Boeing Faces Questions About Its New 737 Max Jets After Ethiopia Crash
The trouble appeared to begin almost immediately after takeoff. The pilots told air traffic controllers that they were having technical problems. And the plane seemed to repeatedly climb and dive before a final plunge.
Two eerily similar scenes have played out in recent months for Boeing’s brand-new 737 Max jets: on Sunday, when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing 157 people, and in October, when a Lion Air disaster killed 189 people in Indonesia.
最近几个月，波音公司(Boeing)全新的737 Max飞机发生了两起诡异的相似事件：周日，埃塞俄比亚航空(Ethiopian Airlines)一航班在从亚的斯亚贝巴起飞后坠毁，造成157人死亡，而去年10月，印尼狮子航空(Lion Air)另一起空难则造成189人死亡。
The Ethiopian crash occurred just outside the country’s capital, leaving a smoking crater where investigators combed over the grim scene. Much about the cause of the crash remains unknown and will take weeks to investigate, and Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board are sending teams to the crash site.
埃航就坠毁在该国首都郊外，留下了一个冒着烟的大坑，调查人员在可怖的现场进行搜查。关于坠机原因还有许多未知的东西，调查需要进行数周，而波音公司和美国国家运输安全委员会(National Transportation Safety Board)正在派遣调查组前往坠机现场。
But the rarity of two planes of the same model going down in such a short time span has urgently caught the attention of pilots, passengers, engineers and industry analysts.
For Boeing, the questions go to the heart of its business, as the 737 class is a workhorse for airlines worldwide, and the single-aisle 737 Max has been the company’s best-selling plane ever. By the end of January, Boeing had delivered over 350 737 Max jets since putting them in service in 2017. They have a list price of around $120 million, the company said, and around 5,000 more are on order.
对于波音公司来说，问题直指其业务的核心，因为737是全球航空公司的主力机型，而单通道的737 Max则一直是该公司最畅销的飞机。截止1月底，波音公司已交付了350架737 Max，该机型自2017年开始服役。它们的定价约为1.2亿美元，该公司表示，大约还有5000架的订单。
“There’s a whole lot of questions here and not a lot of answers,” said John Cox, former executive air safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association in the United States and now chief executive of Safety Operating Systems, a consulting firm.
“现在有很多问题，答案却不多，”美国航空公司飞行员协会(Air Line Pilots Association)前执行航空安全主席、现任咨询公司安全运作系统(Safety Operating Systems)首席执行官的约翰·考克斯(John Cox)说。
The business of building and selling jets is brutally competitive, and the 737 Max was Boeing’s answer to an update that Airbus, the giant European aircraft manufacturer, unveiled for its popular A320 jet that made it more fuel-efficient. The two companies are global leaders in the field, and they have jockeyed for dominance for years. About 10,000 total planes from Boeing’s 737 family are in service, compared with over 8,000 in Airbus’ A320 family. Many airlines rely on these kinds of planes as linchpins of their fleets. They are designed to efficiently serve short- and medium-haul routes (like New York to Miami or Los Angeles), and carry about 200 passengers.
Boeing’s response to its rival’s move was a more efficient engine, but the Max engine was bigger than the earlier versions. To address this engineering challenge, Boeing updated the software for the flight control system. After the Lion Air crash, some U.S. aviation authorities said that the change had not been adequately explained to pilots.
But in light of the Indonesian disaster, pilots have since been informed by Boeing and regulatory agencies of the Max’s new system, and airlines have provided training classes on it. Whether Ethiopian Airlines, which, unlike Lion Air, has a strong safety reputation, carried out that training was not immediately known.
Boeing installed the system on the new 737s as part of the “control law” — commands issued by the plane’s flight-control computer that bypass the pilots. On the Lion Air flight, the swings up and down may have come about as pilots repeatedly tried to keep that system from pushing the nose of the aircraft down and putting it into a fatal dive. Whatever happened, the Indonesian pilots lost their battle after about 12 minutes of flight.
While a malfunction of that system is a possibility in the Ethiopian flight, which lasted about six minutes and included a shorter series of swings, early information is still too sketchy to draw conclusions. And what is known so far does not rule out pilot error or the malfunction of a completely separate system.
Robert Stengel, an expert on flight control systems and a professor of engineering and applied science at Princeton University, said it was not clear whether the rocking trajectory of the Ethiopian jet was caused by a malfunctioning control system or pilots trying to fly the plane manually while distracted by some other, as yet unknown, emergency.
飞行控制系统专家、普林斯顿大学(Princeton University)工程与应用科学教授罗伯特·斯坦格尔(Robert Stengel)说，目前尚不清楚埃航飞机摆动的轨迹是因控制系统故障造成，还是飞行员因其他未知紧急情况而试图手动操纵飞机。
While cautioning that no conclusions could be reached without more information, Stengel said that broad similarities in the two crashes could not help but affect the flying public.
“If you’re simply looking at circumstantial evidence, that gives you pause, doesn’t it?” Stengel said. “That’s not a deep technical observation — that’s just human nature.”
Analysts agree that Wall Street is not going to be kind to Boeing stock Monday. And whatever hit its shares take will weigh heavily on the Dow Jones industrial average, which in recent years has been lifted by Boeing’s success.
Shares of Boeing have tripled since the presidential election in 2016, making it the highest-priced stock in the Dow. From Nov. 8, 2016, through Friday, the Dow added more than 7,000 points, and Boeing’s rise accounted for nearly 30 percent of its gain.
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group, cautioned against reading too much into the immediate reaction in Boeing’s shares. “I’ve learned from bitter experience not to look at the stock prices in the aftermath of a crash,” he said. “It’s just all over the place. Aboulafia also predicted that any pullback was likely to be a short dip, given the company’s recent strength.
蒂尔集团(Teal Group)航空分析师理查德·阿布拉菲亚(Richard Aboulafia)警告称，不要过度解读波音股价的即时反应。“我从惨痛的经历中学到，不要在股市崩盘后去看股价，”他说。“人人都在说。”阿布拉菲亚还预测，考虑到该公司近期的强势，任何回调都可能是短暂的下跌。
At the close of trading Friday, Boeing was valued at nearly $239 billion, with a stock price above $422 a share. The company, which employs about 150,000 people, took in just over $100 billion in 2018, with profit for the year topping $10 billion.
Aboulafia said, “If they have to implement a very rapid series of any kind of modification or training procedures, A) they have they resources and B) relative to their revenue base, it’s not going to be a disaster.”
Boeing has said that it is evaluating changes to the new software, and a person briefed on the matter said an upgrade was in the works.
On Monday morning in China, most Chinese carriers stopped using the dozens of Boeing 737 Max jets that they had acquired and began flying Boeing 737-800s on the same routes. The Civil Aviation Administration of China then issued an order for the mandatory grounding of Boeing 737 Max planes by Chinese carriers.
周一上午，大多数中国航空公司已经停止使用其购买的数十架波音737 Max 8飞机，开始在同一航线上使用波音737-800。中国民用航空局随后发布命令，要求中国航空公司强制停飞波音737 Max 8。
Flight-tracking websites showed that Chinese airlines were starting to substitute Boeing 737-800s on Monday morning on routes on which they had previously operated a Boeing 737 Max.
飞行跟踪网站显示，周一上午，中国航空公司已经在原来使用波音737 Max 8的航线上使用波音737-800进行替代。
China’s main airlines are among the biggest users of Boeing 737 Max 8s, having ordered at least 104 of them and taken delivery of at least 70. By contrast, many other carriers, often in slower-growing markets than China’s, have taken delivery of only a small fraction of their orders for Boeing 737 Max 8s.
中国各大航空公司是波音737 Max 8的最大用户之一，订购了至少104架，至少70架已经交付。相比之下，其他许多航空公司（往往是在增长速度比中国慢的市场）已获交付的波音737 Max 8飞机只占其订单的一小部分。
The pilots who fly the 737 Max are keeping a close eye on developments. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the American Airlines pilot union and a 737 pilot, said the training and other information had restored pilots’ confidence in Boeing since the Indonesia crash.
驾驶737 Max的飞行员正在密切关注事态的发展。美国航空飞行员工会发言人、737客机飞行员丹尼斯·塔耶尔(Dennis Tajer)表示，自印尼坠机事件以来，培训和其他信息已经恢复了飞行员对波音的信心。
Tajer said it was too soon to say that the Ethiopian crash would change that view. But, he added, “We’re not far off the time when we were being told that new equipment on the Max wasn’t disclosed. We have that memory to work with.”
“It’s too early,” he said, to say what influence the crash will have, “but boy, are we watching.”