Imagery of 737 MAX aircraft in Southwest Airlines regalia. (SWA)
The global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX hasn't ended the airplane's woes, as a MAX 8 flying without passengers for Southwest Airlines on March 26 had to make an emergency landing in Orlando, Florida, shortly after takeoff.
Though no revenue flights or ones with passengers aboard are allowed, the planes can still be flown to get them to the locations airlines want them. Southwest was ferrying one of its aircraft from Orlando to Victorville, California, when it began experiencing trouble with its No. 2 engine. Airline representatives say that the engine was overheating, though the cause is not known.
"Southwest 8701 operating as a ferry flight with no passengers onboard returned to Orlando International Airport just before 3 p.m. EDT after pilots reported a performance issue with one of the engines shortly after takeoff," the airline said in a statement. "The crew followed protocol and safely landed back at the airport. The flight was scheduled to fly to Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, for short-term storage. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 will be moved to our Orlando maintenance facility for a review."
The FAA confirmed the incident and that it will investigate but provided no further information.
The 737 MAX, which debuted in 2017, suffered two high-profile crashes since last October, killing a total of 346 passengers and crew. In the wake of the most recent mishap, questions have surfaced about the safety of the aircraft, particularly Boeing's maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which may be involved in both accidents. The aircraft is grounded worldwide until investigators find out more about the cause of the crashes and regulators are confident in the plane's safety.
In the meantime, Boeing is trying to get ahead of any investigation results by working on updates to the 737 MAX MCAS. The FAA said it is currently reviewing the flight control software enhancement. Earlier in the month, Boeing said it anticipated the update to be ready and an FAA airworthiness directive to be out "no later than April," which sets a deadline of early next week.
The FAA has said that the aircraft will stay grounded once the software update is approved, and several international regulators have said that they will want to do their own reviews of the updates rather than simply relying on the FAA's approval as they sometimes do.
So far, there is nothing to indicate that the problem that led Southwest Airlines flight 8701 to return to Orlando is related to either of the other crashes.