“The 737 Max is as safe as any airplane that has ever flown the skies,” Boeing swiftly concluded.
Lion Air was furious that the manufacturer appeared to be casting doubt on its safety culture, but for everyone else it sent a comforting message: Perhaps Boeing was right about the 737 Max.
So when a second 737 Max aircraft crashed last month in similar circumstances in Ethiopia, there was puzzlement: Surely the pilot must have known about MCAS and how to switch it off. So why hadn’t he?
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal provided an initial answer to that question, and it’s not a reassuring one for Boeing, its investors and customers.
The Ethiopian Airlines pilot did manage to disable MCAS, at least temporarily, but was still unable to get the aircraft to climb again, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the crash investigation’s preliminary findings.
If that is correct, then Boeing and the U.S. regulators may have provided insufficient advice to pilots in their initial bulletin and were too hasty in pronouncing the aircraft safe. It would also increase the likelihood the manufacturer could be sued for damages. Before the Journal report, Bloomberg Intelligence put those costs at an estimated $1 billion.