737Max; Boeing, Seattle, Renton, 737MAX First Flight, Airplane 1A001; K66500-04; Air to Air

MIAMI — Boeing has announced today that has opted to halt the flights of its 737 MAX fleet, citing issues related with CFM’s International LEAP-1B powerplant.

While it is not clear whether the grounding could affect the initial delivery of the first 737 MAX to Malindo Air, scheduled to enter in service on May 19, Boeing and CFM say they remain committed to deliver the aircraft to customers later this month, while maintaining the production of both the 737 Next-Generation and the 737 MAX with no changes.

Norwegian Air Shuttle and Southwest Airlines are also among the first 737 MAX operators. Norwegian has plans to deploy its MAX 8’s on transatlantic routes from UK and Ireland to the United States on June 15, while Southwest has plans to debut the aircraft on October 1 on its Houston Hobby, San Antonio and Dallas Love Field triangle route.

“We still plan to start deliveries this month. But there is no official date set yet. We’re keeping all of our customers updated on the progress.” Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said.

Boeing it is now inspecting the core of the LEAP-1B engine, manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric (GE) and France’s Safran.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to temporarily suspend MAX flights. The step is consistent with our priority focus on safety for all who use and fly our products,” Alder said.

To date, the MAX program has logged 2,000 hours on the engines, including abuse testing and long-range flights. Boeing’s inspections throughout the process haven’t found any issues so far.

Last March,  the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has certified the 737 MAX 8 for commercial service. The milestone in the  program took place days after rollout of the first 737 MAX 9, the largest member —to date— of the family aircraft, and the announcement of plans for a stretched variant, dubbed the MAX 10X.

Boeing 737 MAX CFM Leap Engine at Farnborough in July 2016. Image: Chris Sloan
Boeing 737 MAX CFM Leap Engine at Farnborough in July 2016.
Image: Chris Sloan

Airbus has also experienced issues with one of the powerplant options of its A320neo. The engines, provided by Pratt & Whitney, have been marred by several issues, causing the airframer to reduce the production output of the jetliner.

Back in May 2014, the Bombardier CSeries program was grounded due to a sudden loss of power and uncontained failure of one of the Pratt & Whitney’s PW1500G engines, caused by a defect in the powerplant’s oil lubrication system.