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Sun Sep 22, 2019, 01:34 PM

What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max?

Last edited Sun Sep 22, 2019, 02:30 PM - Edit history (1)


William Langewiesche writes a long and quite readable article in today's NYT maganize that while the faulty MCAS was a contributing factor, other and more damning problems, aircraft maintainance and pilot training in particular, are at the root of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.

The system in question is complicated, and we will return to it later, but for now it is enough to know that after the loss of Lion Air 610, the company suggested that the 737 Max was as safe as its predecessors. Its tone was uncharacteristically meek, but not for lack of conviction. The company seemed hesitant to point the finger at a prickly customer — Lion Air — that had several billion dollars’ worth of orders on the table and could withdraw them at any time. The dilemma is familiar to manufacturers after major accidents in which it is usually some pilot and not an airplane that has gone wrong. Nonetheless, Boeing’s reticence allowed a narrative to emerge: that the company had developed the system to elude regulators; that it was all about shortcuts and greed; that it had cynically gambled with the lives of the flying public; that the Lion Air pilots were overwhelmed by the failures of a hidden system they could not reasonably have been expected to resist; and that the design of the MCAS was unquestionably the cause of the accident.

But none of this was quite true. The rush to lay blame was based in part on a poor understanding not just of the technicalities but also of Boeing’s commercial aviation culture. The Max’s creation took place in suburban Seattle among engineers and pilots of unquestionable if bland integrity, including supervising officials from the Federal Aviation Administration. Although Boeing’s designers were aware of timetables and competitive pressures, the mistakes they made were honest ones, or stupid ones, or maybe careless ones, but not a result of an intentional sacrifice of safety for gain. As always, there was a problem with like-mindedness and a reluctance by team players to stand out from the crowd. Even more pernicious was the F.A.A.’s longstanding delegation of regulatory authority to Boeing employees — a worry that is perennially available to chew on if you like and may indeed be related to the configuration of the troublesome system as it was installed. Nonetheless, in Seattle, at the level where such small choices are made, corruption, like cynicism, is rare.

That is not meant as a blanket defense of Boeing. On the corporate level, the company is the worst sort of player — a corrosive agent that spreads money around Washington, pushes exotic weapons on Congress, toys with nuclear annihilation, sells all sorts of lesser instruments of death to oppressive regimes around the world and dangerously distorts American society in the ways that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in his prescient 1961 farewell address. But hardly any of that matters in the story of the 737 Max. What sent an expensive new Boeing into the ocean on that beautiful, bright morning in Indonesia? It is understandable to look for a simple answer. Laying the blame on a poorly implemented system, even a complex one, made the accident relatively easy to understand and also provided for a material solution: Simply fix the system. But the focus on a single shoddy component — as the news media and government regulators have rushed to do — has obscured the larger forces that ultimately made these accidents possible.

If you were to choose a location in the developing world in which to witness the challenges facing airline safety — the ossification of regulations and in many places their creeping irrelevance to operations; the corruption of government inspectors; the corruption of political leaders and the press; the pressure on mechanics, dispatchers and flight crews to keep unsafe airplanes in the air; the discouragement, fatigue and low wages of many airline employees; the willingness of bankers and insurers to underwrite bare-bones operations at whatever risk to the public; the cynicism of investors who insist on treating air travel as just another business opportunity; and finally the eagerness of the manufacturers to sell their airplanes to any airline without restraint — you would be hard pressed to find a more significant place than Indonesia.

And in the article's conclusion:
Who in a position of authority will say to the public that the airplane is safe?

I would if I were in such a position. What we had in the two downed airplanes was a textbook failure of airmanship. In broad daylight, these pilots couldn’t decipher a variant of a simple runaway trim, and they ended up flying too fast at low altitude, neglecting to throttle back and leading their passengers over an aerodynamic edge into oblivion. They were the deciding factor here — not the MCAS, not the Max. Furthermore, it is certain that thousands of similar crews are at work around the world, enduring as rote pilots and apparently safe, but only so long as conditions are routine. Airbus has gone further than Boeing in acknowledging this reality with its robotic designs, though thereby, unintentionally, steepening the very decline it has tried to address. Boeing is aware of the decline, but until now — even after these two accidents — it has been reluctant to break with its traditional pilot-centric views. That needs to change, and someday it probably will; in the end Boeing will have no choice but to swallow its pride and follow the Airbus lead.

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Reply What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max? (Original post)
gristy Sep 22 OP
Wellstone ruled Sep 22 #1
PSPS Sep 22 #2
customerserviceguy Sep 22 #4
RainCaster Sep 22 #3

Response to gristy (Original post)

Sun Sep 22, 2019, 02:04 PM

1. Another Story of Profits

before Adequate Training of Pilots and cutting corners on Problem Soft ware issues.

All about getting the sale,to hell with probably issues,we can fix that later.

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Response to gristy (Original post)

Sun Sep 22, 2019, 02:20 PM

2. There's no escaping the fact that the MCAS was to blame, but...

I remember reading that the very same thing had happened on other flights, but the pilots on those planes knew immediately what the problem was and just reached out and turned the damn thing off and went on their merry way. The two doomed planes' pilots apparently were unaware of either the system's presence or how it worked.

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Response to PSPS (Reply #2)

Sun Sep 22, 2019, 08:27 PM

4. That's a training issue

and it can be blamed more on an airline than on Boeing.

Still, I'm glad to hear they're fixing the software. And, no, these planes are not going to hit the scrap heap, not anytime soon, anyway.

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Response to gristy (Original post)

Sun Sep 22, 2019, 03:44 PM

3. What a steaming pile of...

Only the highest level of engineering was done in WA. It was devices 20+ years ago that engineering is cheaper in Russia. That is where the bulk of the MAX design took place.

These idiots don't have a clue what the real problem is. If any real investigative work has been done, this article would have a whole different conclusion.

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