Less than a week after a potential manufacturing flaw in a batch of about 30 engines grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX fleet, the FAA cleared Boeing to fly the MAX with the engines that weren’t affected. The jet maker’s first delivery went to Malindo Air, part of Indonesia’s Lion Air.
The glitch that threatened to spoil Boeing’s smooth progress toward first delivery of its new 737 MAX was overcome quickly, as the jet maker Tuesday handed over the first MAX 8 to Malaysian carrier Malindo Air.
The discovery of a potential manufacturing flaw in a batch of engines prompted Boeing on May 10 to temporarily ground its 737 MAX fleet.
But Jamie Jewell, a spokeswoman for engine maker CFM International, said the potential problem is confined to “around 30” of its LEAP engines, which have already been taken off airplanes and taken away for inspection.
By Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had cleared Boeing to fly the MAX with unaffected engines. Tuesday’s first delivery of a MAX to an airline suggests the incident may prove a small blip in the jet’s otherwise remarkably untroubled development.
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Boeing announced in a brief statement before the delivery that with the FAA’s approval, the 737 MAX “has resumed all flight activities.”
The first MAX was officially purchased by aircraft lessor Avolon — part of China’s HNA Group, though headquartered in Ireland — which then leased the jet to Malindo, part of Lion Air Group of Indonesia.
The potential engine flaw was discovered during manufacturing of some metal discs that are part of the low pressure turbine at the rear of the engine.
One of CFM’s suppliers of those discs had used an incorrect forging process that created a vulnerability to cracks developing in the discs — though none were detected in more than 15 months of flight tests.
The affected engines were taken off the airplanes last week and sent for inspection to CFM, which is a joint venture between engine makers GE of the U.S. and Safran of France.
“We’re tearing down the engines and identifying which discs have the flaw and which don’t,” Jewell said Tuesday.
It’s unclear at this early stage whether Boeing’s MAX delivery schedule will be slowed by the missing engines now undergoing inspection or if it will be able to maintain the delivery rate previously planned.
Certainly, the last-minute glitch spoiled the celebration of what should have been a huge milestone: the first delivery of a new model airplane, with more than 3,700 orders already on the books.
The debut of the MAX means Boeing’s counterpart to the Airbus A320neo is at last in service.
The Airbus plane entered service 15 months ago, though deliveries of that jet have been severely curtailed by prolonged, continuing performance problems with a different engine: the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan.
If the quality issue on the LEAP is confined to the relatively small number of engines already taken out of service, CFM just has to replace any suspect discs and catch up with engine deliveries for the MAX to get fully back on track.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Kevin McAllister said in a statement that the MAX “will change the face of the single-aisle market.”
Chandran Rama Muthy, CEO of Malindo Air, said the airline has been very satisfied with the current model 737 and now plans to make the new 737 MAX the centerpiece of its fleet.
The MAX flies farther and is 14 percent more fuel efficient that the current 737.
Avolon has commitments for 60 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, delivering through to 2021.
Lion Air Group controls low-cost carrier Lion Air, regional carrier Wings Air, business-jet operator Lion BizJet, and full-service carrier Batik Air, all of Indonesia, and also holds minority stakes in Malaysia’s Malindo Air, and Thailand’s Thai Lion Air.
Malindo Air will be renamed Batik Air Malaysia in the second half of this year, and the 737 MAX delivered Tuesday was already decorated in the new brand’s livery.