, the aircraft’s 174 passengers and six crew members “safely” emergency landed. The next day, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive, ordering U.S. airlines to ground around 171 MAX 9 aircrafts until they could be inspected. Less than a week later, the FAA launched an official investigation into Boeing’s quality control measures and announced it would be “increasing oversight of Boeing’s production and manufacturing.” In the same week, Boeing was hit with a class action lawsuit on behalf of several Flight 1282 passengers for physical, psychological, and economic injuries resulting from the incident.

The 737 MAX is Boeing’s best-selling aircraft to date, but unfortunately for the U.S. airline giant, Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 is only the most recent event in the aircraft’s turbulent history. The Boeing Co. was founded in 1916 and as of March 2024, employs 145,000 people. Since the late 1960s, when European aerospace company Airbus came onto the scene, the two have had a near duopoly on the international commercial airline industry. In January of 2016, Boeing’s “Most Important New Plane in Years” made its inaugural flight. The 737 MAX line of aircrafts was introduced as a modern, fuel-efficient iteration of Boeing’s best-selling 737 model, built to compete with the launch of Airbus’ newest jet. By 2017, Boeing boasted a “record-setting performance,” attributing much of its success to the high demand for its latest rollout of MAX models.

However, in October of the following year, Boeing’s high-flying success took a downturn when one of its “brand new” 737 MAX 8 models crashed “just 13 minutes after its takeoff” from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers and crewmembers aboard Lion Air Flight 610. Less than 5 months later, a second MAX 8 crashed minutes after takeoff, killing the 157 passengers and crewmembers of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Following the second crash, China and Indonesia ordered immediate grounding of all 737 MAX flights, resulting in Boeing’s largest drop in stock since September 11, 2001. To make matters worse, days later the FAA ordered grounding of all 737 MAX flights by U.S. airlines.

As it turns out, Boeing’s financial setbacks would be the least of its problems. In late 2019, instant messages exchanged between two of Boeing’s chief technical pilots back in 2016 surfaced. The messages exposed a known glitch in the 737 MAX’s flight control system (the “MCAS”) that would later be identified as a contributing factor in both the 2018 and 2019 MAX crashes. A series of internal emails would further reveal that Boeing had previously concealed the known MCAS issue from the FAA. As a result, in January of 2021, Boeing was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and the same day entered a three-year deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the Department of Justice. The DPA required Boeing to pay “over $2.5 billion,” which included compensation for “heirs, relatives, and legal beneficiaries” of crash victims as well as Boeing customers affected by the MAX groundings.

It is uncertain where the most recent MAX incident will leave the future of Boeing. In total, the 2018 and 2019 MAX crashes cost Boeing an estimated $20 billion. As of the end of January 2024, Boeing’s shares had fallen 20% in the wake of Flight 1282, and Boeing’s CEO declined to provide a 2024 financial forecast for investors. At this point, it seems the reputation of the Boeing MAX precedes itself, and in light of the most recent incident, many travelers are choosing to avoid the MAX line altogether. Although the FAA has now cleared 737 MAX aircrafts to fly again, it has also announced it will halt Boeing’s production expansion of the MAX line until quality control issues are resolved. In the meantime, Boeing’s loss seems to be its European rival’s gain, as Airbus continues to “ramp up production” and roll out new models.


Remy Gaines is a second-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law and an editorial staff member on the Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law. She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in Political Science from the University of Kentucky. Upon graduation, Remy plans to return to Kentucky to practice civil litigation.

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Email: [email protected]


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