FAA Investigates Boeing 737 MAX 8 Dutch Roll on Southwest Airlines Flight

By Ivan PetrenkoJun 15, 2024 11:30 AMNews
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Burbank airport boards straight from the tarmac
Burbank airport boards straight from the tarmac. Source: unsplash

The FAA is investigating an incident involving a Boeing 737 MAX 8 operated by Southwest Airlines, which experienced a "Dutch roll" while cruising. The aircraft, carrying 175 passengers and six crew members, safely landed in Oakland, California, with no reported injuries. The event, which took place on May 25, has prompted federal authorities to collaborate with Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to determine the cause.

The Incident

Southwest Airlines Flight 746 encountered the Dutch roll, an unusual rolling motion, during a flight from Phoenix to Oakland. The incident occurred approximately an hour after takeoff, while the aircraft was cruising at an altitude of 32,000 feet. Despite the alarming motion, the pilots managed to regain control of the aircraft, which landed safely in Oakland. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 involved is relatively new, being less than two years old.

Preliminary Findings

The preliminary report by the FAA indicated damage to a unit that provides backup power to the rudder, known as the Power Control Unit (PCU). The FAA's description noted, "Aircraft experienced a Dutch roll, regained control and post flight inspection revealed damage to the standby PCU, Oakland, Ca." This damaged PCU is believed to be the cause of the Dutch roll, leading to the investigation by federal authorities.

Understanding Dutch Roll

A Dutch roll is described as a combination of directional and lateral oscillation of an airplane, resembling the movement of a Dutch ice skater. It involves a yawing motion where the tail slides and the plane rocks from wingtip to wingtip. According to Shem Malmquist, a commercial pilot and instructor at Florida Tech, such occurrences are rare in modern airplanes due to advanced systems designed to prevent them. However, when they do occur, it is crucial for pilots to know how to respond effectively.

Impact on Boeing

This incident adds to Boeing's ongoing challenges with the 737 MAX family of jets. The aircraft was initially celebrated as a significant advancement in narrowbody airliners, but the model has faced severe scrutiny following two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, which claimed 346 lives. These accidents led to extensive investigations and safety concerns, resulting in federal authorities limiting the number of 737 MAX jets Boeing can produce until safety issues are resolved.

In Conclusion

The FAA's investigation into the Dutch roll incident on Southwest Airlines Flight 746 highlights the ongoing safety concerns surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX. As federal authorities and Boeing work to address these issues, the aviation industry continues to monitor developments closely to ensure the safety and reliability of air travel.

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