Airlines

Published on December 3rd, 2020 | by Mark Dwyer

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Ryanair Orders 75 more Boeing 737-8200 MAX Aircraft

Boeing and Ryanair announced today that the airline is placing a firm order for 75 additional 737-8200 MAX aircraft, increasing its order book to 210. Ryanair is the launch customer for the high-capacity 737-8200 variant, having placed its first order for 100 airplanes and 100 options in late 2014, followed by firm orders of 10 airplanes in 2017 and 25 in 2018. The announcement today effectively converts those remaining options into firm orders. The 737-8200 will enable Ryanair to configure its aircraft with 197 seats, increasing revenue potential, and reducing fuel consumption by 16 percent compared to the airline’s existing 737-NG fleet.

“Ryanair’s board and people are confident that our customers will love these new aircraft. Passengers will enjoy the new interiors, more generous leg room, lower fuel consumption and quieter noise performance. And, most of all, our customers will love the lower fares, which these aircraft will enable Ryanair to offer starting in 2021 and for the next decade, as Ryanair leads the recovery of Europe’s aviation and tourism industries,” said Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary.

O’Leary and Ryanair leaders joined the Boeing team for a signing ceremony in Washington, D.C. Both companies acknowledged COVID-19’s impacts on air traffic in the near-term, but expressed confidence in the resilience and strength of the passenger demand over the long term.

“As soon as the COVID-19 virus recedes – and it likely will in 2021 with the rollout of multiple effective vaccines – Ryanair and our partner airports across Europe will – with these environmentally efficient aircraft – rapidly restore flights and schedules, recover lost traffic and help the nations of Europe recover their tourism industries, and get young people back to work across the cities, beaches and ski resorts of the European Union,” O’Leary said.

“Ryanair will continue to play a leading role in our industry when Europe recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and air traffic returns to growth across the continent. We are gratified that Ryanair is once again placing its confidence in the Boeing 737 family and building their future fleet with this enlarged firm order,” said Dave Calhoun, president and CEO of The Boeing Company.

“Boeing remains focused on safely returning the full 737 fleet to service and on delivering the backlog of airplanes to Ryanair and our other customers. We firmly believe in this airplane, and we will continue the work to re-earn the trust of all of our customers,” Calhoun said.

EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive

Last week the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published a Proposed Airworthiness Directive (PAD) concerning the Boeing 737 MAX for public consultation, signalling its intention to approve the aircraft to return to Europe’s skies within a matter of weeks. 

The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded by EASA on 12th March, 2019, following two accidents with total loss of aircraft in which 346 people died. Intense work involving the dedicated attention from around 20 EASA experts over a period of around 20 months has now given EASA the confidence to declare the aircraft will be safe to fly again. The Federal Aviation Administration of the United States (FAA), State of Design for Boeing aircraft, published its final approval of the modified 737 MAX in the Federal Register on 20th November, 2020. 

“EASA made clear from the outset that we would conduct our own objective and independent assessment of the 737 MAX, working closely with the FAA and Boeing, to make sure that there can be no repeat of these tragic accidents, which touched the lives of so many people,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky. 

“I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in our assessment of the aircraft with its changed design approach,” he added. “Each time when it may have appeared that problems were resolved, we dug deeper and asked even more questions. The result was a thorough and comprehensive review of how this plane flies and what it is like for a pilot to fly the MAX, giving us the assurance that it is now safe to fly.” 

Investigations into the two accidents showed that a primary cause in each was a software function programme known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was intended to make the aircraft easier to handle. However, the MCAS, guided by only one Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor, kicked in repeatedly if that sensor malfunctioned, pushing the nose of the aircraft downward multiple times and leading finally in both accidents to a complete loss of control of the aircraft.

“EASA’s review of the 737 MAX began with the MCAS but went far beyond,” Ky said. “We took a decision early on to review the entire flight control system and gradually broadened our assessment to include all aspects of design which could influence how the flight controls operated. This led, for example, to a deeper study of the wiring installation, which resulted in a change that is now also mandated in the Proposed Airworthiness Directive. We also pushed the aircraft to its limits during flight tests, assessed the behaviour of the aircraft in failure scenarios, and could confirm that the aircraft is stable and has no tendency to pitch-up even without the MCAS.”

Human factor analysis was another focus area – to ensure that the pilots were provided with the right alerts in the cockpit if a problem arose, along with the procedures and training needed to know how to respond. A fundamental problem of the original MCAS is that many pilots did not even know it was there. In the accident version of the aircraft, there was no caution light to make a pilot aware that the AoA sensor was faulty, making it almost impossible to determine the root cause of the problem.

That is why EASA now proposes that the changes to the aircraft design which will be required by the final Airworthiness Directive will be accompanied by a mandatory training programme for pilots, including flight simulator training, to ensure that the pilots are familiar with all aspects of the flight control system of the 737 MAX and will react appropriately to typical failure scenarios. 

The EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive is now open for a consultation period that will close on 22nd December. EASA will then take time to review the comments made, before publishing its final Airworthiness Directive. That final publication is expected from mid-January 2021 and will constitute the formal ungrounding decision of the plane for all 737 MAX aircraft operated by operators from EASA Member States. After the return to service, EASA has committed to monitor the plane closely in-service, to allow for early detection of any problems that may arise. 

In conjunction with the Proposed Airworthiness Directive, EASA also issued a Preliminary Safety Directive for 28-day consultation. This will require non-European airlines which are holders of EASA third country operator (TCO) authorisation to implement equivalent requirements, including aircrew training. This will allow for the return to service of the 737 MAX when the aircraft concerned are operated under an EASA TCO authorisation into, within or out of the territory of the EASA Member States.

In summary, the EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive mandates the following main actions: 

  • Software updates for the flight control computer, including the MCAS
  • Software updates to display an alert in case of disagreement between the two AoA sensors
  • Physical separation of wires routed from the cockpit to the stabiliser trim motor
  • Updates to flight manuals: operational limitations and improved procedures to equip pilots to understand and manage all relevant failure scenarios
  • Mandatory training for all 737 MAX pilots before they fly the plane again, and updates of the initial and recurrent training of pilots on the MAX
  • Tests of systems including the AoA sensor system
  • An operational readiness flight, without passengers, before commercial usage of each aircraft to ensure that all design changes have been correctly implemented and the aircraft successfully and safely brought out of its long period of storage. 

EASA, and regulators in Canada and Brazil, worked closely with the FAA and Boeing throughout the last 20 months to return the plane safely to operations.

The EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive requires the same changes to the aircraft as the FAA, meaning that there will be no software or technical differences between the aircraft operated by the United States operators and by the EASA member states operators (the 27 European Union members plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The United Kingdom is until 31 December 2020 also treated as an EU member state.)     

However, EASA’s requirements differ from the FAA in two main respects. EASA explicitly allows flight crews to intervene to stop a stick shaker from continuing to vibrate once it has been erroneously activated by the system, to prevent this distracting the crew. EASA also, for the time being, mandates that the aircraft’s autopilot should not be used for certain types of high-precision landings. The latter is expected to be a short-term restriction. 

The mandated training for pilots is broadly the same for both authorities.  Before individual airlines can assign the plane to their flight schedules, they will need to complete all the software upgrades and maintenance actions described in the final Airworthiness Directive. Some of this work can be started now, even in advance of the final Airworthiness Directive publication.

Some EASA member states issued their own decision prohibiting the operation of the 737 MAX last year for their sovereign airspace. These bans will need to be lifted before the aircraft can fly again in the airspace of these countries.  EASA is working closely with the relevant national authorities to achieve this.     

EASA has also agreed with Boeing that the manufacturer will work to even further increase the resilience of the aircraft systems to AoA sensor failures so as to further enhance the safety of the aircraft. Boeing will also conduct a complementary Human Factor assessment of its crew alerting systems within the next 12 months, with the aim of potentially upgrading these to a more modern design approach.

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About the Author

Mark Dwyer

Mark is an airline pilot flying the Boeing 737 for a major European airline. In addition he is also a Type Rating Instructor, Type Rating Examiner and Base Training Captain on the B737. Outside of commercial flying Mark enjoys flying light aircraft from the smallest 3 Axis microlights up to heavier singles. He is also an instructor and EASA Examiner on single engines and a UK CAA Examiner. He flies the Chipmunk for the Irish Historic Flight Foundation (IHFF). Mark became the Chairman of the National Microlight Association of Ireland (NMAI) in 2013 and has overseen a massive growth in the organisation. In this role he has worked at local and national levels. In 2015, Mark won ‘Upcoming Aviation Professional Award’ at the Aviation Industry Awards sponsored by the IAA. Mark launched this website back in 2002 while always managing the website, he has also been Editor and Deputy Editor of FlyingInIreland Magazine from 2005 to 2015.



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