There’s an old comedy line – “Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?
It seems to be apropos of the situation with Boeing and the horrendous problems it (and we) face concerning the software on the 737 MAX plane.
As a member of the flying public, the reaction of Boeing to the accidents hasn’t created a feeling of confidence in my mind, and I suspect I’m not alone.
As I followed the news reports following the two devastating (and similar) crashes of that plane model within five months – the Lion Air flight which killed 189 people and the Ethiopian Airlines crash which killed 157 people – the reaction of Boeing reminded me of another comedy routine, the one where the question is asked “Who is responsible?” and the person responds by pointing left with his right hand and pointing right with his left hand.
In other words, “Responsible? Who, me?”
At issue is the sensor for new MCAS anti-stall software in the planes – how it worked (or didn’t) and whether the pilots were properly instructed in how to deal with the system in a crisis.
The descriptions of the last minutes of those flights were eerily similar – the plane nosed down and up and down and up and down and up – regardless of whatever the pilots did to correct it. It certainly sounds as though the pilots had no control as the plane took over until it finally went nose down and crashed.
Can you just imagine what it was like inside the plane for the passengers as they experienced what appeared to them an out-of-control flight and finally a fatal dive? What a horror.
After the first crash, the planes were kept flying and it wasn’t until well after the second crash that all the 737 MAX planes worldwide were grounded. In fact, the United States was the last country to ground the planes.
That alone bothered me, but then as further information became public, there were more worrisome details.
Boeing said it has conducted further testing, software updates and test flights and that they are preparing new training and materials for pilots to assure the safety of passengers.
Boeing Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg released a statement, outlining the company goals: “We’re committed to providing the FAA and global regulators all the information needed and getting it right.”
He said they are making progress and “are confident that the 737 MAX with updated MCAS software will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.”
He added that the company is committed to values and knows lives depend on what they do.
Unfortunately, that came just two days after new audio was revealed that members of American Airline Pilots Union urged the company to address problems after the Lion Air crash. It would have required a grounding of the planes, which Boeing did not want. Pilots were concerned about the anti-stall system and a lack of training, but Boeing said it believed pilots could handle it.
Boeing Vice President Mike Sinnett refused to take any further action after the first crash and, according to the New York Times, said: “No one has yet to conclude that the sole cause of this (Lion Air crash) was this function on the airplane.” He added, “The worst thing that can ever happen is a tragedy like this, and the even worse thing would be another one.”
Famous last words.
Less than four months later, the crash occurred in Ethiopia and the investigation showed the anti-stall system played a part in both crashes.
As the investigation continued, pilots complained openly that they weren’t properly trained in the use of the new system, and many others said they didn’t even know the system was a feature of the plane.
As reported extensively in the Daily Mail, the 737 MAX had a key sensor, which has been flagged as faulty 216 times since 2004. Flight crews had warned of the defective sensors, which can force the nose of a plane down – situations which apparently caused the two crashes in question.
American media reported on the crashes and on the financial hit that Boeing stock was taking as a result; but strangely, not much more was focused upon. In fact, as I write this, the “story of the crashes and the cause” has virtually disappeared from any media coverage.
Except – for a report in the May 5 Wall Street Journal that Boeing knew about a problem with the cockpit safety alert for a year before the Lion Air crash.
In fact, Boeing admitted it had known since 2017 that the cockpit alert didn’t work; and even at that, the company didn’t admit the error for nearly two months after the second crash.
This raises serious questions abut the integrity of Boeing as well as the diligence of the FAA in certifying whatever the company told it.
The Journal report about the situation provides a long list of the various airlines, which were flying the 737 MAX at that time and the different explanations Boeing told them about the warning system.
There is, in fact, a House Transportation Committee investigation into why the FAA and Boeing didn’t make public the information it knew about the nonfunctioning sensors. In addition, there’s a federal criminal investigation into the system and how the plane was certified.
In fact, the FAA said that its acting chief, Daniel Elwell, didn’t know about the inoperative alerts until he read the April 28 report in the Wall Street Journal!
The FAA said “timely or earlier communication with the operators would have helped to reduce or eliminate possible confusion.”
How’s that for an understatement?!
I wonder how long (if ever) the truth will out; but as a member of the flying public, I will tell you that I have NO confidence in Boeing nor in the FAA certification system, and under NO circumstances will I fly in the MAX737 when (and they will be) they’re again approved for flights.
Boeing has a lot of money invested in the planes and they keep manufacturing them. Who will buy them and why? I don’t know.