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?