What Indonesia should do about the B737 MAX 8

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Chappy Hakim Air Force Chief of Staff (2002-2005), author of Tanah Air Udaraku Indonesia (“My Aerial Homeland, Indonesia”)

IO – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States aviation authority agency has officially announced on Wednesday that it will allow B-737 MAX 8 aircraft to resume flying. Being the first aviation authority to provide clearance for Boeing 737 MAX 8 to return to the sky, the FAA was ironically the last institution to ground the aircraft. The decision to ground the MAX series was implemented for the first time by the Chinese aviation authority shortly after the Ethiopian Airline’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed, just months after the Lion Air tragedy. 

What’s interesting is that in March 2019, Despite the aviation giant’s assurances that the plane is safe and reliable, the European Union, Britain, India and China joined other countries in grounding the plane or banning it from their airspace as they awaited the results of the investigation into the crash. These conditions pressured FAA to also decide to ground the B-737 MAX 8. At this point, there were many different opinions in various media highlighting the FAA’s credibility as the most trustworthy aviation authority body so far. Likewise, the big question about how strict was Boeing’s commitment to Aviation Safety issues. More than that, the MAX 8 case has also claimed as a sacrifice the President Director of the Boeing Company. In December 2019, Boeing decided to fired its chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, who was unable to stabilize the company after two crashes involving its best-selling 737 Max plane killed 346 people and set off the worst crisis in the manufacturing giant’s 103- year history, according to the New York Times’ article. 

That is why Boeing’s plan to make improvements in order to restore the MAX 8 is a difficult task. Certain parties have accused the Company of politicization in the MAX 8 case. Thus, Boeing’s plan to restore the MAX 8 aircraft, which was initially planned to only take a few months, was continuously delayed by up to 20 months. 

As a matter of fact, it was not only the global airline companies who lost their trust in Boeing, but also the public and consumers who uses air transport services. For them, their trust in the B-737 MAX 8 product’s safety was almost completely lost. It is remarkable how the FAA and aircraft manufacturers like Boeing could have made a mistake by releasing their latest flagship aircraft with such a deficiency, and it is going to be a long chore to restore the public’s trust in Boeing products and FAA credibility. 

Now, the FAA has approved the B-737 MAX 8 to fly again after several improvements and enhancements to the MAX 8 product quality. Some of what has been done is to fix the aircraft’s control system software related to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) which has been accused of being the main cause of the two accidents that occurred. Additionally, pilots are now required to conduct simulator training before being allowed to fly the MAX 8. 

Despite the additional requirement, the technical repair and procedure improvement packages that Boeing has performed on the MAX 8 have been declared by the FAA to be safe and satisfactory. The EU aviation authority EASA has also expressed satisfaction with the steps Boeing has taken together with the FAA. The EASA Executive Director was quoted as stating that the 737 MAX is safe enough to be certified. “Our analysis confirms that this is safe and the level of safety reached is good enough for us.” 

However, Canadian authorities did not follow suit, and have not agreed to the decision of the FAA and Boeing to fly the MAX 8 again. Likewise, the Chinese aviation authority will not follow EASA and FAA’s steps in the approval of the MAX 8 – a decision that is very easy to understand, in view of the unfinished issue of the US-China trade war. A technical problem that has been swept away in the flow of foreign policy of the two countries. 

So, how about Indonesia? 

Following the FAA and EASA, which approved the MAX 8 to fly again, the question arose about Indonesia’s attitude towards this decision. Lion Air is expected to immediately agree to what has been decided by the FAA and Boeing. The problem is that the decision to be able to fly the MAX 8 aircraft again is in the hands of the national aviation authority, in this case the Transportation Ministry’s Air Transportation Directorate General. It is not clear what records the Indonesian aviation authority provided when Lion Air and Garuda were first allowed to fly the MAX 8 in Indonesia. Likewise, the stance of the Indonesian aviation authority in the investigation results of the MAX 8 accident experienced by Lion Air is not yet clear. These two things will greatly determine the decisions that will be taken by the Indonesian aviation authority in relation to the decision of the FAA and Boeing. 

So far, the Indonesian aviation authorities have always referred to what the FAA has decided, in the context of the Aviation Safety Policy. As a comparison, the Indonesian aviation authority also often conducts crosschecks and offers second opinions to EASA. Especially for the MAX 8 issue, it has become difficult for the Indonesian aviation authorities to make decisions in the same way. As a country where the MAX 8 crash occurred for the first time, now whatever the Indonesian aviation authority will decide will become a decision that will be used as an important reference for other countries using MAX 8 to consider. 

The Indonesian aviation authority is certain to be very careful in coming to a decision. In this case, it would be better for the Indonesian aviation authorities to listen to the final results of the National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) investigation on the case of Lion Air crash and also the explanations from the operators, namely, Lion Air and Garuda. 

What is clear is that not all aviation authorities in the various countries using the MAX 8 immediately agreed with the FAA’s decision to allow the MAX 8 to fly again, after a long and winding road for 20 months.