by J. Scott Clark
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When Lion Air flight 610 crashed after take off on Oct. 29 it wasn’t immediately clear what had brought down the 737 MAX, one of Boeing’s newest and most modern planes. The investigation that followed revealed not only a failed sensor, but also the news that Boeing had previously added a new automated system to the aircraft — one that pilots seemed to be completely unaware existed — called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System).
Now, Lion Air founder Rusdi Kirana has gone on record to say he wants to completely cut ties with Boeing over the MCAS.
The MCAS feature was added by Boeing to deal with unique flight characteristics of the 737 MAX, and functioned to bring the nose down if/when a high angle of attack (AoA) was detected by the plane’s sensors. This was the case in the Lion Air crash when the sensor failed, causing the MCAS system to register a high AoA based on airspeed and the system to take corrective trim action — 24 times during the 13-minute flight — to bring the nose of the aircraft down.
Although during the previous flight pilots were able to recover from the system’s corrections and land the aircraft without incident, Lion Air failed to replace the broken sensor.
As mentioned, Boeing, for its part, may have failed to inform aircraft operators of the new MCAS system. This failure by Boeing to fully disclose and inform pilots of the new system has lead to serious tension between pilots, their airlines and Boeing.
In a recent interview, Kirana says he wants to cancel Lion Air’s current orders of 737s with the aerospace giant, even if it means taking legal action to get out of the contracts. Lion Air’s current standing orders with Boeing total 237 737’s and account for about 5% of the Boeing 737 backlog as of December. For Boeing, the Lion Air contracts, if cancelled, could represent as much as $23 billion in lost revenue.
Kirana says that Lion Air will use current orders with Airbus to continue to meet its growing demand for aircraft, stating that the airline could always increase those orders, or even lease planes should it become necessary to meet capacity requirements.
From the interview it’s clear that Kirana is very unhappy with how Boeing has handled the incident, which included taking steps to release its own statement that seems to place blame for the crash solely on Lion Air. This latest action makes it clear that, moving forward, Lion Air doesn’t feel it can continue to work with Boeing. For Boeing, this move, if successful on Lion Air’s part, represents the loss of a long-standing and valuable customer.