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Boeing Still Reeling


After months of troubles stemming from the crashes of two of its 737 Max airplanes, Boeing finally has a bit of good news. The company signed a deal at the Paris Air Show to sell 200 new Max jets to a big European airline group. It is the first sale of the Max since the planes were grounded back in March. But Boeing's Max troubles are far from over. A congressional committee meets today to dig deeper into the jetliner's problems. NPR's David Schaper has more.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Boeing came into the big Paris Air Show this week under a dark cloud in the aftermath of 737 Max plane crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people in all. Aviation authorities around the world grounded the popular jetliner in March amid concerns over Boeing's design and implementation of a new flight control system on the Max. As company engineers worked for months to develop a software fix, a few airlines went so far as to cancel pending 737 Max orders.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: Circumstances for Boeing certainly haven't been ideal going into the most important air show (laughter) to say the least.

SCHAPER: That's Richard Aboulafia, an aviation industry analyst with the Teal Group. He says Tuesday's announcement that International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways and Aer Lingus, among others, signed a letter of intent to buy 200 of the troubled 737 Max planes came as a bit of a surprise.

ABOULAFIA: It's a very powerful endorsement from a deeply respected airline group. And that's exactly what Boeing needed right now to shift the narrative and re-establish confidence in the 737 Max and their ability to make it right.

SCHAPER: At list price, Boeing says IAG would pay $24 billion for the 200 planes. But Aboulafia says the airline group likely got a steep discount, and a letter of intent, he notes, is far from a done deal. Nonetheless, aviation industry analyst and writer Marisa Garcia agrees this is a big win that Boeing badly needs. But she adds the company is hardly in the clear.

MARISA GARCIA: The key thing will be for regulators to show the same vote of confidence. At the end of the day, if they can't get uniform approval of the aircraft to get back off the ground and flying from regulators around the globe, there's always going to be a shadow of doubt cast on that aircraft.

SCHAPER: And Garcia says there is a rift right now between regulators in Europe, Asia and elsewhere around the world and those in the U.S. over how the Federal Aviation Administration certified the 737 Max and the MCAS flight control system in the first place. A congressional subcommittee hearing will examine those and other concerns today. Here's House Transportation Committee chair Peter DeFazio.

PETER DEFAZIO: How are these decisions being made? And is the FAA capable of properly overseeing these sorts of decisions? It's inexplicable.

SCHAPER: Representatives of the airline industry, flight attendants and pilots unions will testify. Pilots say Boeing's single point of failure design and the company's failure to provide pilots with information in training for the MCAS system were fatal mistakes. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.


David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.