Families of the more than 300 people who died in the two crashes have charged that Boeing should have known that its planes were vulnerable to crashes and that regulators in the United States were lax in allowing Boeing essentially to self-certify that the planes were safe.
Here’s a timeline of how that controversy unfolded.
OCT. 29, 2018 — A 737 Max jet operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashes into the Java Sea after takeoff, killing 189 people. Suspicion immediately falls on control problems that the pilots had reported to the control tower after takeoff. A preliminary accident report released Nov. 28, 2018, suggests that a malfunction of a software system known as MCAS, or the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, played a role in the crash. Boeing defended the MCAS, noting that a manual instructed pilots how to turn the system off if it malfunctioned.
MARCH 10, 2019 — Another Max 8 crashes in Ethiopia, killing 157 people. As in the previous crash, investigators found that bad information from an external sensor caused the MCAS to automatically push the plane’s nose down repeatedly.
MARCH 11, 2019 — Ethiopia grounds all Max 8 aircraft, saying that while it has not yet determined the cause of the crash, grounding was an extra safety precaution. China also announces that its airlines were suspending flights of the aircraft.
MARCH 12, 2019 — Amid growing pressure to ground the planes throughout the world, Muilenburg calls President Trump and says the planes are safe. The Federal Aviation Administration asserts that the planes are airworthy.
MARCH 13, 2019 — The FAA changes course after Canadian authorities announce that they were grounding the aircraft. Trump tweets the news himself: “Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and thereafter be grounded until further notice,” he says. “The safety of the American people, and all people, is our paramount concern.”
MARCH 27, 2019 — Boeing announces that it will issue fixes to the MCAS software but that it still believes pilots will require minimal training to operate the system.
APRIL 4, 2019 — Boeing announces that it has found a second software flaw in the 737 Max design, unrelated to MCAS. It says it is working to fix that flaw as well, which involves flaps that control the plane’s movement. That same day a preliminary report on the Ethiopian crash says the pilots performed all the procedures Boeing had recommended to disable the MCAS software, but that the plane had crashed anyway.
OCT. 14, 2019 — Muilenberg, who has served as both the company’s chief executive and its chairman, is stripped of his chairman’s title in a move the board said would help him focus on fixing the 737 Max problem.
OCT. 25, 2019 — Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee issues its final report on the Lion Air crash, blaming the MCAS software system for the crash and saying that Boeing had been incorrect in its assumptions about how pilots would react if the system malfunctioned.
OCT. 29, 2019 — Muilenberg appears before the Senate Commerce Committee but declines to back legislation that would give the FAA a stronger role in certifying that aircraft are safe to fly.
NOV. 11, 2019 — Boeing announces it intends to resume delivering 737 Max aircraft to customers in December and that it believes airlines would be able to resume flying the planes in January.
DEC. 11, 2019 — FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson says he won’t clear the plane to fly before 2020 and that the agency is investigating 737 production issues in Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington. Approval is not likely until at least February and could be delayed until March, U.S. officials told Reuters.
DEC. 12, 2019 — Muilenberg meets with Dickson. Boeing subsequently announces that it will not seek early FAA approval to begin shipping 737 Max aircraft to customers.
DEC. 16, 2019 — Boeing announces that it will temporarily suspend 737 Max production in January. The next day, Southwest Airlines, Boeing’s largest 737 Max customer, announces that it is pulling the aircraft from its flight schedules through April.
DEC. 23, 2019 — Boeing’s board of directors announces that it has fired Muilenberg, effective immediately, and that he will be replaced by board chairman David Calhoun, starting Jan. 13.
Ian Duncan and Christian Davenport contributed.