Alarming details that emerged in the aftermath of the 737 Max grounding about behavior during the 777 MAX certification process have created a crisis of confidence unparalleled in the aviation industry. And no one – not just Seattle – should underestimate the extent of mistrust and the time it could take to heal the deep wounds.
It is now almost 18 months since the Ethiopian Max tragedy. Boeing has been working hard to right the wrongs through senior management changes, a root-and-branch overhaul of processes, and extensive re-evaluation of the aircraft and its systems. All this should pave the way for the Max to re-enter service safely – when complete all the final checks and balances.
But when Max operators do restore revenue services – one is reluctant to describe it as “a triumphant return” – this will only be the start of a long journey of recovery which extends far wider than simply Boeing and the US regulator. The findings have tainted the industry and many assumptions about reappraise derivative designs.
Clark is a weary veteran of many new airliner programs – be they clean sheet or derivative designs. He was at Gulf Air when the Lockheed TriStar was being introduced in the mid-1970s and has been part of the creative know-how that helped produce many of today’s widebody icons such as the Airbus A350 and A380, and the 777-300ER. But even with all his battle-hardened experience on the frontline of airliner development, Clark was clearly spooked by what he saw coming out of the Max investigation.
While stressing that he has no reason to believe there is anything untoward with 777X systems or design, Clark is concerned about embedded software– in light of the Max findings – “that we do not know about, or is dissimilar to what is already on the 777-300ER”. He, therefore, demands “a full and transparent explanation” once the aircraft is ready to present for 777 MAX certification.
Clark isn’t alone with his view. The Federal Aviation Administration in partnership with other authorities is scrutinising the “changed product rule” which legislates the so-called “grandfathered” certification of derivative aircraft.
The trust that once existed between the triumvirate of OEM, certification authority, and customer evaporated in the disturbing revelations around the Max last year. It feels like the old adage that innocent until proven guilty may no longer apply derivative designs for the foreseeable future – regardless of their creator.