FAA Won’t Say When Boeing 737 Max Might Fly Again; Foreign Regulators Uppity

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The 737 Max situation has developed not necessarily to Boeing’s advantage.

A FAA news conference which presumably had restoring faith in the plane and the agency as a major goal didn’t appear to make much progress on either front. And it also appears that the FAA placing way too much trust in Boeing had led to the regulator losing its hegemony in certifications. Nicely played!

Boeing’s two largest US customers, Southwest and American Airlines, had made statements that they anticipated returning the 737 Max to service in August. That timetable was almost certainly the result of expectations set by Boeing.

That plan has gone up in smoke. The FAA said it wouldn’t give an idea as to when the 737 Max would be deemed airworthy again, and a year was not out of the picture, although commentators seemed to regard that long as highly unlikely.

On top of that, the FAA mentioned that Boeing had missed several deadlines for submitting a software fix for the FAA to evaluate, and was set to get it in this week. Not a good look as far as the airlines with mothballed planes are concerned.

Moreover, while the US press for the most part was putting a positive spin, given the givens, on the FAA’s press conference, the Financial Times reported that foreign regulators, who are set to meet with the FAA today (Thursday) are taking a tough line on the 737 Max recertification, including insisting on simulator training as a requirement. This confirms a risk we and others had raised before: that the FAA, by doggedly defending the 737 Max when other regulators were proven correct in grounding it, is no longer fully in charge of the certification process. At best, it is having to negotiate terms with key foreign regulators.

Key bits from the Wall Street Journal:

cting Federal Aviation Administration chief Daniel Elwell appeared to undermine industry expectations that Boeing Co.’s grounded 737 MAX jets would be heading toward a smooth and predictable return to the skies.

Mr. Elwell repeatedly told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that he couldn’t predict when the fleet would be back in the air, suggesting instead that the process of approving a proposed software fix for the aircraft remains open-ended and subject to various factors—many outside his control.

Some of his comments seemed to signal potentially months of additional delay, as Mr. Elwell appeared to distance himself from plans by some U.S. airlines to put the jets back into operation in August…

The Journal did mention, but downplayed, the further impediment of winning over foreign regulators. Stunningly, it included but failed to flag the significance of the notion that foreign regulators might not accept the FAA’s clean bill of health:

In addition to verifying the revised software, the FAA has to establish new training requirements, create enhanced maintenance standards and—most important—persuade foreign regulators to endorse the bulk of the eventual U.S. plan…

At Thursday’s session, FAA officials will detail progress so far and seek suggestions from foreign participants. Weeks ago, air-safety regulators for Canada and the EU said they planned to conduct separate reviews of changes to the automated flight-control feature, called MCAS, along with a safety assessment of the entire aircraft.

“Other countries and other authorities may take longer” to put the planes back into service, Mr. Elwell said, “and they undoubtedly will.” Meanwhile, the FAA is asking foreign regulators “what else they would like to see from us,” Ali Bahrami, the FAA’s top safety official, told reporters.

The Financial Times account is more pointed, perhaps because the reporters got input on where those foreign regulators stand:

Canada, Europe and Indonesia made clear ahead of the meeting that they would set their own conditions for determining when the plane is safe to fly again, threatening the FAA’s goal of building consensus for a co-ordinated plan to put the 737 Max back into action.

At least with the pink paper, the Canadians were mum on their requirements, but per earlier remarks, training is on the list. Undermining the US role in certifying planes overseas, Indonesia said it is considering having Transport Canada or the European regulator EASA give a second opinion.

The Financial Times said that the Europeans had three “prerequisite conditions,” which Investors Business Daily listed as:

EASA must approve and mandate any design changes by Boeing

EASA must complete an additional independent design review

737 Max flight crews must be “adequately trained”

And China will be even more stringent. Again from the Financial Times:

China, which was the first big regulator to ground the Max and a crucial market for Boeing, could be one of the last countries to lift its ban, aviation sources said. 

Chinese regulators are likely to insist on additional checks before they clear the plane to fly. That could erode the existing convention by which nations recognise safety certifications from the manufacturer nation, and someday provide an opening for Beijing to push for easier recognition of the planes it is developing. Chinese airlines and leasing companies account for at least 10 per cent of Boeing’s unfilled order book for the Max. 

And the list of countries officially not deferring to the FAA includes Brazil:

Brazil, one of the few global regulators that mandated pilot training on the MCAS before allowing the Max to fly, said it continues to conduct “our own evaluations about the aircraft”. 

So Boeing’s 737 Max crashes, and the FAA’s complacency about them, have cost the regulator dearly. And there’s no way for the agency to regain its authority. The US can’t throw its weight around the way it once did.

 

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87 comments

  1. Fred W

    The problem is not the MCAS software which can certainly be reprogrammed, it is the aircraft itself that is unbalanced and unsafe. Boeing tried to be too clever, hoping that with covering software no aircrew would notice, and their criminal negligence has caught up with them.
    Keep making 737 800NGs, and develop a replacement aircraft, otherwise you’re stuffed.
    Why don’t they get the message?

    Reply
    1. fajensen

      Why don’t they get the message?

      Because Boeing has become a creature of The Money Pit. Congress will now have their backs forever and the regulators can go hang.

      Reply
    2. John Baker

      Exactly! Software can do a lot of things for you, it can even temporarily mask a mechanical defect, but a workaround isn’t a fix and in something as critical as an airplane, workarounds are unacceptable. I suspect even the MBAs are beginning to realize this.

      Reply
      1. marku52

        I once worked on a HW/SW add on for an inkjet printer that was supposed to identify and correct missing nozzles that would cause a print defect. Occasionally the device would misfire (usually due to a hair or spec of dust on the sensor.)

        It would then delete entire rows of nozzles causing horrible print defects.

        As I pointed out to manglement, “Any safety device powerful enough to be useful is also going to be dangerous.” The device was worse than the problem it was supposed to solve and was removed.

        It’s clear that without MCAS, these 2 planes would not have crashed.

        Reply
        1. sierra7

          I’m horrified but not surprised at the position Boeing has taken. To me it is the design mods that condemn this aircraft. Send them all to Arizona and start over. Otherwise I can’t imagine any traveler flyer having ANY confidence at all in surviving flights. And, the crew?? A sit down stoppage will be needed.
          Oh, forgot…throw the senior management of Boeing in jail.
          I wonder how desperately B. management is searching for the “smoking gun memo” that indicated this was not a real good idea.

          Reply
    3. Carolinian

      the aircraft itself that is unbalanced and unsafe

      And yet it has been flying for two years now with the only crashes quite likely tied to broken AOA sensors rather than the balance. To be sure we have every reason to distrust Boeing management at this point–particularly as they won’t even admit that they made a mistake. On that basis perhaps all Boeing planes should be grounded. But Boeing does have a strong incentive to make sure there’s not another crash because if there is they are finished.

      Reply
      1. Darius

        There’s no denying that MCAS is a workaround for engines that don’t fit the airplane. You don’t need an engineering degree to see that’s unacceptable.

        Reply
        1. Carolinian

          You need to read the serious reports including the Seattle Times investigation. And my reading of that series says that MCAS was a marketing workaround so Boeing could sell the Max as the same plane. The MCAS only kicks in when the airplane is in a near stall and for professional pilots that’s supposed to almost never happen–even if the plane pitches up more than previously on takeoff. If the Max was constantly stalling then we’d be hearing a lot more about it as all sorts of buzzers and verbal warnings and “stick shakers” happen during a stall.

          In other words “common sense” also needs accurate information and if any of the above is incorrect then happy to be corrected.

          Reply
          1. Anon

            “…MCAS was a marketing workaround so Boeing could sell the Max as the same plane.”

            That is exactly the problem. MCAS was NOT a marketing workaround for occasional aircraft instability. It was a a mild engineering workaround that they marketed to buyers of the 737 Max, so Boeing could make MORE MONEY.

            Reply
            1. Synoia

              Engineering v Marketing:

              1. You can bullshit Management
              2. You Can bullishit the Customer
              3. You cannot bullshit the electrons.

              Reply
    4. WestcoastDeplorable

      The FAA is complicit in this as well and big-time. Otherwise why let a manufacturer like Boeing “self-certify”. They sure did and the result was 4x the authority for MCAS to control the Max’s elevator trim than reported to the FAA! All to avoid the extra cost of re-training flight deck crews on the new airplane.
      They’ve lost their way as a regulatory agency and think their primary mission is being a cheerleader for the aircraft industry, when safety should always be #1 with a bullet!

      Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Let’s go even meta-further, and meta-leave this at the meta-door of the people who engineered the kind of Congress which would set the FAA up to fail.

          In the narrowest sense, those people would be the Republicans and the Catfood Democrats.

          Reply
  2. Edward

    I don’t understand how Boeing can avoid at least using a second Angle of Attack sensor with MCAS. Will the MCAS at least be re-classified as a critical system? If so, doesn’t that make a second sensor mandatory?

    I tried making this comment yesterday in the Links but it never went through. I sometimes have problems making comments on NC. I used to be able to edit comments.

    Reply
      1. Edward

        So there was a second sensor available and MCAS just wasn’t using it? I think Boeing wanted a configuration for MCAS that didn’t require new training for 737 pilots. Do you know if critical systems are required to have 2 or 3 sensors?

        Reply
        1. Carolinian

          It was all talked about in the Seattle Times series which can be googled up or was linked here. Any part of the plane that can cause a crash is supposed to use redundant sensors but the MCAS wasn’t so designated which surprised even some Boeing engineers. It could be this decision was simply a mistake due to management inattention rather than trying to save money by only using one of the two sensors.

          The fact that Boeing won’t come clean is their biggest mistake and violates the Tylenol precedent where you try to restore confidence above all else. From what I’ve read the current Boeing CEO did rise up through the engineering side of the company but came over from their Defense Dept business where mistakes are par for the course and the customer–the Pentagon–doesn’t seem to care very much. See the Andrew Cockburn Harper’s article that Jerri-lynn linked yesterday.

          Reply
          1. Edward

            Peter Lemme writes:

            https://www.satcom.guru/2019/03/aoa-vane-must-have-failed-boeing-fix.html

            “For the first time, Boeing admits MCAS is an extension of Speed Trim, which I have long suspected, and why it was designed with a single input. Speed Trim is constantly applying stabilizer trim commands in manual flight. This masks MCAS trim commands. Further, MCAS trim commands are effectively a slowover and in the case of the Lion Air flights, intermittent. These factors, combined with the flight deck effects from the high AoA value causing high workload, interfere with the expected human response. There has yet to be any acknowledgement of this, rather the opposite by ignoring it. The FAA repeatedly made the same assertion, the MCAS malfunction is easy to detect.”

            I think I read somewhere that Boeing was resisting altering MCAS to use two sensors because then 737 pilots would need new training.

            Cockburn is also interviewed here:

            https://scotthorton.org/interviews/5-14-19-andrew-cockburn-on-the-military-industrial-virus/

            Boeing used to have a rule that managers from the military part of the company were never transferred to the civilian side. Before becoming Boeing CEO, Muilenburg oversaw a pentagon program that wasted $20 billion before being cancelled.

            Reply
            1. Ian Perkins

              “I think I read somewhere that Boeing was resisting altering MCAS to use two sensors because then 737 pilots would need new training.” – me too. Two sensors would imply it was a critical piece of hardware, requiring pilot training, so they went with one.

              Reply
              1. Carolinian

                You’ll have to say where you read that because I’ve not seen it. I don’t think the Seattle Times stories said why two were not used–maybe just a mistake?

                Reply
                1. Edward

                  I think what I read was that there was an argument between Boeing and other parties over whether the revised MCAS would have 1 or 2 sensors. Boeing wanted 1 sensor and no pilot training. If there were two sensor and they disagreed, indicating an error, then MCAS would shut off. This means pilots would need to know how to fly the MAX without MCAS which requires … training.

                  Reply
                  1. Kev

                    I read somewhere that the AOA indicator on the previous 737 versions was just that an indicator. Therefore the system for doing this used left hand AOA for left hand pilot, right hand indicator for right hand pilot.
                    If there was an alarm (indication) in one, the two pilots could eyeball each individual alert, plus other senors/indicators to quickly ascertain if the alert was valid/invalid.
                    MCAS was an extension of this system which for the first time provided direct input to the aircraft control. The fact that the existing system was only using one AOA and did NOT use any other input or system to verify a stall warning before applying command inputs seems to be the issue.
                    The fact that Boeing did not class this as a critical system meant that there was no further oversight/review of this modification,
                    The issue seems to be that a monitoring, non critical, system was modified such that it became a critical safety system providing flight control inputs, under certain conditions. The change in system status does not appear to have changed, whether due to oversight or deliberate choice.

                    Reply
                    1. rowlf

                      AOA signal was used on 737NG for air data correction and stall warning/flight envelope protection. AOA indication was optional on 737NG.

    1. none

      MCAS was considered non-critical because e.g. if it goes out all of a sudden, the pilot can fly the plane manually, they just have to control the pitch themselves. But for that, they need proper training and a way to turn the MCAS off.

      Reply
    2. GW

      A second sensor may not be enough. This system is of the highest criticality. Then there is the question of whether the sensor – which was never intended for direct control is good enough. Then there is the question of whether the sensor is mounted in a protected enough manner. Just think of bird strikes which tend to occur at a time when the sensor is most critical and proximity to ground is a given. Then there is the question of using trim to do flight control. The several hundred RPMs of the trim wheel when active is imho. alone a safety no-go. And then think about sitting in a plane, not much distance to the ground and the pilots having to rewind under pressure what the automated system just added to their trim. The plane is rapidly gaining speed and after a not so high speed threshold the trim wheel becomes very hard or impossible to move.

      And how do these scenarios interact with engine failure during take-off considering the forward mounted engines?

      Reply
      1. Synoia

        Simple financial equation : $70k max per passenger.

        I believe those were the limits provided by the Warsaw convention agreed just after WW II. When flying, for a very small number of people was quite risky.

        I can remember a Shower of Tomato Juice dropping from the ceiling of a plane over the Sahara Desert, me clapping and asking for a repeat performance!

        Reply
    3. Synoia

      Why are they mechanical sensors in this day and age, subject to bird shit, and bird strike, and ladder dings?

      A spirit level glued (in three places, and with three level tubes) to the aircraft ceiling would work well. Aircraft have had artificial horizons port to starboard for decades. Why no artificial horizon device rotated through 90 degrees for front to back?

      Reply
      1. marku52

        Airflow might not be horizontal. Spirit levels don’t work under non-constant G loading.

        Airbus uses 3 AoA sensors and throws out the one that has gone insane.

        Reply
      2. RMO

        A spirit level would be useless – stop and think for a minute. Acceleration/deceleration would alter the reading that it would give even if the aircraft was running on level ground. If attitude information was available from a simple level why would so much time and money be spent on developing and buying gyro instruments? The artificial horizon gyros already give pitch information as well as roll and could have been used as sources to cross check the malfunctioning AOA sensor (as in the steep dive indicated combined with high airspeed and descent rate could indicate to the aircraft systems that the AOA sensor is likely faulty) but direct measurement of the angle of attack by aerodynamic means is by far the best and most relevant indication – in a properly flown loop the angle of attack never exceeds the critical angle even though the aircraft is pointing vertically up during the maneuver for example. And they damn well should have at least employed the second AOA sensor in the MCAS. Three sensors would be better. Boeing has really done it to themselves here. In pursuit of being able to sell the Max as flying identically to the previous versions and thus avoiding the need to spend money on type training they managed to give a single AOA source effective full range control of the elevator trim and kill two planeloads of people.

        Reply
  3. ChrisFromGeorgia

    I think the best thing for all here would be for the US to just cut to the chase and bailout Boeing now.

    Have the Fed buy up all the Max planes currently sitting in hangars, and have the FAA direct Boeing to turn them into scrap.

    Any future orders would have to be cancelled. Fire the board and CEO and put in new one that will have a safety-first mandate. If the loss of revenue while re-engineering a future version of the 737 is severe enough to threaten Chapter 11, then do a GM-style bankruptcy or break up the company into “good co/bad co” and put all the rotten assets in the bad company and wind it down.

    Problem solved!

    Reply
        1. Doggrotter

          In civilian aircraft here is only Boeing and Airbus, I can’t see the US letting Boeing go out out of business for just this reason. Boeing’s military side is safe obviously. If the USA was genuinely a capitalist Boeing would go under.
          It’s funny how the Commie chinks are better at developing industry the the US running dogs.

          Reply
    1. doug

      Given the bank bailouts, exactly why would the board and CEO have to be fired?
      Bank dudes got a raise…

      Reply
  4. PlutoniumKun

    My guess is that the Chinese are waiting in the long grass – this is far too juicy a chance for them to strike at the US in retaliation for the tariffs for them to pass up.

    They will wait until the FAA gives the green light before they say anything. If they refuse to certify it without a complete redesign, then it kills the MAX stone dead – not just in Asia, but everywhere as no leasing agent will touch it, and European budget airlines like Ryanair will also have to give it a pass as they look to Asia for ‘resales’ for their used aircraft. It would become too risky a purchase for anyone but exclusively US based airlines.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      But wasn’t there some discussion here that the Chinese need the planes and Airbus production is booked up into the future while Max planes are piling up on storage runways? Also such a move for trade war purposes and not provable safety purposes would kick off the trade war in earnest

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        China wants rather than needs the planes. It has its own Comac brand and Airbus has a manufacturing plant in China. Its airline industry would survive a shortfall, it just means they’d be running older aircraft longer that they’d want. The damage to China would be minimal compared to what would be inflicted on the US.

        Reply
        1. Synoia

          The Chinese have lots of fast trains, which are much more convenient, and provide shorter end-t-end times for trips < 800km.

          Airline trip:
          Leave House: 3.5 hours before take off, fight time, Final destination: 3 hours after landing
          Overhead 6.5 hours.
          Flying at 300 mph (average), Car vs Plane vs High Speed Train

          Effective speed door to door
          1 hour flight:300/(6.5) = 61 mph.
          2 hour flight:600/(7.5) = 80 mph.
          3 hour flight:900/(8.5) = 106 mph (Limit of Car's effective speed).
          4 hour flight:1200/(9.5) = 125 mph
          5 hour flight:1500/(10.5) = 142 mph (Limit of Fast Train's effective speed)

          That's why high speed trans are so popular in Europe and Japan and could be in the US.

          Reply
          1. Synoia

            The boarding and de-boarding time advantage for City Dwellers with trains train is 3 hours better than planes, which makes train more time effective that flying for up to a 2,000 mile trip.

            Reply
            1. Greg

              Math based on american boarding times doesn’t necessarily work in every other country. Remember the craziness of american security theatre is number one in the world.
              For example, in NZ, I need to be at the airport half an hour before a domestic flight. Two hours for international. NZ is tiny and our regional flights are hilariously insecure (one screening gate with token metal detector and baggage scan) so a bigger non-USA country would be better to check your assumptions against.

              That said, yeah trains almost certainly still stack up better for everything short of continental.
              Not convinced about your effective car speed of 106mph – that seems faster than Germany manages on autobahns that are effectively unlimited, because corners and intersections etc are unavoidable over long distances.

              Reply
              1. Greg

                ++fuel of course. Trains run nicely on things like electricity from excess hydro dam capacity along your major rivers which you want to follow anyway because that’s where the people are.

                Reply
                  1. Greg

                    Yes they are, only about a third as much from hydro. But it’s china, so they’re still a big user of hydro too (I recall the bitcoin boom was partially using excess small scheme hydro power that was available cheaply). It depends where you are in the country.

                    Reply
                1. Math is Your Friend

                  “Trains run nicely on things like electricity from excess hydro dam capacity along your major rivers which you want to follow anyway because that’s where the people are.”

                  In some cases, the rivers tend to flow north-south, the trains run east-west, and the cost of electrifying routes is extreme. I am not sure how much it would cost to electrify a 6,000 km route, but it wouldn’t be moderate.

                  On short trips (up to about 600 km) time is at worst the same by car, and when you get to the other end, you are not stranded without transportation. Also, your baggage will not go astray.

                  On long trips across the country, flying is half the price, and about 3-4 days faster than the train. On the other hand, the train gives you about a day per time zone, which lets you adjust gradually. And the train has much nicer seats.

                  Poking around on the net… apparently electric locomotives don’t do well pulling 2-3 km freight trains, and given that 99% of train traffic is freight, there’s not much point in electrification.

                  Reply
          2. rtah100

            Synoia, you have omitted the actual flight time from your calculations. This would reduce the average speeds but this is counterbalanced by overhead times you cite, which are probably too long for major cities, which is where high speed rail services stop.

            For example, I don’t spend 3.5 hours getting to the airport when I am in London – I can leave most places in West End and be at Paddington Station in 15 minutes in a taxi and at Heathrow at most 30 minutes later so end-to-end if I had checked in on line I would leave no more than 1h before security cut-off. I have missed only two flights in my life – and one of those was because I arrived really early and got engrossed in my book in the lounge! One can be at Linate from central Milan within 20-30 minutes and so on.

            London to Paris is generally better by Eurostar (2h train vs 1h flight, much of which is air traffic control routing!) and London to Brussels is definitely better by train. London to Amsterdam is borderline: it is a 4h train journey whereas the flight is 1h and the airport overhead is 2h maximum (1h both sides). I still tend to fly to Amsterdam because one can fly from London City which is a business airport and very efficient, if a little austere.

            Weirdly, my tolerance for long train journeys is higher domestically. I would take the train to Edinburgh rather than fly if at all possible, which is 5h versus 1h but this is partly because the airline service is so bad domestically and the trains still have catering, comfy seats (and first class, wifi, power, proper tables etc so you can get real work done). It also has cracking scenery, which is not something one can say about the TGV through the Pas de Calais or the various Netherlands. Now I think about this anomaly, I think my tolerance for train journeys is also higher to secondary destinations. Airlines just dump you at tinpot airports and you have to struggle on to your final destination by hire car or de-funded public transport whereas trains tend to get you much closer (compare London-Penzance with London-Newquay airport).

            Reply
          3. d

            There is also that shorter distance, especially in Europe. Now if you need to 1500 miles, trains don’t work so well

            Reply
          4. Edward

            Sooner or later global warming will doom air travel, unless some new technology is found making it more energy efficient, or something like fusion power becomes viable.

            Reply
        2. d

          So just how many non Chinese carriers have Comac planes today? And how have they sold out of their home market? I do seem to recall their 737 competitor isn’t ready yet

          Reply
  5. Matthew G. Saroff

    Given the nature of MCAS, there should be at least 3 AoA sensors (Airbus uses 4) and at least two separate and independent processors running different processors.

    Reply
    1. Ian Perkins

      I was going to say much the same thing. The best a software fix can do is use data from the two existing sensors. Will foreign airlines and regulators be satisfied with that?

      Reply
  6. The Rev Kev

    ‘The 737 Max situation has developed not necessarily to Boeing’s advantage.’ Hah! I like that. It’s like the time that the Challenger Shuttle blew up on takeoff and a controller said ‘Obviously a major malfunction’…
    This is all good information this. I was thinking about all the money that will have to be use to store those 737s, modify & upgrade them, re-certify them and then compensate the airlines for lost revenue. Hoo boy. At the very least it must be in the hundreds of millions. If the Europeans have three “prerequisite conditions” before certifying that plane, namely

    EASA must approve and mandate any design changes by Boeing
    EASA must complete an additional independent design review
    737 Max flight crews must be “adequately trained”

    Then that totally blows away the whole justification of the 737 MAX program. The idea of that program was to modify the 737 and tell airlines that it worked same as the old one and needed no training for the pilots and, by accepting the word of the FAA about its certification, the plane was ready to fly upon delivery. Now it is to be treated for what it is – a whole new plane redesign.
    The biggest loser from this mess, apart from the dead that is, is the FAA. Instead of nailing their colours to the mast over the airworthiness of the 737 MAX , the FAA nailed their trousers to the mast instead which meant that they can no longer climb down. Their international status is now shot and there may be even more mistrust about sending black boxes to the US for decoding. You only have that in a no-trust situation. And you don’t get trust back on this level except after years of hard work.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      What? You think the FAA is going out of business? Distrust of the FAA may hurt the US airplane business but the US has ways to retaliate when it comes to Airbus and others.

      Reply
    2. Edward

      “The biggest loser from this mess, apart from the dead that is, is the FAA.”

      What does it take to put the brakes on deregulation? Apparently, more then the 2008 financial crash. It seems like the U.S. will only relent on this when it is forced to with a gun to its head.

      Reply
    3. Marshall Auerback

      ‘The 737 Max situation has developed not necessarily to Boeing’s advantage.’ I believe that is how Emperor Hirohito described the situation when he announced Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied coalition.

      As an aside, when these Boeing articles first started making their appearance in this blog (which was a very good thing), there was pushback from some readers in regard to the prevailing narrative. The implication was that the plane was fine and that this was a case of “pilot error”. How odd that virtually none of the aviation authorities around the world view it in those simple terms.

      Reply
      1. flora

        Yes, that was the Emperor’s description of the situation.

        I’ll offer this Milton Friedman quote for good measure … of just how wrong Mr. Friedman was:

        “Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.” – Milton Friedman

        No need for regulations to protect public safety. That just gets in the way of the great market god, which is infallible… /s

        All this deregulation has degraded the “made in the USA” label to the point other governments now question its implied guaranty of safety and soundness. Hard to complain about “cheap Chinese imitations” when Boeing itself is only an imitation of its former self.

        Reply
      2. Carolinian

        Who said that? One of our commenters said that the pilots may have made some errors. That’s not the same thing.

        Boeing is of course to blame if their faulty software is at the root of the crashes. No faulty software, no crashes.

        Reply
        1. d

          They actually short changed the plane. With just one aoa sensor, so if it fails it breaks the software. And since bird strikes on planes isn’t an unusual situation

          Course wasn’t the CEO from douglas? Who was know to not be aware of safety

          Reply
          1. J7915

            Bird strikes are quite frequent, but the plane does not automatically go into a suicide mode.
            Has the 737 MAX been tested without the MCAS feature, just stick shaker and maybe a stick pusher, plus pilot retrim via yoke switch?

            Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Did any “old style” plain vanilla Boeing 737 . . . no MAX, no MCAS . . . ever crash in this particular manner? A “willful” power dive into the ground despite the pilots’ hardest brute-force efforts to stop the plane from committing plane-suicide?

          If so, then the “train of fault” is not the topside-round bottomside-flat bigger-engine nacelles . . . or the sensors . . . or the automatic sledgehammer-that-nose-back-down program. In which case, the whole discussion needs to be somehow reconfigured.

          But if not . . . if these two New Boing 737 SuperDuper MAX with MCAS are the only members of the Boeing 737 family of planes which ever power-dive crash bombed in this particular way and circumstance . . . then the “trail of fault” may be looked for somewhere in the trail of smoking footprints of which the topside-round bottomside-flat New Engine Nacelle is itself the very first smoking footprint, the very first tippy domino.

          Reply
    4. Greg

      I was thinking about all the money that will have to be use to store those 737s, modify & upgrade them, re-certify them and then compensate the airlines for lost revenue. Hoo boy. At the very least it must be in the hundreds of millions.

      So it’s good for GDP then! those execs should definitely get bonuses ;)

      Reply
  7. Ian Perkins

    According to Satcom Guru, “Boeing has released a description of the MCAS related changes they are proposing.
    1) Flight control system will now compare inputs from both AOA sensors. If the sensors disagree by 5.5 degrees or more with the flaps retracted, MCAS will not activate.”
    Since MCAS is there because of the Max’s tendency to go nose up and stall, won’t this mean that if one of the two sensors fails, MCAS won’t kick in and the plane may try to go nose up and stall?
    Any pilots out there to clarify?
    https://www.satcom.guru/2019/03/aoa-vane-must-have-failed-boeing-fix.html

    Reply
    1. Edward

      I posed this question on an earlier thread and was told by 737 Pilot that

      https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/05/how-deep-is-boeings-hole.html#comment-3152453

      “As a general rule, commercial pilots try not to get anywhere near a stall.

      There are circumstances that either from inattention or some environmental effect like windshear, the aircraft may get dangerously close to a stall, but these are decidedly rare events. Assuming that MCAS was designed right in the first place, it is entirely possible that the entire MAX fleet could operate for years before MCAS was ever needed.

      There are numerous systems on any commercial aircraft that can malfunction. When that happens, we execute the appropriate procedures and either continue the flight to destination or land short at a suitable airport. In either case, the procedure will provide guidance on any additional precautions that should be taken. When the MAX is returned to service, I suspect that we will have a new non-normal procedure that will provide this guidance. Offhand, it will probably just advise pilots to exercise greater diligence and/or restrict the flight envelope.”

      MCAS may not be needed at all. Boeing’s main motivation for installing this system may been to avoid a training requirement for 737 pilots.

      Reply
      1. Ian Perkins

        Pilots may “try not to get anywhere near a stall”, but Max pilots were given 2 hours on an iPad and told it behaved like previous 737s. Thus, might they have found themselves unexpectedly going nose up and stalling without MCAS?

        Reply
        1. Carolinian

          Apparently the stall tendency is only when the engines are at full power. As anyone who’s ever taken a flight knows, that’s when you hear those engines start to roar as the plane moves down the runway on takeoff. One of the pilots is always at the controls and manually flying the plane as it lifts off. Also the flaps are down so the MCAS was not even able to come on until fully airborne (as designed it only works when the flaps are up and above 1000 ft). Meanwhile at cruising altitude the autopilot is robotically flying the plane unless there is turbulence or some such and therefore MCAS is irrelevant. When the plane lands the pilot(s) are once again manually flying the plane in case there’s an emergency or the airplane has to go around to avoid an obstruction on the runway. And when descending it is slowing down, not speeding up so presumably MCAS is once again irrelevant.

          Note in the Edward comment above the result should the now two AOA sensors disagree is to simply turn off the MCAS. You wonder why they didn’t simply remove MCAS as the “fix.”

          Reply
          1. Anon

            Aircraft can stall at any power setting. MCAS was needed for certain combinations of airspeed, center of gravity, and g-loading that would only occur during flight with flaps up.

            Reply
            1. Carolinian

              According to the Seattle Times MCAS was needed because the new fuel efficient engines with their giant diameter turbofans wouldn’t fit under the wings of the traditional 737 airframe. An article here the other day said they should have lengthened the landing gear but the gear has to stow in the fuselage. You can’t just make it longer without redesigning the whole plane. And the low to the ground configuration was once a plus as it eased loading and made the plane friendlier to small airports. Nobody in 1968 planned for such large engines (or a plane that would be popular for 50 years!). Boeing’s solution was to move the engine nacelles forward to give room for the turbofan.

              Anyhow, once you move the center of thrust forward and the center of gravity over the wings remains the same then obviously this creates a greater tendency to pitch up and just as obviously the greater the power the greater that tendency. Maximum power is on takeoff.

              And even if there was a tendency to pitch up at cruising speed and altitude the autopilot has this covered. The pilots don’t sit there and manually fly the whole time.

              You don’t have to take my word for it. The pilot who sometimes comments here (and I’m not a pilot) has said the plane is different in the way it handles, not fatally erratic. It seems that only happens when badly designed MCAS kicks in and sends it plunging.

              Reply
              1. Edward

                Maybe the MAX could be designed with telescoping landing gear. The shaft of the gear could slide into itself like a spyglass to become short when stowed in the airplane.

                Reply
                1. rowlf

                  Airbus A330s shorten the main landing gear length through a linkage mechanism for retraction. If I remember correctly it gives 10 to 12 inches extension of the MLG shock absorber cartridge in the MLG housing .

                  Reply
                2. Carolinian

                  One of our local airports had a FedEx 727 mothballed on the tarmac and on visitor days you could walk up and literally hop into the cargo bay it was so low. You’ll recall that plane was the one that had a built in stairway that lowered from the back and that’s how D.B. Cooper jumped out midair never to be heard from again.

                  Reply
                3. Edward

                  Actually, such landing gear probably makes the plane land differently and would require new pilot training, a deal breaker for Boeing.

                  Reply
              2. drumlin woodchuckles

                The articles I have read further say, at an even finer-grained level of detail, that the only way they could fit the bigger new engines ahead of the wing in the space between the wing and the ground . . . was to flatten the ground-facing bottom-side of the “nacelle” . But since they left the top side of the “nacelle” just as round as before, that round top-side generates its OWN lift by forcing the air to travel further faster over the round and curve-humped top of the nacelle relative to the air travelling a shorter distance in the same time along the flattened bottom side of the nacelle. And it is these nacelle’s very own nacelle-generated separate nacelle-topside-generated lift which is forcibly lift-levering the plane upward. So the way to analog hard-solve it would be to flatten the topside of the nacelle so it is just as flat as the bottomside of the nacelle. That way the nacelles will not be generating their own unbalanced upward-leverage-forcing lift from their ahead-of-the-fulcrum position in front of the wing.

                Reply
  8. JBird4049

    Note in the Edward comment above the result should the now two AOA sensors disagree is to simply turn off the MCAS. You wonder why they didn’t simply remove MCAS as the “fix.”

    The death of common sense? Boeing playbook seems to consist of only delay, evade, deny, lie, and if all else fails spew endless amount of bovine excrement over everything with the goal being to make as much money as possible right now.

    Stopping, stepping back, and re-evaluating what they were doing would have required some self-awareness, at least a shred of responsibility and a conscience, plus a something beside the next quarter’s pay and bonus amounts. It is as they were addicted to money, and like most addicts, could only think on how to get their next ever increasing fix. That is how most addicts destroy themselves by losing any sense of how their actions are affecting others, or worse, actively denying it to others. It is one think to mess up, and be destructive, for we are all human, but it is quite another to almost mindlessly destroy others for that damn fix. Boeing is not making mistakes. It is betraying everyone else.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      But, once again, another plane crash and Boeing is toast. Perhaps the managers all have golden parachutes and are IBG,YBG but it’s not like a drug company that can cover up problems for months or years. Airplane crashes are very dramatic and immediate.

      So they do have powerful incentives not to let anything else happen.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        But if Boeing was infected with McDonnel-Douglas ethics when it was contaminated by McDonnel-Douglas managers after the merger, then Boeing is ruled by people who don’t see the same incentives the same way as the pure uncontaminated pre-merger Seattle-Boeing management might would have seen them.

        If that is the case, then the only way to save Boeing is to strip out and fire every person who entered Boeing from the McDonnel-Douglas side, and closes every facility outside of Seattle or without Union-dominant representation, and try to revive the pre-merger uncontaminated Seattle Boeing from before the merger, if that is still possible.

        Reply
  9. JimTan

    Let’s not forget the headache this is also going to be for a select group of private jet customers. Boeing apparently makes VIP private jet versions of the 737-Max called BBJ MAX 7, BBJ MAX 8, and BBJ MAX 9. It looks like the VIP owners of these private jets might be about to take a near nine figure loss as according this article:

    “Though the massive jetliner is not the go-to model for private flyers—it is far more airplane than any corporation or typical jet owner would ever need—it appeals to a niche market of extremely wealthy individuals. There are 21 private orders for the now-grounded Boeing 737 Max currently in the sales pipeline, with a price tag starting at $74 million. Two have already been delivered to completion facilities for finishing. The first is expected to be ready for its unnamed US owner by the end of the year. But until the 50 countries that have banned the 737 Max from flying allow them back in the air, no one can use them. Buyers are free to sell their spots in line to someone else if they decide they no longer want to take delivery of a 737 Max, says Edése Doret, an aircraft interior designer whose clients include Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and Kanye West. He doesn’t expect anyone to do so, though one 737 Max buyer who hired him to design their plane has put the process on hold “until the issue is resolved.”

    Reply
  10. VietnamVet

    Being born and raised in a Boeing family, I want to second how important the coverage here of the ongoing debacle is. I wish this was just about the safety of the airliner at stake but it is much larger encompassing the rise of the new global aristocracy, their contempt lower classes, and corporate propaganda to keep them in power.

    First, MCAS is flight critical as shown by two crashes. When the horizontal stabilizer screw jack was found in the full nose down position after the Lion Air crash making flight impossible, the fleet should have been grounded immediately. The death of 157 persons in Ethiopia is criminal manslaughter. Legal advice and denial diverts the blame to foreign pilots not Boeing and the FAA where it belongs.

    Second, Donald Trump’s China trade war has exploded. The denial of Huawei access to Google Apps and ARM processors just killed their smartphone business and the Extradition of Huawei Executive and Daughter to the USA makes Chinese retaliation inevitable and personal. Re-certification to assure the 737 Max is safe to fly is the obvious and moral choice for China.

    Finally, this is a perfect example of how corporate propaganda works to manage perceptions. Lester Holt last night interviewed Doug Parker American Airlines CEO:
    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/american-airlines-ceo-commits-737-max-fleet-once-it-s-n1008786

    The report assures that the plane will be safe when it resumes service in August and how great the flight experience is nowadays on American Airlines. Note the interview was conducted inside a two aisle wide body jet not a single aisle Max and it avoids discussing how cramped coach seating is on the Max and that overweight Americans cannot turn around in the lavatories.

    Price gouging and decreased life expectancy is now the norm in the USA. Only re-regulation and the rule of law can reverse this.

    Reply
    1. upstater

      I have 1 million+ miles on American Airlines. Weeks ago, after Ralph Nader’s call for a boycott, I wrote AA and told them I will NEVER fly in a 737 MAX. Parker soon after stated AA would fly the 737 MAX as soon as the FAA recertifies it. Stunning greed by the CEO class.

      Reply
  11. drumlin woodchuckles

    I am just a layman here. But I have a layman’s idea. Hopefully any pilots or even aircraft engineers or flight physicists here will read it and if it has any intrinsic merit even though a mere layman thought of it; hopefully they will develop it further and then show it to all the right people with all the right power to get things done.

    Here is the idea. If it is the flattened bottom of the bigger-engine nacelle which is creating the new unbalanced lift problem forward of the wing itself, because the curved top of the bigger-engine nacelle generates its own lift forward of the wing itself . . .. then why not just “flatten” the top of the nacelle to be exactly as liftless as the flattened bottom of the nacelle now is? That way, the new topside-flattened nacelle would not generate any lift of its own, which would therefore NOT cause it to lever-upward the nose of the plane. That would cause the plane to not even NEED corrective systems to re-force the nose back down, because a top-flattened nacelle around those in-front-of-the-wing engines would be Not EVen BE forcibly lift-levering the nose UP to EVen beGIN with.

    There. There’s my idea for fixing this problem at the root. Simply put the new bigger engines inside of new top-surface flattened nacelles so no unbalanced lift is even generated to even begin with.

    Reply
  12. EoH

    Putting an inherently unstable airframe in the air, dependent on automated flight software to cure its instability? What could go wrong with that?

    Airlines and flight crews now know about the inherent instability, Boeing’s original choice to fix it, and the potential for that fix to fail. Those choices will have cost Boeing any benefit of the doubt.

    The existing protocol led to two catastrophic failures and potential others. One would think that regulators and airlines would demand that Boeing produce more than a better s/w and limited training fix to cure its airframe problem.

    Then there are contractual problems. I would expect airlines, for example, to demand indemnities from Boeing that it would be reluctant to give. More to come.

    Reply
    1. J7915

      Convert all MAXS to freighters, add ejection seats and the design will be as safe for the flight crew, the only occupants, as any fighter that also requires full automation to work.

      Reply
  13. me

    This Boeing software FUBAR is just the start of new phenomenon where equipment manufacturers gloss over design flaw with software and rely on over-the-air software updates to patch products rushed into the market in a hope of meeting cost considerations. What’s worse, with automatic and/or frequent over-the-air software updates, consumers will become ignorant and/or complacent in to manufacturing malfeasance thru market forces.

    This is why Telsa’s habit of (and GM’s plan for) using over-the-air updates on their vehicles needs to seriously be investigated and regulated as manufacturing malpractice before it becomes standard practice through the automotive and related industries.

    Reply

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