A Very Important Attribute

FAA Administrator Steve Dixon announced on November 18, 2020, as we were going to press, that he was rescinding the order that grounded the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft 616 days after it was taken from the skies. What a long, strange trip it has been.

Before saying anything else, let us take a moment and acknowledge the 346 lives that were lost aboard both Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. We wish those families peace. Boeing also reflected on those losses. “We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations,” said David Calhoun, Boeing CEO. “These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity.” Please see Jeff Guzzetti’s article about the Lion Air accident and related maintenance concerns in our last issue, Autumn 2020, starting on page 36.

The Airworthiness Directive published by FAA specifies design changes that must be made before the aircraft returns to service including installing software enhancements, completing wire separation modifications, conducting pilot training and accomplishing thorough de-preservation activities that will ensure the airplanes are ready for service.

FAA also issued a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) and published the MAX training requirements. Accomplishing all of these things will slow the MAX from returning immediately to the skies. The pilot training program revisions must be incorporated by each airline operating the MAX. Airlines must also take required maintenance steps to prepare them to fly again.

In a press conference on November 18, 2020, Administrator Dixon said the MAX journey had been a “painful and arduous process” that ultimately strengthened the cooperation between other regulators. “We serve as the certifying authority; they serve as the validating authority. In this particular case, one of the things I’m really proud of is the transparency that we’ve had with them throughout this process,” Dixon said. “We worked side by side with the foreign authorities. This is the most heavily scrutinized transport aircraft in history,” Dixon said.

When asked if anyone was held accountable for the MAX situation Dixon replied, “I think we all hold ourselves accountable every day and I never want to take the easy way out. It’s easy to point the finger, blame individuals for things. I’m interested in improving processes and continuing to raise the bar on safety. If I see a need to make a change in certain areas, I will do that…We are doing that. We stood up an ODA office. We have measures in place to make sure it does not happen again and to make sure that we’ve got a solid human factors and an operational perspective throughout the entire certification process.”

Dixon was asked if he felt what happened with the MAX would result in longer certification times for future aircraft. He said one of the things they needed to do was exercise oversight from a “systematic perspective.” He said putting in place safety management systems (SMS) would help them do that. He stressed the need for manufacturers to push data and information to FAA on a more regular basis, rather than on a transactional basis. “I don’t know that it necessarily increases the amount of time, but I think it does improve the systematic rigor of the process. And that’s what we’re shooting for in terms of improving and moving to really the next level of safety with aircraft certification. I wouldn’t say longer, but I would say better,” Dixon stressed.

He repeated numerous times the FAA’s desire to improve the certification process, make it more systematic and to be more data driven. However, he also added, “The design of the aircraft was not the only causal factor. We had maintenance issues. We had also had issues with how the airplane was operated. So we’ve got to take a look at all of those and how they all interact.” Administrator Dickson personally took the recommended pilot training and piloted the Boeing 737 MAX, so he could experience the handling of the aircraft firsthand. He was already a type-certified 737 captain for Delta Air Lines for many years.

Rescinding the previous order to ground the MAX will allow airlines that are under the FAA’s jurisdiction, including those in the U.S., to take the steps necessary to resume service and for Boeing to begin making deliveries.

Boeing says they have worked closely with airlines, providing them with detailed recommendations regarding long-term storage. The beleaguered company also says in a statement that it has focused on improving their company by taking concrete steps to ensure a similar problem does not occur again. These steps include an organizational alignment, bringing 50,000 engineers together in a single organization that includes a new “Product & Services Safety” unit and unifying safety responsibilities across the company. Boeing also says a shift in cultural focus has taken place where engineers have been further empowered to improve safety and quality. The company says they are identifying, diagnosing and resolving issues with a higher level of transparency and immediacy.

Although the company, the FAA and other regulators seem to be on board with this important move towards getting the MAX airborne again, Dixon admitted that some may still feel trepidation, even though it is the most heavily scrutinized transport aircraft history. He said he would put his own family on it. Still, he admitted that being skeptical was understandable. “Skepticism in aviation is a very important attribute,” Dixon said.

Where We Are Right Now

We can’t just not talk about it. The elephant in the room as they say. The thing that impacts every move you make but no one talks about because it is too painful. That is where we are right now. No matter what your beliefs or stand on masks and public health, we are in the middle of a health crisis that is impacting aviation to the highest degree since its inception as a market sector.

So what is happening? As of this writing, there had been 31 million cases of COVID-19 in the world. The epicenter of the outbreak is the United States where there are a reported 6.8 million cases and 200,000 deaths resulting from COVID-19. India and Brazil are both not far behind. There are still travel restrictions in place between numerous countries and confidence in flying remains low, in spite of a recent uptick in travel.

We have had some government assistance to get airlines through the roughest part of the travel stoppage. Some airlines are ready for another influx of money from the government to get them over the hump — the initial round is over as of October 1. Delta might be the outlier among airlines saying that they will not take the next round of Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money, instead preferring to utilize their own SkyMiles credit card funds to keep from needing the CARES money. Delta says the new credit facility will “provide gross proceeds of $9.0 billion” to assist them through this prolonged downturn.

All of the airlines are trying numerous strategies to ameliorate the situation such as new cleaning processes, keeping middle seats empty and adjusting workforce by offering leaves of absence and early retirement packages, making historic capacity cuts, parking or retiring older aircraft (and, in some cases, entire fleet types), utilizing passenger planes on cargo-only missions, either belly-only or belly and main cabin says Airlines for America. And Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian says they are “leveraging our MRO business and partnerships with Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce to secure TechOps employment.”

All the airlines are utilizing new cabin cleaning methods to ensure aircraft in their fleet remain sanitary and COVID-free. For example, United Airlines added Zoono Microbe Shield, an EPA registered antimicrobial coating that forms a long-lasting bond with surfaces and inhibits the growth of microbes, to the airline’s already rigorous safety and cleaning procedures.

But the simple fact remains that capacity is too great for demand right now and for the near future. “Global airline flights slid last week which appears to be based on airlines dialing back schedules post-summer as a result of limited demand for travel. I believe we’ll see airline flights hover in this range for a while as demand grows,” says Daniel Baker, CEO, FlightAware.

Airlines for America says for U.S. airlines, passenger volumes remain 65 percent below last year at this time and that the average number of passengers per flight for the week ending September 13 was 69.

For its part, IATA is relaying a message of hopeful realism and calling for the systematic testing of all international travelers before departure. “This should enable governments to safely open borders without quarantine. And it will provide passengers with the certainty that they can travel without having to worry about a last-minute change in government rules that could spoil their plans,” IATA CEO, Alexandre De Juniac, stressed at the IATA media briefing on September 22, 2020. China’s air travel is rebounding faster since they have seemingly gotten the virus under control. European air travel experienced an uptick in June when some borders were reopened, but generally, load factors remain at record lows there, too.

Richard Brown, managing director of consultancy firm Naveo says 38 percent of the air transport fleet is parked or in storage as of mid-September. “While international travel outside of Europe is severely limited, something of the summer holiday season appears to have been salvaged though it feels like a case of two steps forward, one-step- back as cases rise again, localized lockdowns are enforced, and travel restrictions are imposed [again],” Brown says in his latest report: “Air Transport Fleet & MRO Trends.” Brown adds for MRO specifically, “Pre-COVID 2020 MRO spend was expected to be approximately $91B. Instead, due to COVID-19 2020 MRO spend is forecasted to be around 45 percent lower at approximately $50B.” Learn from more from Brown at naveo.com.

All of this to say, aviation has a long way to go before things are going to be OK. As we have mentioned before, the impact of this black swan event is far worse than the terrorist attacks in the U. S. on 9/11 or the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Still, I am hopeful.

In any case, please enjoy this issue of Aviation Maintenance.Our cover story is focused on how engine OEMs and MROs are helping their clients get through this challenging time. We spoke with all the major engine OEMs, as well as several MROs who do engine work, to see how they are responding and helping.

Non-destructive testing and inspections are always fascinating topics — testing or inspecting an aircraft part without doing any harm to it and returning it to service is science and art. We spoke to FAA and test equipment manufacturer TESTIA to learn more.

We also have another installment of our series “On Guard,” written by former NTSB and FAA accident expert, Jeff Guzzetti. He takes a deeper dive into the Lion Air 737 MAX accident. Of course we all know now about the MCAS problem, but there is always more to the story. Guzzetti shows where the maintenance team was lacking.

Glimmers of Hope/Purveyors of Doom by JOY FINNEGAN

United Airlines announced it is adding 25,000 flights back into their schedule in August. JetBlue and American Airlines announced a strategic partnership that they say “will create seamless connectivity for travelers in the Northeast” and more choice. They also hope the relationship will accelerate each airline’s recovery as the travel industry adapts to the new normal of life and travel during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, industry insiders say American sent out WARN notices to more than 24,000 employees including 3200 in maintenance and maintenance-related positions. A WARN notice is a requirement of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act of 1988, a U. S. labor law which protects employees, their families, and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees, as defined in the Act. Other airlines had already sent the notice.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian called the effects of the coronavirus on their airline “staggering” and then announced that the airline will shave its workforce by 20 percent through buyouts and early retirements. That effort will reduce their workforce by 17,000. Most of the airlines are offering these early buyouts. Even so, Bastian said that will not be enough. Delta had a $5.7 billion loss from April to June. He also said it was “the worst quarter…in this company’s history.” Compare that to Delta’s second-quarter operating revenue last year: $12.5 billion.

Still and all, we want to travel. Anecdotally, many have told me how eager they are to get back in the skies to begin exploring new destinations. I’m sure you have heard the same thing. Vacations, family visits and work are on hold but that just creates pent up demand. “Americans want to travel,” says Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of Public Affairs and Policy. “They miss the experiences and connections that travel creates. But travelers also want to see rigorous and conspicuous health measures in place, which is yet another reason why the wearing of masks needs to be widely embraced: restoring confidence in the ability to travel is part and parcel of an economic recovery.”

As we went to press British Airways announced they would retire their entire B747 fleet. It was in the works and would have been done by 2024 anyway, but the travel numbers forced their hand.

The business jet travel market is fairing somewhat better. However, it’s not completely rosy in that arena either. An Argus white paper says the worst month for flight activity prior to the pandemic was “February 2009 which was the bottom month for the Great Recession.” The white paper goes on to say, “Unfortunately, March, April, and May 2020 have all seen worse traffic numbers than February 2009.” The good news is that bizjet operations have ticked up in May and June. And the report says if the August forecast holds, “We will see approximately 225,000 business aviation flights in North America for the month. That is off from the 2019 monthly average of 260,000 but it would represent a 300 percent increase from our April low of 74,771 flights.”

It is truly hard to know how this will go. I see glimmers of hope. But I also see the COVID-19 numbers and the surges in some states. I see folks refusing to wear masks, even though other countries have clearly shown the correlation between capping the spread of the disease and wearing masks. We are stubborn, prideful people in the U. S. – rebels if you will – and it is hard to contain a disease if stubborn people aren’t willing to submit a little to this effort. Mixed messages from Washington aren’t helping. In any case, here’s hoping you stay well and that we are all back in the air soon.

Moving on…please enjoy this issue of Aviation Maintenance. We have looked around the globe to see how things are going in numerous areas of our industry. First, we have our Euro MRO update. We spoke with major MRO providers in Europe to learn how they are surviving in the midst of the pandemic. See that story on page 16.

Next we dared to ask about the shortage of qualified technicians that has been at the forefront of the industry for a couple of years now. We thought surely everyone would say this is not a concern with the pandemic’s impact. However, we were surprised at the responses. Even with potential layoffs and furloughs, many believe there is still need for concern. Read what industry leaders think is going to happen starting on page 24.

The modification of business jets is big business. Having worked for two bizjet manufacturers, I have seen it firsthand. We used to say there was nothing we couldn’t do to a bizjet with the right amount of money and time. We wanted to see what interesting mods shops have been installing recently. Find out on page 32.

Aviation Maintenance in the Time of Coronavirus by JOY FINNEGAN

In our annual State of the Industry feature, we ask top leaders in our industry to give us their take on where we are and where we are going as an industry. These leaders freely share their knowledge and wisdom with us so we can benefit from their expertise, experience and deep understanding of the market in which we work.

Asking for input this year was daunting. It’s easy to share insights when the economy is booming, hangars and shops are full and backlogs are in the months or in some cases even years category. But now, more than ever, we need a reality check. Where are we as an industry? How bad is it? How bad will it be? Will the recovery be quick or take longer than expected? What should companies be doing right now to shore up their resources and protect their businesses?

Asking the biggest and best companies as well as crucial smaller players these questions at a time like this yielded amazing information. We are so grateful for all who took the time to share their thoughts and advice on this most unusual of circumstances that we find ourselves in. The coronavirus pandemic has flummoxed the industry. But these humble leaders found amazing thoughts to share and even encourage us with. Please read through our State of the Industry feature starting on page 16.

Let me share some highlights that leapt out to me. The first thing to jump out to me was from MTU’s SVP Martin Friis-Petersen. After a massive slowing down of their operations for several weeks, the company is now beginning to ramp up again and using a philosophy they have hashtagged, #SmartNewNormal. The company says they will adjust shop capacity as needed, remaining flexible. Friis-Petersen commended the people of MTU Maintenance for their solidarity in the face of the current challenges.

StandardAero CEO Russell Ford says one bright spot in their portfolio is their diversity of clientele. For example, he says their military work remains consistent, both with U. S. government clients as well as international military clients. As for the commercial sector, Ford says StandardAero is monitoring and managing the situation daily and “have contingency plans for quickly aligning operating costs with volume declines on an engine program-by-program and site-by-site basis.”

Ever the realist, Lufthansa Technik’s CEO, Dr. Johannes Bussmann, says the fact that many airlines have reduced flights by 90 percent will bring some airlines to the brink of survival and that the consequences to the MRO industry will be massive. He says they are doing everything possible to ensure the economic stability of their company while supporting their customers. In spite of the situation he concluded with a positive statement saying that he believes the aviation industry will “regain its former strength,” and eventually grow again.

Derek Zimmerman, president of Gulfstream Customer Support says their facilities remain open and that they adopted new health and safety protocols. Zimmerman says some customers have used this time to do planned and scheduled maintenance. He adds as the travel restrictions are lifted, they believe more companies and individuals will see the benefits of business aircraft travel utilizing business jets.

STS Aerospace PJ Anson says first and foremost the safety of their employees is the number one concern of the company. Anson says managing their customer demand to their costs and cash burn is the biggest focus for the long term.

But he also believes companies that make decisions now to become leaner and meaner will ultimately allow a business to survive and even be more profitable.

One area of concern Andy Hakes, CEO of AireXpert, points to is the expiration of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which is providing economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses with the hopes of preserving jobs for American industries. Another area Hakes is focusing on is the continued viability of airline vendor networks and he says some smaller vendors may be facing crisis soon. He also says he is hearing the all too familiar refrain that companies will need to do more with less resources – but at an even more critical level.

The National Air Transportation Association is also bullish on business aviation once travel resumes, predicting a boom even. SVP Ryan Waguespack says businesses will be aiming to keep their people safe and will be using business jets as one way they do that. As for the commercial airline sector, Waguespack predicts a W shaped flight activity recovery period.

Boeing Global Services CEO Ted Colbert believes the work you do is key for people, communities, business, trade and “for the security and interconnectedness of our world.” He says BGS is helping reconfigure passenger airplanes into freighters and working toward digital innovations that will help as operators lean out.

Management consulting firm Oliver Wyman released updates to their annual MRO Forecast just as we went to press. Dave Marcontell, partner, says air carriers “are facing extreme financial pressures and are cutting capacity at unparalleled rates,” and they have revised their forecast for the MRO industry dramatically. One key piece of advice they give is that airlines and MROs need to figure out how to keep the key talent they have, so when the industry does turn around, they will have the experienced personnel needed. Turn to page 26 to read what the experts at Oliver Wyman are anticipating now and see more from their revised forecast.

Cavitation by JOY FINNEGAN

Airlines are like pumps. Money pumps. I have used this analogy to explain how airlines can go from billions in profits to the brink of disaster in seemingly no time at all. I cannot take credit for it but I don’t remember where or who to attribute it to. But it is so relevant right now.

I’m flashing back to 9/11 – I remember it so well. I was flying for a start-up airline based in Dallas, Texas. That airline went out of business and many others struggled to keep going; my college friend was killed – he was the first officer on the aircraft that flew into the Pentagon; I switched careers from being a pilot to being a part of this magazine because I could not find work flying. I have thought a lot about that time and how it feels so strikingly similar. You probably have similar tales of woe from that time period. Maybe you have had a flashback or two as well.

However, this is different and potentially even worse.

Let me go back to the pump analogy. What is a pump? You all know better than most people since you are called upon to occasionally fix them. A pump is a mechanical device using suction or pressure to raise or move liquids, compress gases, or force air into inflatable objects such as tires, one definition states. But the analogy to airlines being money pumps works. Think back to your training days and envision that pump. Money is sucked into the airline on one side. Lots of it. And on the other side, lots of money goes out. The airline itself is the pump in the middle pulling the money in from fares and fees for upwards of a billion passengers in a year.

But to do that work, the airlines must expend a lot of money. These expenditures include aircraft leases and payments; salaries of all employees that include the pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, gate agents, rampers, executives and all others; fuel; maintenance; fees and on and on.

When things are going well, there is a little siphon you can open up and allow the profits to flow out. But what happens when a pump doesn’t get the influx needed to run? With nothing coming in and everything going out, the chamber becomes empty. Then it cavitates. Cavitation occurs when the liquid in a pump turns to a vapor causing excessive vibration, which can cause rotating parts, such as the impeller, to contact non-rotating parts, such as the wear plates or wear rings, resulting in damage.

This is what is happening now to the airlines. It happened during the time right after 9/11 as well. But it is even worse now, because the airlines were only grounded for a few days after 9/11. Even though passenger traffic took a hit then and fewer people were flying, once the airways were reopened, people did continue to fly.

Right now, most airlines have drastically reduced their operations due to the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions put in place by governments to slow the progression of the disease. This has been going on for days and will likely continue on for many more, until the pandemic has slowed down enough for our healthcare system to safely be able to handle those that become ill from COVID-19. We are trying to prevent what happened in Italy and other countries, which is overwhelming the hospitals and healthcare systems in the U. S. It is a worthy and noble goal. No one in their right mind would want to continue to fly around potentially spreading the coronavirus rampantly with total disregard for the health of our nation, family and friends. It is one hell of a dilemma.

Many businesses, not just aviation are being severely impacted as well, such as restaurants, hotels and many others. Our privately held, relatively small media company has been impacted. We were scheduled to hold our annual event, Aerospace Tech Week in Toulouse, France in March. We were on track for a record breaking event in terms of both exhibitors and attendees. We held our breath and watched as France announced their first cases followed by restrictions of gatherings of 1000, then fewer and fewer until it became clear. We would have to cancel.

I tell you that not to evoke sympathy. But to tell you, as I am sure you have heard already, we are truly in this together. We want to acknowledge that depending on the length of time this goes on, aviation, MRO and all ancillary businesses will take a hard hit.

Please let me know if our publication can be of assistance in any way. We, as always, want to be a partner to aviation maintenance businesses, to help you tell our readers about what you are doing, how you are doing and how you can serve them.

We will continue to let the industry know what you are doing or if you have services/products to market. The aviation maintenance, MRO, testing, service and support businesses that you run, work for and work with are our family and we will do everything we can to help you survive this time so that, once it is over, we can begin the process of rebuilding, strengthening and returning to the healthy, profitable businesses we all are.

Safety is our Number One Priority

Safety is our number one priority. How many companies make this claim? How many include this philosophy in their mission statement? How many times have you heard this statement during your aviation career?

Almost every single company in the aviation industry includes this statement in their company mission state;ment. But have we lost sight of what that statement really means? Are we just reciting it from rote memory with no real understanding of what the ramifications of that statement are?

I feel compelled to keep writing about the Boeing situation. The January 10, 2020 release of internal emails between Boeing engineers, managers and flight test pilots show they were flippant about serious safety issues that continued to crop up with the 737 Max.

As I read through those released emails, I found a familiar ease with the back and forth between these various professionals. Clearly, they wanted to be effective and efficient. But problems cropped up and continued to rear their ugly heads. In those telltale emails, one thing becomes clear. The only encouragement given was towards speed; finishing and finding ways around problems – not fixing them. A few examples of phrases, which you may have already seen nor heard in the news include “jedi mind-tricking” the authorities; “a game we have to play with the regulators.” “I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to MAX.”

It appears one potential customer pushed back numerous times on the Boeing assertion that no additional pilot training would be necessary to which Boeing emails firmly respond, “There is absolutely no reason to require your pilots to require a MAX simulator to begin flying the MAX…what is to be gained by a 3 hour simulator session…?”

Read through these snippets from hundreds of emails and ask yourself if you would put your family on this now infamous aircraft. “I’ll downplay that this is mandatory.” “Is it too early to start drinking?” “I have a flight test guy questioning us about T1 vs. T2/T3 etc., trying to blow up our whole plan.” “I don’t feel like wasting time and energy on an email if I don’t have to.” “OMG this process is so messed up.” “We Boeing elected to forego the T-1 because we thought it was a little too risky to send guys into the MAX with no training.” “Keep our fingers crossed no one notices it and if they do, worst case we say there will be a fix for it coming.”

After referring to their own flight test pilots as “bubbas” and asking if the pitch issue that needed correcting was noticeable, “They’ve said in our meetings it’s definitely noticeable…maybe only to test pilots it’s noticeable?” “You can’t lie if you don’t have to talk.” “I think with all the inexperience present, we should be able to gang up on them and steer it the direction we want.” “I crashed big time my first few times, that is what scares me about showing any of this to them. You can get decent at it after 3-4 tries, but the first few are ugly.” “It’s easy to start chasing pitch and power and get in a PIO [pilot induced oscillation].” “It was like dogs watching TV for the AEG [aircraft evaluations group at FAA] curves, slopes, graphs non-engineers and test pilots really can’t understand.” “I’ll be shocked if the FAA passes this turd.”

After months, the emails indicate that team members were mired in the deception: “I have used the words ‘misleading’ and ‘mischaracterization’ a lot over the last two years in relation to his program.” “I would really struggle to defend the sim in front of the FAA next week.” “They are desperate for a go.” An entire back and forth about being forgiven by god and going to hell. “What of the irreparable damage to the Boeing name if it fails.” Q; “What is their concern?” A: “Pitch oscillation during flap retraction.”

One employee clearly felt strongly enough to not lie but considered quitting: “Not sure I will be returning in April given this – am not lying to the FAA. Will leave that to people who have no integrity.”

It does seem as though employees were trying hard to make headway in addressing the problems: “We need lots of operationally simulated testing using the FMC the way the pilots do, not engineers and engineering pilots flying between BFI and Moses [Lake].”

But later the extreme pressure to continue down the quickest path was clear: “Failure to obtain Level B training for RCAS is a planet-killer for the MAX.” There is also a long discussion about how bad the pitch problems were and how Boeing’s “other pilots would probably sign off on it.”

Also on how the company was manipulating the situation: “It is masking figures to manipulate perception.” “Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t.” And again, an occasional voice of clarity: “Our arrogance is our demise.” “The FAA were neither thorough nor demanding and failed to write up many issues.”

This email came a mere four months prior to the Lion Air accident in October 2018: “Everyone has it in their head meeting schedule is the most important because that’s what Leadership pressures and messages. All the messages are about meeting schedule, not delivering quality.” And, of course, the snippet that got the most air play, “This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”

Have you ever repeated a word over and over again only to find after saying 50 times it doesn’t have a meaning anymore? There is a term for that – semantic satiation. You continue to see the letters of the word or hear the sound of the word, but they no longer make the word; it becomes gobbledygook. The meaning has vanished. I can only imagine that these otherwise successful and committed professionals had become victims of semantic satiation with regards to the word “safety.” But that is still no excuse.

Could that happen in your company with regards to the word safety? Why would an aviation company lose sight of that? The almighty dollar. All meaning and clarity in hindsight.

Where Shall We Begin

There is so much going on the MRO, aviation in general, the world and in this issue of our publication, that I hardly know where to start. So I will dive right in.

As we went to press, Southwest Airlines was in the process of speeding up inspections of close to 40 (and possibly as many as 88) aircraft in its fleet. These were aircraft that were purchased over the years since 2013 from foreign operators and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) became concerned that the aircraft may not meet safety standards. The aircraft were previously owned by as many as 16 foreign carriers.

The biggest issue concerned maintenance records for those aircraft. Southwest hired contractors to review maintenance records. The airline also used “authority delegated to it by the FAA to grant certificates that let it carry passengers on the planes,” according to a report by the Associated Press. This concern has been ongoing since 2018 when an inspector found the issues in Southwest’s records for those aircraft. After a thorough review, Southwest discovered 360 major repairs not mentioned by the contractors.

Clayton Foushee, director of the FAA Audit and Evaluation Office said the Southwest inspections showed 30 repairs that were unknown and 42 major repairs that did “not to meet FAA airworthiness requirements.” Some required “immediate corrective action to bring the aircraft back into compliance,” Foushee said. The audit memo added the data collected indicated that “a majority” of the planes in question to be inspected do not meet FAA airworthiness requirements.

When the issues were first discovered in May of 2018, FAA gave Southwest two years to complete the inspections to verify all required maintenance and repairs had been done properly. But in October, the FAA inspector in charge of Southwest said the airline had only evaluated 39 planes, calling it slow to complete the inspections in a letter sent to the company and seeking additional information about those aircraft.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) union released the following statement concerning the Southwest situation: “Recent reporting on Southwest Airlines 88 Skyline Aircraft indicates that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) internal Office of Audit and Evaluation raised issues with the carrier’s failure to ensure conformity with all FAA airworthiness requirements, which is a growing cause of concern to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA)… In our view, these lapses occurred because of Southwest’s choice to prioritize on-time performance over safety,” AMFA National Director Bret Oestreich stated.

Meanwhile, the Boeing 737 Max Saga continues. Some are predicting a return to service for the aircraft in January while others are saying not before March. Southwest’s pilot union issued a letter to its members saying, “Boeing is increasingly publicizing that they may have to shut down their production line due to running out of room to store completed MAX aircraft. There is some concern that this is simply another tactic to push the RTS timeline up, force operators to resume making payments on MAX aircraft, and transfer some costs, logistics, and responsibilities of storing and restoring the MAX to revenue service to respective operators.”

Boeing says there are five key milestones they must complete with the FAA before return to service. The first of the five, the FAA eCab Simulator Certification Session: A multi-day eCab simulator evaluation with the FAA to ensure the overall software system performs its intended function, both normally and in the presence of system failures, was successfully concluded and are now they are working towards the FAA line pilots evaluation and the FAA certification flight test. “We are working closely with the FAA and other regulatory authorities as we work towards certification and safe return to commercial service, and we are taking the time to answer all of their questions. With the rigorous scrutiny being applied, we are confident the MAX will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly,” a Boeing statement says.

Additionally, B737 NGs were found to have cracking in the pickle fork area as has been reported in the recent months. More than 30 aircraft were found to have the cracking sooner than would normally be expected. FAA issued an AD requiring inspections of aircraft prior to the accumulation of 30,000 total flight cycles, or within 7 days after the effective date of the AD and those inspections and corrective actions are underway. Qantas reported finding cracking under 27,000 cycles on two aircraft.

Finally, let me introduce a new feature in the magazine. Safety expert Jeff Guzzetti will be taking a look back at accidents over the years that have had a contributing factor related to maintenance. The first is on page 36.

These are cautionary tales that we can all learn from. Guzzetti, after a career at both the NTSB and FAA, is now heading a safety consulting firm. We are fortunate to have his expertise. Please let us know what you think of the series and if you have any accidents you would like him to include in the series.

MAX Saga Continues

In May I wrote here about the Boeing 737 MAX situation up to that time. Boeing was optimistically predicting the MAX to be up and flying by August. But August has come and gone and the predictions became September…October…December and even now the latest talk is January of 2020 or beyond. Southwest doesn’t plan to be able to use the MAX until Jan. 5. Air Canada says Jan. 8, recent reports state.

In June, Boeing had FAA pilots come to their engineering flight simulator to review scenarios. Certainly they tested out the flight regimes in which the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system would be used. Boeing says the MCAS system was used to “enhance the pitch stability of the airplane – so that it feels and flies like other 737s.” A Boeing statement released early this summer says, “MCAS is designed to activate in manual flight, with the airplane’s flaps up, at an elevated Angle of Attack (AOA). Boeing has developed an MCAS software update to provide additional layers of protection if the AOA sensors provide erroneous data. The software was put through hundreds of hours of analysis, laboratory testing, verification in a simulator and two test flights, including an in-flight certification test with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representatives on board as observers.”

In late June as the FAA reviewed the 737 MAX software update during simulator sessions, the FAA found an additional need and asked the company to address it through software changes. “The FAA review and process for returning the 737 MAX to passenger service are designed to result in a thorough and comprehensive assessment,” a June 26th statement says. “Boeing agrees with the FAA’s decision and request, and is working on the required software. Addressing this condition will reduce pilot workload by accounting for a potential source of uncommanded stabilizer motion. Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the MAX and its safe return to service.”

Additionally, Boeing says software updates to the system will now compare inputs from two AOA sensors. If the sensors disagree by 5.5 degrees or more with the flaps retracted, MCAS will not activate. Also, if the MCAS is activated in non-normal conditions, it will only provide “one input for each elevated AOA event. There are no known or envisioned failure conditions where MCAS will provide multiple inputs.” Boeing says now MCAS will never command more stabilizer input than can be counteracted by the flight crew pulling back on the column. The pilots will always have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the airplane. These updates have been designed to keep bad data from causing the MCAS system to activate.

Civil aviation authorities around the world including European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and those from India, China and Canada, have all said they plan to conduct their own flight tests on the MAX, independently from the FAA, when the time comes. EASA has also said it prefers additional redundancy in the system with readings from three independent angle of attack sensors rather than the current upgraded MAX system that has two.

Icelandair worked out an agreement with Boeing to cover costs for their grounded fleet of six 737 MAXs. It was the first carrier to announce a deal with the company since the grounding in March.

Separately, Boeing reported at the end of spring the cost of the MAX fix was topping $1 billion. But by mid-summer the cost was up to $7 billion and still climbing. More airlines will likely receive compensation as well, driving the charges higher.

In another concerning incident, testing for Boeing’s new widebody 777X, was suspended in early September when a cargo door exploded outward during a high-pressure stress test on the ground.

A new safety committee established by CEO Dennis Muilenburg in April, reported their findings to the Boeing board in mid-September. A NYT report says their recommendations included “changing corporate reporting structures, creating a new safety group, and changing the cockpits of future planes to accommodate new pilots with less training.”

Meanwhile, a new FAA Administrator, Steve Dickson – formerly SVP of Flight Ops at Delta Air Lines, was sworn in. Let’s hope the two pilots that filed complaints against Dickson about retaliation after reporting safety concerns were the only two, and that those cases were not indicative of a pervasive problem in what seems to be an otherwise stellar career.

On September 19, 2019, Boeing hosted Administrator Dickson in Renton and Seattle, Wash. Dickson, who holds a 737 type rating and flew the aircraft on the line, spent time in the 737 MAX simulator and reportedly held discussions with senior leaders, including Boeing’s Kevin McAllister, Commercial Airplanes president and CEO. “We remain committed to working collaboratively with the FAA and other global regulators to safely return 737 MAX back to service,” a Boeing statement released at the time of the visit says.

Since the two crashes, numerous government agencies have been researching how the FAA certifies new aircraft and the policy of delegating certification to the manufacturers themselves, as was the case with the MAX. Oversight, or the lack of it, is often mentioned in relation to outsourced maintenance and is once again being bandied about as problematic in regards to certification as well.

It does seem the FAA is being more methodical, thorough and thoughtful this time around. It’s said the regs are written in blood. For the flying public’s safety, let’s hope they do not forget that.

There We Grow Again

Aviation Maintenance’s parent company, Aerospace & Security Media holds an annual conference and exhibition and it is growing. This event started out as The Avionics Show covering all the latest avionics developments in the industry.

As connectivity in aviation became paramount to customer satisfaction and on time efficiency in the airline industry, this track was added to the event and the name changed to Aviation Electronics Europe. Last year, we added a track on aerospace testing, and again, wanting to reflect the larger areas of focus for the event and hint at more to come, we changed the name again to Aerospace Tech Week.

In 2020 we will double the conference to a total of six tracks. In addition to the already successful avionics, connectivity and testing, the three new tracks will include MRO IT, flight operations IT and Future Airborne Capabilities Environment, also known as FACE. We are very excited about these sectors of aviation and are reviewing abstracts submitted by subject matter experts from across the globe to determine our speaker line up and topics now.

To support these ideas and stay up to date on developments in these areas, in conjunction with the conference, we are launching a new, quarterly publication, Aerospace Tech Review. We will cover these six topics, Avionics, Connectivity, MRO IT, Flight Operations IT, Aerospace Testing and FACE (and more) to help you stay in the know about these rapidly advancing technologies and areas. Our first issue will be in the fall. If you or your company does work in any of these areas, please send press releases, story ideas and interview opportunities to me at jfinnegan@avm-mag.com. I would love to hear more about your company and consider including them in the inaugural issue.

When first looking at these six subjects, they may seem diverse. But the truth is, nothing stands alone in our aviation world. Everything is interconnected. Think of String Theory in aviation! Silos in business are not good. And through the years, airlines, operators and flight departments have seen how one siloed area can wreak havoc on another when one doesn’t know or understand what the other is doing. Lack of communication and synergy can lead to melt downs of phenomenal proportions. I’m sure you have seen this in your career at some point.

What Aerospace & Security Media hopes to do at Aerospace Tech Week, and within the pages of Aerospace Tech Review, is bring these interconnected areas together to bust down those silos. The event and publication will create a learning environment for all in aircraft operations to understand how the technological, IT, operations, avionics and connectivity of today can help create a more efficient, and therefore profitable, business environment.

With this in mind, Aerospace Tech Week aims to bring these areas together to help give a holistic view of the operation and maintenance of aircraft. Different departments that work together on projects can benefit from sharing information and asking questions and we are giving them a venue and opportunity to do so. The takeaways will be streamlining workflow and complementing each area of an operation rather than duplicating efforts.

For example, two of new areas we will be focusing on at the conference this year will be MRO IT and flight operations IT. In the past, these two areas might not have thought a lot about what the other was doing or why (siloed). But today, these two areas must work hand in glove, side-by-side to accomplish their shared goal of an on time and profitable airline. Connectivity is creating the environment to allow both areas to communicate and cooperate. Where is the connectivity operating through – the latest avionics on board the aircraft. What is coming next? Future Airborne Capability Environment…I think you can see where we are heading. All of these things working together in harmony to achieve the best possible result.

Airlines can’t afford to spend their days putting out proverbial fires. Gone are the days of after action reports. In today’s market, we must be prepared for what is coming before it happens. Say hello to predictive analytics. This tool is being enabled and brought into greater functionality daily. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg with the incredible amounts of data that a current generation aircraft can produce.

I can’t wait to see the developments of big data and predictive analytics ahead. It’s a sea change and we are in the middle of it. Think of the days (not that long ago) before smart phones. Now, we can’t imagine ourselves without them and the convenience, connectivity and efficiency they bring to our lives. That’s where we are with aviation technology and aircraft operations right now. Please join us in Toulouse, France on March 18 and 19, 2020. Together, let’s break down those silos and build a new way of thinking for the future of aerospace technology. For more information go to www.aerospacetechweek.com.

If It Ain’t Boeing

The Boeing 737 MAX issue continues to play out in the aviation world. Airlines have extended flight cancellations involving the MAX well into the summer. Upwards into the thousands of flights will ultimately be cancelled. Inconvenience. Lost revenue. But nothing compared to the lives already lost.

Meanwhile, Boeing is feverishly trying to ensure their software fix will eliminate any future problems. U. S. President Donald Trump has also felt it necessary to get involved. He sent a Tweet out that said this: “What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name. No product has suffered like this one. But again, what the hell do I know?”

In April, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenberg spoke at the Leadership Conference at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas., saying: “Our values are at the very core of everything we do. Yet, we know we can always be better, and these recent accidents have intensified our commitment to continuous improvement as we design, build and support the safest airplanes in the sky. That’s our responsibility as a leader in the aerospace industry. That’s what we do at Boeing. We own it.” Subsequent to that though, it seemed as though he was back-pedaling.

Now Boeing is faced with “restoring trust.” At a shareholders meeting April 29, Muilenburg reiterated as he has numerous times that the company is making steady progress toward the software fix and recertification. He faced tough questions at that meeting from angry shareholders. Just prior to that meeting the group Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (PIRC), which advises pension schemes and other investors, recommended Boeing investors oppose the re-election of Muilenburg as chairman and chief executive officer. “There should be a clear division of responsibilities at the head of the company between the running of the board and the executive responsibility for the running of the company’s business,” PIRC said.

It is being reported now, that Boeing’s own test pilots lacked details of the MCAS system as was the case with all pilots operating the aircraft prior to the two fatal accidents of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines. It has also been said that Boeing limited the role of its own pilots in the development of those systems, going against longstanding procedures and practices of seeking detailed input from their own pilots.

It has also been confirmed that the 737 MAX fleet was supposed to have a system that would alert the pilots when sensors were reporting conflicting data (one of the causes of the two crashes). However, the alert system would only work if an optional second sensor was installed and some purchasers of the aircraft did not know that or select the second sensor option. A Boeing statement said, “Boeing did not intentionally or otherwise deactivate the disagree alert on its MAX airplanes. The disagree alert was intended to be a standard, stand-alone feature on MAX airplanes. However the disagree alert was not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended.”

Clear as mud? Boeing acknowledged malfunctioning sensors led the anti-stalling MCAS system to override pilot’s inputs. And that it was tied to the optional (must select and purchase) feature and wouldn’t work without it.

Where, oh where, was the FAA in all of this? Especially at the time of certification? Let’s review what the role of the FAA is. This is the statement on the FAA’s website regarding their mission: “We’re responsible for the safety of civil aviation…Our major roles include:

  • Regulating civil aviation to promote safety
  • Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology

But when things get too chummy in the real world and people start assuming that one did their part correctly and completely, well we all know that classic old saying about assuming!

For their part, FAA needs to confirm a new administrator ASAP and that new administrator needs to tighten up the ship. Yes, it can be a pain to deal with FAA, but we can’t have the fox watching the hen house. Reminds me of the internet memes “You had one job!” The FAA did have one key job and somewhere along the way, it didn’t get done.

As we went to press the very latest news about this event is Boeing knew about problems with the 737 MAX the year before Lion Air crash and did nothing about them. A new statement from the company indicates a timeline implying some at the company were aware of the problem before finally deciding to act. In addition, some former Boeing engineers and aviation analysts criticized Boeing’s original software design for relying on data from a single AOA sensor, claiming that those devices are vulnerable to defects. Boeing also did not flight test what would happen to the MCAS system if the single AOA sensor failed. Several calls have been made to a Whistleblower hotline in regard to the 737 MAX in recent weeks.

There are 346 people now dead because of these events, oversights and stupidity.

Pilot groups are requesting even more additional simulator training once the fix has been approved, installed and activated. This need may push the return to operation of the MAX beyond the now-predicted August time frame. But with human lives, the public trust and the reputation of Boeing at stake, what’re a few more months?