On March 10, 2019, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane operating as Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after taking off from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people onboard. The crash is the deadliest aviation disaster in Ethiopia’s history.
The victims of the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash were from 35 countries and included at least 22 employees working for United Nations-affiliated agencies. The nations of Britain, Canada, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Slovakia and the United Sates all lost four or more citizens in the crash. Baum Hedlund represents several families who lost family members in this tragedy.
According to U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, eight Americans died in the crash. Raynor said the American victims were “people who either lived here or were here to work and contribute to the development of this continent.”
“Eight inspiring lives and eight true tragedies and our hearts go out to everyone impacted by their deaths,” Raynor said of the victims.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 departed from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport at approximately 8:38 a.m. local time bound for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. The passenger manifest included eight flight crew members and 149 passengers.
Minutes after takeoff, the pilot informed air traffic controllers of a problem with the aircraft and requested a return to the airport. At approximately 8:44, just six minutes after takeoff, the plane disappeared from radar and crashed near the town of Bishoftu, some 39 miles southeast of Bole International Airport.
What Caused the Ethiopian Airlines Crash?
Officials investigating aviation disasters of this magnitude typically take a year or more to issue a report on the probable cause. The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments will lead the crash investigation with assistance from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
While it may take some time before we know exactly what caused this tragedy, many in the aviation community believe a design defect with the Boeing 737 MAX 8 could be a possible contributing factor.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is the newest version of Boeing’s most popular aircraft. Approximately 350 are in use by 54 operators throughout the world, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records.
But Boeing and its latest aircraft are facing worldwide scrutiny after two devastating 737 MAX 8 crashes over the last six months killed nearly 350 people. In October of 2018, a Lion Air flight crashed shortly after takeoff in Indonesia, killing all 189 people onboard.
Some circumstances between the Lion Air crash and the Ethiopian Airlines crash appear similar, bolstering concerns that a design defect could be at the center of both disasters.
Similarities Between Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Both:
– Involved brand new airplanes that had been delivered straight from Boeing to the airlines within four months of the disasters.
– Experienced unstable vertical airspeed after takeoff.
– Crashed shortly after takeoff in generally clear weather conditions.
– Flight crews requested returns to their departure airports but were so imperiled that they could not make it back.
– Entered into steep nosedives.
– No evidence of terrorism thus far in both investigations.
“Two highly-experienced, professional pilots could not recover from what appear to be out-of-control stalls, facts which reveal the most probable explanation for both the Lion Air crash and this crash is a design defect in the airplane’s stall recognition and recovery systems,” says board-certified trial attorney, Ronald L.M. Goldman from the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.
“Before more people die, the B737 MAX fleet must be grounded until the NTSB gets to the bottom of the problem and Boeing fixes it. Two disasters within months of each other from the same brand-new plane under similar circumstances should be a serious red flag.”
It is yet to be determined if the Lion Air crash or the Ethiopian Airlines crash are cases of runaway elevator trim, a condition where the trim tabs on control surfaces like the airplane’s elevators operate to demand full nose down or up authority. The job of the trim tabs is to lighten the load on a flying surface (wing or elevator or rudder) such that the pilot does not have to maintain pressure for controlled flight.
If the elevator trim tab is rolled to full down, it will pitch the airplane into a dive and the controls will be exceedingly heavy, making recovery by pulling back on the control wheel or stick difficult if not impossible. In these cases, the airspeed indicators, and the computers that run them, likely were not giving the pilots good information. In both crashes, the abrupt pitch down will have taken the pilots by surprise, and all efforts were likely made to pull back on the control column to raise the nose, fighting a force greater than their strength.
What is Boeing MCAS?
Boeing marketed the 737 MAX to airlines to save money with reduced fuel costs, operating cost reductions, and not having to retrain pilots on using the new version. By limiting the difference between the old 737 and the 737 MAX, Boeing could save airlines from having to put their pilots in simulators for hours to learn the MAX’s new features.
The pitch appealed to airlines with 737s already in their fleet – over 5,000 have been sold.
But the wholesale changes Boeing applied to the 737 MAX were significant – the engines had to be mounted further apart, which changed the aerodynamics. The change, in turn, causes the plane to lift its nose, which can trigger a stall under certain circumstances.
To address this, Boeing added a special technology called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), intended to automatically lower the nose to head off an aerodynamic stall.
The MCAS uses airspeed and other sensor data to compute when a dangerous condition has developed; if the sensed angle of attack (AOA) exceeds certain thresholds based on airspeed and altitude, the system is activated.
The MCAS works by tilting part of the horizontal stabilizer in the tail of the aircraft, known as a trim tab, which is operated by a jackscrew. Officials investigating the Ethiopian Airlines crash have found physical evidence that the trim tab had been configured to react as if the airplane was stalling, and sharply lower the nose.
According to media reports, Boeing sold its standard base model 737 MAX 8 without two key safety devices—Angle of attack (AOA) indicators or AOA disagree lights—which experts say could have helped the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 diagnose and address the problems they encountered before both planes crashed.
AOA refers to angle of the chord of the wing to the relative wind. This may, and usually does, have something to do with the pitch up or down of the nose, but not necessarily so. An AOA disagree light illuminates if the plane’s sensors are giving contradictory signals. A pilot cannot “see” the angle of attack necessarily, so an instrument that gives the pilot that information can be very valuable to avoid stalling.
“Boeing chose to make these two vital safety devices add-on options instead of including them as standard equipment. The FAA should not have certified the 737 MAX to be sold as a passenger jet without requiring this safety equipment. The airlines are complicit by not requiring these features to be included as standard equipment, and if not, by failing to buy the options in the interest of passenger safety. After all, these devices’ combined cost is less than one tenth of one percent of the cost of the airplane, and can save lives.” – Aviation Attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman
It appears certain that the pilots in both the Lion Air crash and the Ethiopian Airlines crash did not know how to deal with this issue because they were never trained for it, and possibly did not even know of the existence of the MCAS.
China, Indonesia and Several Airlines Ground Boeing 737 MAX 8 Following Ethiopian Airlines Crash
China, Indonesia and several other airlines around the world grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8s following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. China has nearly 100 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in operation, more than a quarter the total operating in the world.
The grounding prompted a massive sell-off of Boeing stock, which fell by 9% the day after the fatal crash.
Boeing said it does not intend to issue any new guidance to its 737 MAX 8 customers. The company will send a technical team to Ethiopia to assist investigators, however. In a statement, Boeing said the company was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane.”
Which Airlines Fly Boeing 737 MAX 8 Aircraft?
A full list of airlines that fly Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft can be found here.
Despite several airlines grounding Boeing 737 MAX 8s in the aftermath of the ET302 crash, the following airlines issued statements indicating they will continue to fly Boeing 737 MAX 8’s:
American Airlines has 24 737 MAX 8 planes in its fleet. In a statement, the airline said it would not ground them. “We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry.”
Fiji Airways has two 737 MAX 8s. “We have full confidence in the airworthiness of our entire fleet,” the airline said in a statement.
Flydubai operates 11 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The airline “remain(s) confident in the airworthiness of [their] fleet.”
GOL Linhas Aéreas has seven 737 MAX 8 Boeings. “GOL continues to follow the investigations and maintains close contact with Boeing for clarification,” the airline said in a statement.
Icelandair operates three Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes. The company said it “is not taking any action following recent events.”
Norwegian Airlines has 18 Boeing 737 MAX 8s. The airline said in a statement that it would follow instruction and recommendations from Boeing and aviation authorities.
Silk Air has six Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes. The airline has no plans to ground them.
Southwest Airlines operates 34 737 MAX 8s, the most in the U.S. In a statement following the crash in Ethiopia, Southwest said it remains confident in its fleet of over 750 Boeing aircraft.
TUI operates 15 Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes. “We have no indication that we can’t operate our 737 MAX in a safe way,” the company said in a statement.
WestJet has 13 MAX 8 aircraft in its fleet. The airline claims it is monitoring the situation closely but remains “confident in the safety of [its] Boeing 737 fleet.”
Boeing Withheld Information About Potential Hazards with 737 MAX
In November of 2018, just weeks after the Lion Air Flight 610 crash, the Wall Street Journal reported that Boeing “withheld information about potential hazards associated with a new flight-control feature suspected of playing a role in last month’s fatal Lion Air jet crash…”
According to the article, in certain circumstances, the Boeing 737 MAX 8’s automated stall prevention system could push the plane down “unexpectedly and so strongly that flight crews can’t pull it back up.” In a safety bulletin issued a week after the Lion Air crash, Boeing told airlines that the issue could result in a steep nosedive or crash, even if pilots are flying manually and do not anticipate flight-control computers kicking in.
Safety experts told WSJ that neither airline managers nor pilots were told about the new flight-control system on the 737 MAX 8, and were therefore unprepared to deal with the possible risks. The FAA issued an airworthiness directive (AD) in November to instruct operators how to train pilots to deal with the issue.
International Aviation Accident Attorneys with Experience Litigating Against Boeing
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman represents victims harmed in aviation disasters, including international commercial crashes. Our firm has a track record of success in claims against some of the world’s largest international airliners, including, among many others:
– Aero Mexico
– Asiana Airlines
– British European Airways
– China Eastern Airlines
– Korean Air
– Singapore Airlines
– SAS-Scandinavian Airline Systems
– TACA Airlines
Our attorneys have also handled international aviation cases involving airlines and U.S. manufacturers that do business worldwide, including, among others:
– McDonnell Douglas
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman senior partner Ronald L.M. Goldman has been litigating aviation mechanical defect cases for more than 40 years. In the 1970s, Ron represented plaintiffs in a case stemming from the British European Airways Flight 548 crash in London, United Kingdom, which appears to share similarities with the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash.
Like the ET302 crash, British European Airways (BEA) Flight 548 crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all onboard. The crash sequence started with retraction movement of the front (leading edge) slats (droops, in English terms). These devices are part of a high lift system that enlarges the wing in order to provide lift at lower speeds, and to streamline the wing after climb to gain more speed.
The moment the droops started to retract, the lift was lost and therefore the wing (the whole airplane) stalled. The pilots did not know of the droops’ movement as it was uncommanded, so they did not understand that they were stalling. In fact, this crash case coined the term “out of configuration stall.”
There was no warning on the panel that the droops were moving out of takeoff configuration. Since the stall occurred without a stall warning (pilots are trained to recognize the edge of a stall, and to recover once that is appreciated), the pilots had no notice that they were in fact in a stall, and believed they had a failure of the stall recovery system; the system was trying to recover from a stall but all indications in the cockpit were that there was no stall. Consequently, the pilots disabled the stall recovery system, sealing their fate.
Investigators concluded that several factors caused the deep stall, noting that an unspecified “technical problem” was apparently resolved prior to takeoff. In the case that followed, Ron secured a settlement for his clients in the U.S., even though the crash occurred in a foreign country.
“We don’t yet know what caused the Ethiopian crash, but if it is anything like the event in the BEA case, it will show that the airplane’s stall recovery system was activated, and hundreds of pounds of pressure was exerted automatically on the control pushing the nose down, as the system sensed a stall possibly due to incorrect data being fed into it by the computers that monitor and interpret the over the wing air flow data, or possibly just malfunctioning computers,” says Goldman.
“We can say with confidence that in the BEA, Lion Air and now Ethiopian Airlines incidents, the sequence that set in motion the course to disaster started with mechanical malfunction that the pilots were unable to overcome. In some macabre sense, we are still fighting the battles first encountered at the dawn of the passenger jet travel era over 45 years ago.” – Aviation Attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman
In 2017, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman earned a groundbreaking ruling in an international plane crash case against Germanwings stemming from the fatal crash of Flight 9525 in 2015. Our firm represented the family of the only Americans onboard the ill-fated flight, Yvonne Selke and her daughter, Emily.
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman filed suit against Germanwings and other defendants in Virginia on behalf of surviving members of the Selke family. Germanwings filed a motion to dismiss the case, alleging lack of personal jurisdiction over the airline in Virginia on the grounds that it was a German corporation with no offices in the U.S., had never flown its planes into the United States, and that tickets for the fatal flight weren’t codeshare tickets with United.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled that the “Court has personal jurisdiction over Germanwings because the airline purposely availed itself of Virginia by transacting business in the Commonwealth through its agent, United. This business activity resulted in the sale of tickets that gave rise to Plaintiffs’ cause of action.”
This was a significant ruling “[g]iven the tide of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have restricted personal jurisdiction,” said A. Ilyas Akbari, partner and aviation attorney at Baum Hedlund. “This decision should serve as a ray of sunshine to the plaintiffs’ community, especially in international plane crash cases. Our case shows that if American residents are killed while flying overseas, their families can still bring an action against a foreign airline in America.”
The National Law Journal selected Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman as a finalist for Elite Trial Lawyer honors in the practice area of consumer protection for the firm’s work in Selke, et al. v. Germanwings GMBH, et al.
If you lost a loved one in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman can help you. Contact us today or call toll-free 1-800-827-0087 to speak with an attorney about your claim.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Crash Investigation Updates
Independent Review Concludes Boeing 737 MAX Upgrades “Safe” | Nov. 12, 2019
The Technical Advisory Board (TAB) has presented a preliminary analysis of Boeing’s upgrades to the 737 MAX jet and found the aircraft manufacturer’s revisions to be “safe.” The board—created after the MAX was grounded in March following two tragic crashes—is made up of flight-safety experts who submitted their findings to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The TAB report to the FAA noted that the changes to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) are compliant with regulations, according to an FAA update delivered to Congress on Friday.
Along with its findings, the TAB recommended actions for Boeing and the FAA to take before the 737 MAX is allowed to fly again. The FAA has not made those recommended actions public.
The FAA told Congress that it has not yet determined how much training it will require pilots to undergo before they fly the upgraded 737 MAX. That evaluation will be made by an FAA pilot group and a Joint Operations Evaluation Board, which will include international regulators.
American Airlines Flight Attendants Air Concerns About Boeing 737 MAX | Nov. 7, 2019
The union representing American Airlines’ flight attendants sent a letter to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg expressing concern regarding the relaunch of the 737 MAX. In the letter, the union’s leader said its 28,000 members “refuse to walk on a plane that may not be safe.”
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants sent the letter following Muilenburg’s congressional testimony and said it is concerned about Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of the industry. Furthermore, the union argued that Muilenburg’s testimony showed that “there were serious breakdowns in the supervision of the 737 MAX.”
Union president Lori Bassani said members will not “come to work afraid for their safety” and that the union plans to take an “active role” in the Boeing 737 MAX’s relaunch once it is certified to fly again.
Boeing Knew About Issues with 737 MAX Before Lion Air Crash but Refused to Ground Planes | Nov. 5, 2019
Last week, Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, took the stand for two days of congressional hearings into the 737 MAX crashes. During his testimony, it became clear that Boeing knew more about issues with the plane’s Maneuvering Augmentation Characteristics System (MCAS) than it let on in the immediate aftermath of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Furthermore, it has now become clear that Boeing knew about the MCAS problems well before the Lion Air tragedy, but even so refused to ground the planes until after the Ethiopian Airlines crash less than five months later.
Boeing knew in 2015 that using information from a single angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor to prevent a stall was problematic, and unheard of in the aviation industry. Two years before the 737 MAX received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approvals, an engineer sent an email asking about vulnerability from a single faulty AOA sensor triggering the MCAS. Investigators linked faulty AOA sensors to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
Boeing also reportedly knew that it may have made incorrect assumptions during the design and testing stages about pilot reactions to the MCAS. When the system was designed, Boeing assumed that pilots would recognize when the MCAS was mistakenly activated and react correctly to the situation. In 2018, Boeing employees raised concerns that pilots could take 10 seconds or longer to react, which could be catastrophic.
Finally, despite being aware of these issues, Boeing refused to ground the planes after the Lion Air crash. The failure to ground the MAX after the first crash cost the lives of everyone aboard Ethiopian Flight 302.
US Airlines Plan to Conduct Boeing 737 MAX Demonstration Flights | Nov. 4, 2019
The three US airlines operating Boeing 737 MAX aircraft reportedly plan to conduct demonstration flights carrying senior company officials. The Wall Street Journal reports that the flights will not carry any ticket holders and will be used to convince pilots and the public that the planes are safe.
The report indicates all three airlines—American Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines—plan to conduct such flights and will operate repeated test runs before opening the aircraft to ticket holders.
Boeing’s 737 MAX jets have been grounded since the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies—which occurred less than five months apart—killed 346 people. Boeing has been working on an upgrade to its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)—the problematic software system which played a part in both crashes—but that upgrade still must be approved by regulators before airlines can operate the 737 MAX aircraft again.
Boeing Engineers Raised Serious Concerns About 737 MAX Before Tragedies | Oct. 30, 2019
Years before the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies, a Boeing engineer questioned whether or not the 737 MAX’s flight control system was safe. His concern was that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) relied on a single angle-of-attack sensor. If that sensor malfunctioned, it would inappropriately trigger the aircraft’s anti-stall system. In an email sent in December 2015, the engineer asked, “Are we vulnerable to single AOA sensor failures with the MCAS implementation or is there some checking that occurs?”
That email was released at a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing this week, during the second day of testimony on Capitol Hill by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.
A second Boeing document warned that if pilots took more than ten seconds to react to the MCAS being triggered, the results could be catastrophic. Boeing said its research indicated that a typical pilot reaction time was four seconds.
The aircraft maker has come under fire for making inaccurate assumptions about how pilots would respond to conflicting and unfamiliar cockpit alarms and alerts.
During his testimony, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was asked by committee chairman Peter DeFazio why Boeing had not included data from both angle-of-attack sensors from the start.
“We’ve asked ourselves that same question over and over,” Muilenburg replied, “and if back then we knew everything we know now we would have made a different decision.”
Boeing CEO Testifies Before Congress and Admits to Mistakes | Oct. 29, 2019
Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee and family members of 737 MAX crash victims, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg admitted that the company made errors in its design of the 737 MAX plane. Muilenburg apologized to the families, saying that Boeing “made mistakes” and “got some things wrong” when it developed its new aircraft. His testimony came on the one-year anniversary of the tragic Lion Air crash.
Regulators at the hearing told Muilenburg that Boeing should not cut corners when developing new planes. Sen. Jon Tester told the hearing that he would “walk before he would get on a 737 MAX.” Sen. Maria Cantwell said the race to build commercial airplanes could not become a race to the bottom in terms of aviation safety.
Muilenburg also faced questions about why Boeing did not, until recently, provide investigators with internal emails and messages concerning MAX simulator testing in which a pilot noted significant concerns. That lack of transparency suggests a “level of coziness” shared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing, Committee Chairman Roger Wicker said at the hearing.
Family members of the victims of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies were present for Muilenburg’s testimony. As he left the hearing, the mother of one victim asked him to turn and look at the family members when he said he was sorry. Stopping, Muilenburg turned, nodded several times, and then quietly said “I’m sorry.”
Indonesian Investigators Blame Lion Air Crash on Boeing 737 Design and Regulatory Issues | Oct. 25, 2019
The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee’s final report on the Lion Air crash blames the tragedy on software design flaws, regulatory issues, and inaccurate assumptions about pilot behaviors, among other factors. Specifically, investigators cited faulty information from the angle-of-attack sensor that triggered the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
The investigators found a variety of factors that combined to bring down Lion Air Flight 610, noting that if even one of them had not occurred, the accident might have been avoided. Those factors include:
- Flawed assumptions made by Boeing about how pilots would respond to MCAS
- MCAS relying on a single angle-of-attack sensor
- Lack of pilot training regarding the Boeing 737 MAX’s new flight control system
- Issues with flight crew communication
- A faulty angle-of-attack sensor that was installed on the plane
- Lack of oversight from US regulators
Investigators noted that the plane should have been grounded before its fatal flight because of an earlier issue in the cockpit, but that problem was not properly recorded, and the plane was allowed to fly.
The Lion Air crash on October 29, 2018, killed 189 people and was the first of two Boeing 737 MAX crashes in less than five months.
FAA Needs Weeks to Review Boeing 737 MAX Upgrades | Oct. 22, 2019
Steve Dickson, administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said the agency needs at least several weeks to review Boeing’s upgrades to its 737 MAX. According to Dickson, Boeing has sent the FAA its final software load and a complete description of revisions to the 737 MAX aircraft’s software.
Currently, the FAA is testing the changes in an engineering simulator. Following that phase, pilots will run scenarios to help determine what training flight crews will need to fly the 737 MAX planes. If that goes smoothly, the FAA will run the certification test flight.
“We’ve got considerable work to do,” Dickson said to attendees at an air traffic controller conference.
Even if the certification test flight goes well, the FAA says it will then need around 30 days before the planes can return to the air.
Boeing Pilot Warned About 737 MAX Issues Before Crashes | Oct. 21, 2019
A Boeing pilot who tested the 737 MAX in a simulator reportedly warned about issues with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) before the aircraft was certified to fly. Mark Forkner, Boeing’s former chief technical pilot for the 737, did a simulator flight of the 737 MAX in 2016 and told a colleague that the MCAS was “running rampant in the sim,” and that the scenario was “egregious.”
Forkner went on to say that he “unknowingly” lied to regulators. Forkner’s colleague, Patrik Gustavsson, responded that they would have to update the MCAS’ description and that Forkner’s statements to regulators “wasn’t a lie, no one told us that was the case.”
In January of 2017, Forkner told a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee to pull MCAS references from pilot manuals and training procedures “since it’s way outside the normal operating envelope.”
The FAA said Boeing withheld Forkner’s messages regarding the MCAS from regulators for months.
Investigators looking into the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes have linked the MCAS to both tragedies.
Captain Sullenberger Writes Powerful Letter Regarding Boeing 737 MAX | Oct. 18, 2019
Captain “Sully” Sullenberger wrote a powerful letter to the New York Times Magazine, arguing that it was not the pilots that caused the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Captain Sullenberger is in a unique position to make his argument because he is one of the few pilots who test-flew a Boeing 737 MAX in a simulator while replicating the crash scenarios. His letter blames both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the tragedies.
Captain Sullenberger’s letter notes that the cockpit alarms “did not present as a classic runaway stabilizer problem, but initially as ambiguous unreliable airspeed and altitude situations, masking [the] MCAS [Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System].” He further argues that neither Boeing nor the FAA should have approved the MCAS, calling the system “fatally flawed.”
“This letter by Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, perhaps history’s most celebrated airline captain, perfectly sums up the reasons why Boeing’s MCAS system was a ‘death trap’ that caused the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, and not the pilots,” says Ronald Goldman, senior partner at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Letter to the Editor
Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger
New York Times Magazine
Published in print on October 13, 2019
In “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 MAX?” William Langewiesche draws the conclusion that the pilots are primarily to blame for the fatal crashes of Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian 302. In resurrecting this age-old aviation canard, Langewiesche minimizes the fatal design flaws and certification failures that precipitated those tragedies, and still pose a threat to the flying public. I have long stated, as he does note, that pilots must be capable of absolute mastery of the aircraft and the situation at all times, a concept pilots call airmanship. Inadequate pilot training and insufficient pilot experience are problems worldwide, but they do not excuse the fatally flawed design of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that was a death trap. As one of the few pilots who have lived to tell about being in the left seat of an airliner when things went horribly wrong, with seconds to react, I know a thing or two about overcoming an unimagined crisis. I am also one of the few who have flown a Boeing 737 MAX Level D full motion simulator, replicating both accident flights multiple times. I know firsthand the challenges the pilots on the doomed accident flights faced, and how wrong it is to blame them for not being able to compensate for such a pernicious and deadly design. These emergencies did not present as a classic runaway stabilizer problem, but initially as ambiguous unreliable airspeed and altitude situations, masking MCAS. The MCAS design should never have been approved, not by Boeing, and not by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The National Transportation Safety Board has found that Boeing made faulty assumptions both about the capability of the aircraft design to withstand damage or failure, and the level of human performance possible once the failures began to cascade. Where Boeing failed, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should have stepped in to regulate but it failed to do so. Lessons from accidents are bought in blood and we must seek all the answers to prevent the next one. We need to fix all the flaws in the current system — corporate governance, regulatory oversight, aircraft maintenance, and yes, pilot training and experience. Only then can we ensure the safety of everyone who flies.
- Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger
Final Round of Boeing 737 MAX Simulator Training Could Begin in November | Oct. 17, 2019
The final round of simulator testing for the Boeing 737 MAX could begin in early November. It will reportedly include US and international MAX pilots, who will test the aircraft’s new flight control system software. Testing is expected to take place in a Boeing simulator located in Seattle and will likely take about a week.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will observe the testing, which will help them determine if Boeing’s software upgrades are sufficient to allow the 737 MAX to fly again. While FAA officials watch, pilots will be put through simulator scenarios similar to those experienced in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
The process will also help the FAA determine what sort of training pilots will be required to undergo before they can fly the 737 MAX. If simulator testing is successful, the FAA will then conduct a certification flight and make a decision on reversing the grounding.
Pilots from all US carriers that operate the 737 MAX will be involved in the testing, as will some international pilots.
Photos of Lion Air MAX Plane May Not Be Valid Evidence | Oct. 16, 2019
Photos included as part of an evidence package—given to Lion Air crash investigators by an airline employee purporting to show that crucial repair work had been completed the day before the 737 MAX crashed—may not prove what was claimed.
According to a report from Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC), a time display in photos of the plane’s cockpit suggests the pictures were taken before the repair was completed. The committee reportedly could not confirm the authenticity of other pictures included in the evidence package, including some cockpit photos that may have been of a different plane.
Investigators did not state whether they believe the evidence was fraudulent but did say the photos may not be valid.
At least one of the photos was meant to prove that the plane’s angle-of-attack sensor was properly replaced. Officials have linked malfunctioning angle-of-attack sensors to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
The NTSC’s report could be released by early November.
Southwest Airlines Pilots Say MAX Will Not Be Back Until February | Oct. 15, 2019
Southwest Airlines’ pilot union says it does not expect the Boeing 737 MAX to return to service until at least February 2020. Currently, Southwest Airlines has taken the grounded aircraft off its schedule until January, but the union says getting the planes back in the air will be a long process.
Before Southwest can get the MAX back on its schedule, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must first recertify the aircraft. Once that process is complete, updates to training and operating standards must be issued, and pilots will need retraining.
Southwest says it will likely need approximately 120 hours to remove each plane from storage. After that, the airline reportedly plans to fly the planes for hundreds of hours before putting them back on the schedule.
Panel Finds FAA and Boeing Made Serious Errors in Certifying MAX’s Anti-Stall System | Oct. 11, 2019
An international air safety regulation panel completed its investigation into the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) review of a critical safety system on the 737 MAX. Their report identifies serious flaws in the FAA’s review of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The panel also found that Boeing erred in assumptions it made when it designed the plane.
The Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) found that the FAA did not evaluate the MAX’s MCAS anti-stall system as a whole. Fragmentation in the aircraft’s certification documentation made it difficult for officials to determine if the MCAS complied with regulations.
The panel also recommended that the FAA’s practice of allowing manufacturers to oversee certification tasks should be reformed to ensure sufficient safety oversight. In certifying the 737 MAX, the FAA did not have enough information about the MCAS and was unable to independently assess whether it met certification requirements.
Boeing employees also faced undo pressure in conducting FAA certification checks, the panel found.
The JATR was convened following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes in order to analyze the FAA’s approval and oversight of the MAX’s MCAS.
American Airlines Pulls Boeing 737 MAX from Its Schedule until January | Oct. 10, 2019
American Airlines announced it has pulled the Boeing 737 MAX from its schedule until January 16, 2020. The airline had previously removed the MAX until December 4, but uncertainty surrounding the aircraft’s recertification timeline resulted in another delay.
According to reports, when the aircraft was grounded, American Airlines had 24 MAX planes on its schedule. The airline planned to have 40 flying in its fleet by the end of 2019. Pulling the plane from its schedule means approximately 140 daily American Airlines flights will be canceled over the holiday season.
American Airlines said that 737 MAX flights would operate with Boeing 737-800s instead. Those planes will be diverted from other flights, with American canceling select flights from its system. The airline noted that canceling only 737 MAX flights would cause harm in cities with routes that rely on the plane.
Both Southwest Airlines and American Airlines now have the MAX off their schedules until early 2020. Only United Airlines still has the aircraft on its schedule for 2019, but is also likely to pull the MAX until 2020.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not given a timeline for recertifying the 737 MAX.
Pilots’ Union Files Lawsuit Against Boeing | Oct. 9, 2019
The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association has filed a lawsuit against Boeing, alleging that the company deliberately misled pilots about the Boeing 737 MAX’s safety. The lawsuit further claims that the pilots lost work opportunities after the MAX was grounded.
According to the lawsuit, Southwest pilots have so far lost more than $100 million in compensation. Included in those losses are wages, 401(k) contributions, sick leave, and profit sharing. Southwest Airlines pilots have been hit hard by the grounding because Southwest operates more 737 MAX aircraft than any other airline. More than 30,000 Southwest flights have been canceled, the lawsuit argues.
The pilots’ union alleges that Boeing rushed the 737 MAX into production, putting profits ahead of safety while withholding important safety information from regulators and pilots.
US airlines have pulled the 737 MAX from their schedule until at least early December 2019. Before the aircraft can fly again, it must undergo an FAA recertification process. Pilots must then complete additional training, and the planes must undergo maintenance checks to ensure that they are airworthy.
EU Regulators Want More Boeing 737 MAX Testing | Oct. 8, 2019
European regulators told the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they are not satisfied with demonstrations of the updated Boeing 737 MAX safety systems. Europe’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) told the FAA they want more testing done on the aircraft—which has been grounded since the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes—before they will allow it to fly again. Since the MAX’s grounding, Boeing has been working on an upgrade to address serious problems with the plane’s flight control software.
Typically, international aviation regulators agree on certifying planes, following the lead of the regulatory body in the country where the plane is manufactured. After the Boeing 737 MAX was grounded, international regulators raised their own concerns about recertifying the plane.
According to Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenberg, pilots have so far completed more than 700 MAX test flights.
Whistleblower Alleges Ethiopian Airlines Corruption | Oct. 7, 2019
Yonas Yeshanew, a former chief engineer for Ethiopian Airlines, filed a whistleblower complaint against the airline alleging a pattern of corruption. According to the complaint, Ethiopian Airlines went into the maintenance records for their ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX the day after the plane crashed. Yeshanew further alleges that the airline repeatedly fabricated documents, signed off on inadequate repairs, and physically punished employees who were suspected of speaking out.
Although it is not clear what, if anything, was altered in the 737 MAX’s records, they should have been sealed. According to experts, once a plane is involved in a crash, international air safety regulators require that the plane’s maintenance records be sealed, preventing anyone from changing or manipulating them.
Yeshanew also argues that Ethiopian Airlines’ mechanics are overworked and face pressure to cut corners in making repairs, and that pilots do not receive adequate training before flying planes.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audit conducted three years ago reportedly found, among other issues, that many of Ethiopian Airlines’ supervisors, mechanics, and inspectors did not meet the minimum job requirements.
Three other former Ethiopian Airlines employees reportedly back Yeshanew’s complaints.
Regulators Looking at “Startle Factors” in Boeing 737 MAX Training | Oct. 4, 2019
International regulators are examining “startle factors”—which could overwhelm pilots facing emergency scenarios—as they look at revising requirements for allowing Boeing’s 737 MAX to fly again. In both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines MAX crashes, it appears that pilots became confused and overwhelmed by conflicting and unfamiliar alarms and alerts.
The regulatory panel includes aviation officials from the US, Canada, the European Union, and Brazil. The group is responsible for determining what training pilots must undergo before the 737 MAX grounding is lifted. This could include requiring simulator training before pilots can fly the MAX again.
In an interview, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely landed a disabled plane on the Hudson River, said the startle factor “is real and it’s huge. It absolutely interferes with one’s ability to quickly analyze the crisis and take corrective action.”
Boeing Convinced FAA to Relax on Rules in Certifying 737 MAX | Oct. 3, 2019
In 2014, Boeing officials asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to relax its cockpit alert safety standards with regard to the 737 MAX, according to documents reviewed by the Seattle Times. Boeing reportedly argued that it would be impractical to meet all the agency’s standards when developing the MAX, and that it would cost too much money. At Boeing’s urging, the FAA reportedly waived four requirements that any new plane currently being manufactured has to meet.
Under an FAA special rule, Boeing convinced the FAA to not hold the aircraft maker to stringent standards regarding cockpit alerts. In making its appeal, Boeing specifically relied on the 737’s history, which includes more than 300 million flight hours. The aircraft maker also noted that the work to redo the 737 MAX’s design to accommodate the FAA’s standards would cost more than $10 billion.
One of the waived rules requires that an aircraft’s flight system prevent any unnecessary or inappropriate alerts from triggering confusing alerts. Officials have cited pilot confusion due to conflicting and unfamiliar alerts as factors in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies.
Among the alerts pilots contended with were the stick-shaker warning of a potential stall, the “don’t sink” warning that the plane was close to the ground, the “clacker” warning that the plane was going too fast, and various warnings about unreliable readings on numerous cockpit instruments.
Senior Engineer Claims Boeing Put Profits Ahead of Safety | Oct. 2, 2019
Boeing allegedly put profits ahead of safety in developing the 737 MAX, according to a senior Boeing engineer’s internal complaint. Curtis Ewbank, the engineer who filed the complaint, worked on cockpit systems for the MAX. Ewbank argued that Boeing rejected a safety system that may have reduced the risk of a tragic plane crash. According to the engineer, Boeing did so to save money.
The safety system would reportedly have identified when the 737 MAX’s angle-of-attack sensors were malfunctioning and stop any of the aircraft’s systems from using the sensor’s faulty information. Although a chief test pilot for the 737 MAX and other engineers involved in the MAX’s development wanted to investigate adding the safety system to the plane, an executive vetoed that plan.
“Boeing management was more concerned with cost and schedule than safety or quality,” the formal complaint notes.
Officials have linked both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes to faulty information from malfunctioning angle-of-attack sensors. That information triggered each aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which pushed the planes into nose dives.
Pilots’ Union Says 737 MAX May Not Fly Until February or March | Oct. 1, 2019
Southwest Airlines pilot union officials say their airline may not begin to fly the grounded Boeing 737 MAX until February or March 2020. According to the officials, changes to emergency checklists and pilot training requirements could delay the MAX’s return to the air.
Southwest pulled the MAX from its schedule until January 5, 2020, but the union believes that deadline is too ambitious. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) still needs to review and test MAX upgrades before lifting the grounding. The agency must also determine what training pilots will need before they can fly the aircraft. Finally, the FAA will determine which pilot operations checklists for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) must be revised.
Boeing said it still expects to have the MAX returned to service in the last quarter of 2019.
737 MAX Aircraft Lacked Safeguards Found on Boeing’s Military Plane | Sept. 30, 2019
Boeing designed its 737 MAX without the safeguards that the military required for its KC-46 refueling tanker, also built by Boeing. Both the 737 MAX and the KC-46 have similar flight control systems, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). However, the military tanker’s MCAS was designed to take information from multiple sensors and also limit how far the plane’s nose could be pushed down without pilot input.
The MAX was designed with a flight control system that took information from only one angle-of-attack sensor, with no safeguard to prevent the nose from being automatically pitched too far down.
Boeing’s software update for the 737 MAX will take information from two angle-of-attack sensors, and the updated MCAS will have less control over pushing the plane’s nose down.
Indonesian Report Blames Boeing and US Regulators for Lion Air Crash | Sept. 27, 2019
Indonesian officials investigating the 2018 Lion Air crash have found that design flaws and lapses in the Boeing 737 MAX oversight process factored heavily in the tragedy. A report from Indonesian investigators also alleges pilot errors and maintenance issues as contributing factors in the crash that killed 189 people.
Information from the report is preliminary, with the final version expected by early November. Parties including Boeing, Lion Air, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have received copies of the draft report, and some stakeholders have already submitted responses. Indonesian officials have not issued comments on the findings because a final report has not yet been released.
The Lion Air catastrophe was the first of two crashes involving the 737 MAX in less than five months. Aviation regulators around the world grounded the MAX after the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019.
NTSB Report Highlights Confusing Pilot Warnings in Boeing 737 MAX Crashes | Sept. 26, 2019
Today the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its first round of recommendations in response to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
Among the NTSB’s recommendations is that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require Boeing to thoroughly analyze how its alarms might affect pilots. This is especially vital in situations where multiple alarms and alerts are triggered at the same time, creating a multitude of vibrations, lights, and sounds in the cockpit. The NTSB notes that as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) pushed the Boeing 737 MAX’s nose down, pilots were overwhelmed with various alarms, some of which they had not been trained to recognize.
The NTSB said Boeing did not use a simulator to analyze situations in which multiple alarms went off at the same time. Furthermore, the aircraft maker assumed pilots would have no difficulty identifying that the plane’s nose was being pitched down outside of their control due to faulty information from an angle of attack sensor. Finally, Boeing assumed that pilots who dealt with ongoing MCAS problems would go through the emergency checklist to retake control of the plane and apply the procedures for runaway trim, even though the manual did not instruct them to do so in the circumstances created by the MCAS system.
In the cases of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, pilots faced competing, unfamiliar alerts and were unable to accurately determine how to regain control of the aircraft. Some have asserted that the pilots might not have been able to regain control even if they followed emergency procedures in their manuals for runaway trim.
The NTSB called upon the FAA to ensure that Boeing re-examines safety assessments to “consider the effect of all possible flight deck alerts and indications on pilot recognition and response.”
Boeing Begins Taking Claims from Victims’ Families | Sept. 25, 2019
Boeing has begun taking claims for its compensation fund from the families of victims of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The compensation fund holds $50 million for the families, which works out to approximately $145,000 for each of the 346 victims, if divided equally among them. The fund will accept claims until December 31, 2019.
Boeing announced the fund in July 2019, pledging $100 million to victims’ families and communities that were affected by the crashes. In all, $50 million will go to families, with the other $50 million reportedly going to education and development programs.
Families that submit a claim from the fund do not have to waive their right to file a lawsuit. Many families have already filed lawsuits; however, around 60 families have not yet filed.
Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the distribution of funds for victims of the September 11 attacks, is one of the administrators of Boeing’s compensation fund.
International Regulators Not Following FAA in Boeing 737 MAX Recertification | Sept. 24, 2019
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that international aviation regulators will make their own decisions about when they will certify the Boeing 737 MAX as safe to fly commercially. When the FAA originally certified the aircraft as safe to fly, other regulators followed suit. Now, many international regulators say they have their own concerns that must be addressed before recertifying the 737 MAX.
Since the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, the FAA’s role in certifying the 737 MAX has come under intense criticism. As a result, international authorities will likely conduct their own reviews of the aircraft.
The FAA said it does not have a timeline for recertifying the planes.
Boeing faces lawsuits from family members of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crash victims. According to reports, at least 11 lawsuits related to the Lion Air tragedy have been settled, but the settlement amounts have been kept confidential. Boeing has not admitted to liability in any of the 11 settlements.
Investigators Say FAA Misled Congress Regarding Boeing 737 MAX | Sept. 23, 2019
Investigators looking into the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) role in certifying the Boeing 737 MAX say the FAA misled Congress about the safety inspectors who developed pilot training requirements for the new aircraft. The US Office of Special Counsel was looking into a whistleblower complaint about the issue and found that safety inspectors who developed the training guidelines were “underqualified.” Furthermore, the office found that the FAA gave Congress misleading information about FAA employees’ training and competency.
Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner further wrote that the FAA’s information “diverts attention away from the likely truth of the matter: that [safety inspectors] were neither qualified under agency policy to certify pilots flying the 737 MAX nor to assess pilot training on procedures and maneuvers.”
In a letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, then-acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell confirmed all flight inspectors linked to the Boeing 737 certification activities were “fully qualified.”
Information obtained by investigators—through interviews and internal FAA communications—suggests Elwell’s comments were not accurate.
Australia May Not Recertify the Boeing 737 MAX | Sept. 20, 2019
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says it will not necessarily follow the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) lead on recertifying the Boeing 737 MAX. A spokesperson for CASA said that it would take the FAA’s determination into account, but that it would rely on additional information before reaching its own decision.
Australia joins the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Transport Canada in asserting that it will run its own 737 MAX reviews. Neither CASA nor the FAA has given a firm timeline on when assessments of the aircraft will be completed.
The move is a break from the traditional practice in which international aviation authorities accept the ruling of the regulator in the country where the aircraft is manufactured.
Although there are no Australian airlines that currently fly Boeing’s 737 MAX, Qantas has said that it might purchase the plane, and Virgin Australia has an order of 48 aircraft pending. Before the MAX grounding by CASA, Fiji Airways and Singapore’s SilkAir used the aircraft on flights in and out of the country.
FAA Chief Says He Will Pilot Boeing 737 MAX | Sept. 19, 2019
Steve Dickson, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), says the agency will not recertify the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft until he has personally flown one of the planes. Dickson told reporters that he would not approve the MAX to fly again until he is certain the aircraft is “the safest thing out there.” As head of the FAA, Dickson has the final say as to whether or not the 737 MAX grounding will be reversed.
Dickson has experience piloting Boeing planes and is licensed to fly the 737. He is not a test pilot and will not fly the plane during the recertification flight.
The recertification flight involves a Boeing pilot and an FAA pilot running the plane through a checklist of maneuvers to see how the aircraft handles each scenario. Following the flight, Boeing and FAA engineers will analyze the results and determine whether the plane met agreed-upon targets. If it does, Boeing can file to have the MAX recertified.
This week, Dickson is scheduled to visit the Boeing facilities near Seattle and receive a briefing about 737 MAX software updates. His briefing will also include testing the aircraft’s upgrades in a simulator.
House Committee Asks Boeing CEO to Testify | Sept. 18, 2019
Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has formally asked Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and chief engineer John Hamilton to testify. DeFazio requested that both answer questions about the grounded 737 MAX at a committee hearing on October 30.
In an email, Boeing responded that the company “has received the committee’s invitation and is reviewing it now.”
Previously, DeFazio had requested that Boeing employees be made available for interviews before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Boeing responded by saying it was disappointed that the committee had publicized a private correspondence.
Boeing faces numerous investigations into the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which was involved in two tragedies in less than five months. In all, 346 people died in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Officials linked both catastrophes to the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
FAA Chief to Test Boeing 737 MAX Upgrades This Week | Sept. 17, 2019
Stephen Dickson, the current chief of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), announced that he will test upgrades to the Boeing 737 MAX in a simulator this week. According to reports, he will test the changes in Seattle, where the planes are manufactured. In an interview with CNBC, Dickson guaranteed the planes would not fly again until he is satisfied they were safe. Beyond that, he does not have a timeline for recertifying the planes.
The FAA chief is a pilot and worked as an executive at Delta Air Lines. He was sworn in as FAA administrator in August 2019.
The FAA will decide when to reverse the 737 MAX grounding that began in March 2019 following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The two tragedies happened less than five months apart and killed 346 people.
Boeing Committee to Recommend Changes to Company Structure | Sept. 16, 2019
Following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that killed a total of 346 people, Boeing convened a small committee to recommend changes to the aircraft manufacturer’s policies, procedures, and processes. That committee has reportedly finished interviewing Boeing employees, safety experts, and executives from other industrial companies, and is expected to deliver its recommendations this week.
Some of the recommendations will likely impact how new planes are manufactured and analyzed. Currently, senior engineers at Boeing report to business leaders first, and then to Boeing’s chief engineer. This means that concerns about safety can be outweighed by production deadlines or other business and profit concerns. The committee is expected to recommend that senior engineers report first to the chief engineer and then to business leaders, ensuring safety is the focus.
The committee will also recommend that Boeing establish a new group focused on safety, which will ensure that the aircraft maker’s various divisions share information effectively.
These new recommendations come amid growing frustration with Boeing from lawmakers. Boeing declined an invitation to testify at a House hearing examining how the Boeing 737 MAX was certified. In addition, Boeing officials met with regulators in August but were unable to answer questions about changes to the 737 MAX’s automated flight control systems.
Lawmakers Ask to Hear from Boeing 737 MAX Workers | Sept. 13, 2019
US House leaders Peter DeFazio and Rick Larsen told Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg that they want to hear from Boeing employees who worked on the development of the 737 MAX. The request was made via letter and sent without a subpoena, which the transportation committee could have used to force Boeing to comply.
According to the letter, the committee wants to hear from Boeing employees who can “provide unique insight into specific issues and decisions [regarding the MAX] in a way that senior Boeing management cannot.”
Neither DeFazio, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, nor Larsen, chair of the Aviation subcommittee, have publicly given specific information about the employees they want to speak with, such as their names or their roles in the 737 MAX’s development. Their letter to Muilenburg asked him to make employees available as soon as possible, as the transportation committee has another hearing in preparation.
In addition to the transportation committee’s hearings, the US Justice Department has undertaken a criminal investigation into the 737 MAX, and the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General is in the middle of an administrative audit examining how the MAX was certified.
Speaking before the Senate in March, then-acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Daniel Elwell, denied that the FAA allows aircraft makers to certify their own planes, even though he admitted Boeing was allowed to review aspects of the 737 MAX.
Boeing 737 MAX Crash Victims’ Family Members Meet with Transportation Secretary | Sept. 12, 2019
Family members of victims of the March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash met with US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on September 10 to demand additional safety testing on the Boeing 737 MAX. During the two-hour meeting, the grieving family members told Chao that they are concerned about the rush to get the planes into the air again, and that officials should conduct a full review of the 737 MAX, not just a review of changes made to the aircraft’s flight-control software. That software has been linked to both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.
Chao told the 11 family members present at the meeting that officials reviewing the plane will wait for a technical review board’s recommendations before the aircraft is allowed to fly again, but she would not commit to requiring the 737 MAX to undergo a new, comprehensive review.
The families said they also want all pilots trained on flight simulators before the planes can carry passengers again. Boeing believes that, with simulator training to follow, computer training will adequately prepare flight crews for changes to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS); many professional pilots disagree.
Boeing CEO Confirms Possibility of Phased-In Boeing 737 MAX Approval | Sept. 11, 2019
Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, acknowledged, in an investors’ conference, the possibility that international aviation authorities might not automatically follow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in lifting the Boeing 737 MAX grounding. Although typically international regulators have followed the FAA’s lead—or the decision of the authority in the country in which a plane is manufactured—in this case, international officials may require their own independent review of the grounded aircraft.
Boeing reportedly hopes to have a recertification flight with the FAA in October, with the goal of having the 737 MAX aircraft operating by late 2019. The MAX was grounded worldwide after the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10, 2019, less than five months after the Lion Air crash. The FAA grounded US MAX planes on March 13 but was the last regulator to order the planes out of service.
The slow response of the FAA to the grounding of the MAX fleet may have caused other authorities to lose confidence in the FAA’s decision-making independence.
There are almost 400 MAX aircraft operated by airlines around the world. Three American carriers—Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines—operate a combined fleet of fewer than 70 of the planes.
Europe Says it Will Conduct its Own Boeing 737 MAX Test Flights | Sept. 10, 2019
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it will conduct its own independent review of the Boeing 737 MAX before the aircraft is allowed to return to service. An EASA spokesperson said the agency’s test flights are not yet scheduled but would be in coordination with the FAA depending on when Boeing’s 737 MAX upgrades are ready.
EASA is also looking at whether two angle-of-attack sensors on Boeing’s planes are sufficient. Potential fixes include having three sensors or additional crew training on the aircraft. Regulators in Europe are concerned about issues with the Boeing 737 MAX software design that relied on incorrect information from a malfunctioning angle-of-attack sensor, which triggered the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to push the plane’s nose down. Officials are also concerned about whether pilots can respond to such scenarios if they happen during critical flight phases, and whether simulator training should be required and additional information provided in the emergency procedures sections of the pilot operating handbooks.
Typically, the regions with major airline manufacturers—the US, Canada, Europe, and Brazil—work together to standardize certification rules, with each relying somewhat on the judgement of the regulatory agency in the country where the plane was manufactured. In some cases, however, each regulatory agency will conduct its own tests and reviews separately.
Former Boeing Official Pleads the Fifth Amendment | Sept. 9, 2019
Mark Forkner, Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the development of the 737 MAX, has refused to provide documents that federal prosecutors requested, pleading his Fifth Amendment right. Forkner has been subpoenaed to testify about Boeing’s development of its newest aircraft but has declined to forward the documents sought, asserting his right to not provide information that could be self-incriminating.
Early reports indicate that Forkner was against the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) being included in the pilots’ manual. The FAA eventually agreed, reasoning that the MCAS was meant to operate in the background. Officials have linked the MCAS to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
As part of an investigation into the crashes, the US Justice Department is also reviewing how the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was designed and certified.
Forkner no longer works for Boeing and is now a first officer for Southwest Airlines.
Family of Ethiopian Airline Victim Calls for FAA Official’s Firing | Sep. 6, 2019
The parents of Samya Stumo, who died in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash in March, called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to overhaul its procedures for approving planes and to fire Ali Bahrami, FAA associate administrator for aviation safety. Nadia Milleron and Michael Stumo responded to Bahrami’s Senate testimony in which he admitted that the FAA knew about software issues on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after the Lion Air crash in October 2018 and before the crash of Ethiopian Flight 302 in March 2019, but did not take action immediately.
Furthermore, Bahrami said there was nothing the agency could have done differently and suggested the pilots of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines planes shared some of the responsibility for the tragedies.
Milleron said she wants Congress to put pressure on the FAA so that the grounded aircraft remain out of service until all investigations into this model 737 and their crashes are complete, including a grand jury investigation.
Europe Will Not Follow US in Approving Boeing 737 MAX | Sept. 5, 2019
Officials in Europe have said they will not accept the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) approval of the Boeing 737 MAX, choosing instead to test the aircraft on its own. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has at least four conditions it wants met in approving the 737 MAX, which is a break from the long-held practice in which international aviation regulators followed each other’s leads in approving planes.
Among the conditions EASA set out are that there would be no delegation on safety approval, that EASA conduct its own independent design review, that the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes are “deemed sufficiently understood,” and that all flight crews are adequately trained in all changes to the 737 MAX. Once the FAA approves the MAX, US airlines will be allowed to fly it, but anyone operating out of Europe would require EASA’s approval before flying passengers on the aircraft.
United Airlines Will Allow Passengers to Avoid Flying on Boeing 737 MAX Planes | Sept. 4, 2019
United Airlines and other commercial carriers are developing policies for passengers who would be uncomfortable flying on Boeing 737 MAX aircraft once the planes are back in the air. United recently said it would allow passengers to rebook their flights for free if they do not want to fly on the 737 MAX, noting that there would not be any change fee for switching aircraft. Although airlines typically let passengers know what planes are expected on certain routes, there can be last-minute changes, so the type of aircraft used on a flight will be posted at the gate.
American Airlines has not yet announced any policy for assisting customers who are reluctant to fly on the 737 MAX, but Southwest has said such passengers will be given “full flexibility” for making changes.
The 737 MAX has been grounded since the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, which occurred within five months of each other. Reports initially indicated the planes would be back in the air by the end of 2019, although additional flaws in the aircraft’s software design have repeatedly pushed back the recertification flight. United, American, and Southwest have all pulled the 737 MAX from their schedule until at least December 2019.
Boeing 737 MAX Grounding Could Extend Even Longer | Sep. 3, 2019
A new report indicates that additional delays in the Boeing 737 MAX certification process could mean the planes won’t be back in service before the end of 2019. According to reports from The Wall Street Journal, an important meeting between Boeing officials and international regulators abruptly ended with international authorities complaining that Boeing did not provide them with sufficient information about the upgrades to the 737 MAX software systems.
Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal report mentions another potential flight-control issue uncovered in recent weeks that will require additional testing. The report is not clear on the exact nature of the potential flaw.
Even a delay of a few weeks could mean the planes will not be ready to fly before the end of the year. Before passengers are allowed on the MAX again, Boeing has to submit its updates to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a certification flight has to occur, the FAA has to recertify the aircraft, pilots must undergo training, and the planes will require maintenance checks.
Southwest Airlines has already pulled the Boeing 737 MAX from its schedule until early 2020. American Airlines and United Airlines have pulled the planes into December.
The 737 MAX planes were grounded following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, which occurred less than five months apart and have both been linked to the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
United Airlines Extends 737 MAX Cancellations into December | Aug. 30, 2019
United Airlines has announced it is extending its Boeing 737 MAX cancellations into December. Initially, United planned to bring the grounded aircraft back onto its schedule in October, but then pushed the cancellations back to November 3. Now, after announcing it is moving its planes into long-term storage, the airline said it would further delay putting the 737 MAX on its schedule until at least December 19.
United has so far canceled approximately 90 flights per day to accommodate the loss of the 737 MAX. Southwest Airlines has removed the MAX from its schedule through January 5, cancelling around 180 flights per day, and American Airlines has canceled about 115 flights per day through November 2.
Boeing reportedly expects to obtain certification for the grounded planes in October, but it will take some time for the planes to get back into the air. Pilots will need retraining and the aircraft will have to undergo maintenance checks before that happens.
United Airlines Sending Its Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft to Storage | Aug. 29, 2019
United Airlines is moving its 14 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which have been grounded since March 2019, to long-term storage at Goodyear Airport, near Phoenix, AZ. The location was chosen because the air is dry and the planes can be stored without sustaining damage due to the elements.
United plans to move 12 of its MAX aircraft—which are currently in Houston—before hurricane season. The other two planes are in Los Angeles and will be moved to Arizona due to airport construction. According to reports, United plans to have all 14 planes moved by mid-September. The company says the flights to Arizona will be cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
American Airlines is storing its 24 MAX 8 aircraft in Tulsa, OK, and Roswell, NM. Southwest Airlines is storing all 34 of its MAX 8 planes in Victorville, CA.
United pulled the 737 MAX off its schedule until early November 2019, and says the move to long term storage will not affect the schedule. Boeing reportedly expects to have a recertification flight with the FAA in October. But even if the 737 MAX is approved, pilots will require retraining, and the grounded planes must undergo maintenance and checks to ensure that they are still airworthy.
Boeing 737 MAX Could Fly Again in 2019 | Aug. 28, 2019
After being grounded for months following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, Boeing 737 MAX planes could be allowed to fly again before the end of 2019, according to recent reports. When the aircraft was initially grounded in March 2019, Boeing and experts believed the grounding would only last for three months at the most, but repeated delays in obtaining certification pushed the deadline back. Some airlines have pulled the 737 MAX off their schedules until early 2020.
Part of the reason for the delay is that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) certification process was called into question after the second 737 MAX crash. The ET 302 and Lion Air crashes raised concerns about other potential flaws in the 737 MAX’s design that may not have been identified during the original certification. As a result, engineers were required to examine other scenarios to determine if there were more problems. They found at least one potential safety issue related to a microprocessor, which required additional months to fix.
According to reports, Boeing will submit its proposed software revisions to the FAA in September. That same month, an FAA panel will likely issue its guidelines for Boeing 737 MAX pilot training, which may or may not include simulator training. An official FAA test flight could happen in early October, which would mean the recertification could be approved later that month. Even if it’s approved, however, it will take time for airlines to get the planes back in the air. Pilots will have to undergo retraining, and the planes will have to go through maintenance checks to ensure they are still airworthy.
It is also possible that international regulators will require their own recertification before allowing the MAX to fly in their airspace again.
Russian Company Files Boeing Lawsuit | Aug. 27, 2019
Boeing now reportedly faces a lawsuit filed by Avia Capital Services, a Russian aircraft leasing company. The company said it filed the lawsuit over an order of 35 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, alleging the aircraft maker intentionally failed to warn Avia about safety issues and defects in the 737 MAX jets.
Avia filed the lawsuit in Chicago, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars, including $115 million in compensatory damages and additional hundreds of millions in punitive damages. It also canceled its order for the 737 MAX aircraft, claiming Boeing is in breach of contract.
Boeing has approximately 4,550 unfulfilled orders for its 737 MAX planes, which it has not been able to deliver since the aircraft was grounded in March 2019 following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The aircraft maker hopes to make ground on that backlog by increasing production to 57 planes a month once the grounding is lifted.
737 MAX Could Have Grounding Lifted in October | Aug. 26, 2019
Reports indicate the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could be looking to reverse the Boeing 737 MAX grounding as soon as October. According to The Seattle Times, the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board is close to releasing its recommendations for pilot training on the 737 MAX before airlines can fly passengers on the aircraft. The board initially released recommendations in April noting that simulation training would not be necessary, but those recommendations were shelved as Boeing’s software update continued to be delayed.
The FAA will also invite “a cross-section of line pilots” to test out simulations involving the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Although Boeing and FAA pilots have tested MCAS updates over the past few months, the FAA is now inviting regular 737 MAX pilots to test the updates, a move welcomed by Dennis Tajer, spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association union, who said testing average line pilots would provide a realistic analysis.
For its part, Boeing has issued a new 737 production schedule indicating the company’s plans to manufacture 52 MAX jets per month by February. The aircraft maker has said it hopes to have the 737 MAX in the air early in the fourth quarter of 2019.
FAA to Invite 737 MAX Pilots from Around the World to Test Simulations | Aug. 23, 2019
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will invite Boeing 737 MAX pilots from around the world to take part in MAX simulations as part of the testing process to recertify the plane. The FAA said it did not specify how many flight hours pilots must have to take part in the simulations, but did note that all pilots included must have experience flying a 737 MAX.
Boeing has run its own tests on the simulators and invited senior pilots to run scenarios with conditions similar to those that contributed to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes; however, the FAA wants to see how newer pilots react to such situations.
Although Boeing has said it hopes to have the aircraft flying again by early in the fourth quarter of 2019, the FAA said it has not yet determined a schedule for running the tests or reapproving the aircraft. Boeing reportedly plans to increase 737 production in February 2020. The company had slowed production in April after the 737 MAX was grounded.
FAA to Test Boeing 737 Updates on Less-Experienced Pilots | Aug. 22, 2019
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reportedly has plans to test the upcoming Boeing 737 MAX upgrades on pilots with about one year of experience, according to sources who are familiar with the FAA’s plans. Senior US airline pilots have run tests on the updated software and used simulators to recreate conditions similar to those which led to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, but the FAA wants to see how less experienced pilots react to the Boeing 737 MAX.
The FAA has not said what tests will be run, but it is possible the administration will put pilots through a scenario in which a problem with a microprocessor causes the plane’s horizontal tail to move without the pilot’s input. In June, a test crew took longer than expected to recognize what went wrong and react to that flaw.
Testing was reportedly set to begin in the first week of September but has now been delayed until at least mid-month.
The 737 MAX aircraft remain grounded following the two catastrophes that killed 346 people. Though Boeing says it expects the grounding to be lifted in the fourth quarter of 2019, some experts say the planes likely will not be in the air until early 2020.
FAA Issues Warning Regarding Angle-of-Attack Sensor | Aug. 21, 2019
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a new warning last week regarding angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors. Faulty data from AOA sensors is linked to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashes. In its notice—sent to airlines, manufacturers and aircraft-maintenance organizations—the FAA warned that the sensors are vulnerable to damage and require careful maintenance procedures.
In both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, false AOA sensor readings started the chain of events leading to tragedy. Unlike other aircraft, the Boeing 737 MAX used readings from only one of the two sensors on the aircraft, making it impossible for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to know the AOA information was false. That information triggered the MCAS to automatically push the 737 MAX’s nose down in order to prevent a stall.
In the case of the Lion Air crash, the sensor had given false readings on previous flights and had even given false readings as the jet taxied on the ground prior to take-off. The Ethiopian Airlines jet had accurate readings until just after take-off, when the sensor’s information drastically altered by 75 degrees, possibly due to a bird strike.
Changes to the 737 MAX, designed to get the plane back in the air, involve allowing readings from both angle-of-attack sensors rather than just one and including a standard warning light to alert the crew if the two sensors disagree.
The FAA’s warning concerns all aircraft that have AOA sensors, not just the 737 MAX.
Boeing 737 MAX Panel to Tell FAA to Overhaul Certification | Aug. 20, 2019
An international panel called the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), formed after the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Boeing 737 MAX certification process, will reportedly tell the agency it needs to overhaul how it inspects and certifies new planes. The panel’s report is expected in late August 2019, although it is not clear whether the FAA will implement their recommendations.
The Boeing 737 MAX was certified despite deficiencies in the plane’s design that gave the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) more control over the aircraft than initially planned, and allowed the system to take control based on faulty information from an angle-of-attack sensor. Boeing self-certified many elements of the 737 MAX as part of the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization program, which allows Boeing employees to evaluate components of the aircraft to ensure FAA compliance.
Following the crashes, the FAA faced criticism for allowing Boeing authority over the certification system and for prioritizing the aircraft maker’s interests over passenger safety.
The JATR’s recommendations have not been made public but reportedly address deficiencies in the certification process. Included on the panel are US officials as well as representatives from nine foreign safety agencies.
Former Ethiopian Airlines Pilot Says He Tried to Warn About Disaster | Aug. 19, 2019
Former Ethiopian Airlines captain Bernd Kai von Hoesslin says he spent months warning colleagues and supervisors at Ethiopian Airlines that they did not fully understand the risks associated with the Boeing 737 MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Von Hoesslin, in an interview with Bloomberg News after leaving Ethiopian Airlines, said he was angry about the Ethiopian Airlines crash, feeling immediately that it was tied to the MCAS, the same system officials linked to the Lion Air crash less than five months before.
According to the Bloomberg report, von Hoesslin has hundreds of pages of emails, as well as recordings and other documentation, that confirm he repeatedly voiced concerns about 737 MAX safety with Ethiopian Airlines and others in the industry. He previously left a South American airline after he reported it to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for alleged safety violations during a flight to Miami and is now semi-retired.
After officials linked the Lion Air crash to the MCAS, von Hoesslin reportedly pushed for Ethiopian Airlines to improve pilot training and communication about the automated flight control system. He raised serious concerns that crews would be overwhelmed by the multiple cockpit warnings that occur during an MCAS failure.
Ethiopian Airlines would not comment on the Bloomberg report, saying only that the matter was under investigation and that pilots followed emergency procedures.
Boeing Bet Passenger Lives on Four Seconds | Aug. 16, 2019
A new report from The Wall Street Journal argues the pilots of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 had only four seconds to prevent a catastrophe, far too short a time for the crew to determine what the various and contradictory warning alarms meant and determine a course of action to regain control of the plane. Boeing believed pilots would recognize warnings—about systems they did not know existed—in mere seconds and then take the steps they needed to avert tragedy. Furthermore, the aircraft maker used that belief to push the 737 MAX through safety certifications while arguing pilots did not need simulator training on the aircraft.
Boeing now faces numerous federal investigations and over 100 lawsuits linked to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Meanwhile, employees and various other sources allege Boeing minimized the risks associated with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to save its airline customers’ money and get the aircraft approved quickly. Boeing reportedly classified a failure of the MCAS as being “major,” indicating that if a failure did happen, it was not likely to cause any death or even the loss of the plane.
Then, when the design process was almost complete, Boeing gave the MCAS more control over the 737 MAX, allowing it to kick in at lower speeds. Although some Federal Aviation Administration officials were made aware of this change, not all were, and the agency’s training experts determined pilots could learn to fly the 737 MAX through computer training rather than requiring hands-on simulator training. Pilots were also not told about the existence of the MCAS. These assumptions and omissions proved to have fatal outcomes.
FAA May Not Require 737 MAX Simulator Training | Aug. 15, 2019
A Bloomberg report suggests the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may not require pilots to undergo Boeing 737 MAX simulator training, despite the arguments of experts and victims’ family members who say simulator training should be mandatory before the planes are allowed to fly again. Anonymous sources told Bloomberg that pilots might be required to take a computer-based course either at home or in a classroom. Simulator training may be required after the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are back in the air, but not before.
The FAA has yet to confirm whether or not it will require simulator training, and an FAA advisory panel has not issued its final opinion on whether simulator training should be mandated. In April, Canadian transport minister Marc Garneau said that Canada would require simulator training before the 737 MAX jets are allowed to fly again.
Given the massive differences between the 737 MAX and its predecessor, that pilots were not aware of the existence of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System before the Lion Air crash, and that there will now be additional changes to the 737 MAX software to address issues in the system, a strong argument can be made that the planes should not be allowed back in the air without simulator training.
Norwegian Airlines Scraps Routes Due to Boeing 737 MAX Grounding | Aug. 14, 2019
Norwegian Airlines is the latest carrier to announce substantial changes to its routes in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding. The airline recently announced it would stop making transatlantic flights from Ireland to both the US and Canada as of mid-September. Norwegian said the routes were no longer viable, given that the airline has had to lease planes to cover the grounded Boeing aircraft.
In all, six routes are canceled, affecting flights from Dublin, Cork, and Shannon to the US and Canada. The airline noted that the uncertainty as to when the 737 MAX will return to service played a role in the decision. Customers who do not want to travel from Ireland to the US and Canada via other cities will be offered a refund.
Boeing Reports Fourth Straight Month Without New 737 MAX Orders | Aug. 13, 2019
Boeing has reported its fourth straight month without any new 737 MAX orders, as the aircraft’s grounding enters into its sixth month. Although International Consolidated Airlines—parent company to British Airways—said in June it would buy 200 737 MAX jets, the order is not finalized and so is not included on order lists.
Not only has Boeing slowed production of new MAX planes, but also airlines have been forced to scramble to accommodate the aircraft’s grounding. Some airlines have said this will affect their routes into next summer. Ryanair said it initially planned to operate 58 737 MAX planes in the summer of 2020, but will now fly only 30 if the grounding is lifted. Some airlines have had to cancel routes or pull out of airports entirely to redistribute their capacity.
Boeing has been working on a fix for the automated flight software system that was implicated in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not given a timeline for when the grounding will be lifted. The agency will only say that the 737 MAX must be proven safe before it will be allowed to fly again.
Transportation Secretary Asks FAA Head for Agency Review | Aug. 12, 2019
US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has asked the new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief, Stephen Dickson, to assess how the FAA performed in the wake of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Dickson replaces Dan Elwell, who served as acting FAA head since January 2018. Chao said she asked Dickson to review how the agency reacted to the crashes and to make recommendations for necessary reforms.
Dickson said the FAA has no timeline for returning the grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to service and will instead focus on ensuring the planes are completely safe to fly. Boeing has said it hopes to operate a test flight for certification in September, but some experts say it could be early 2020 before the 737 MAX is back in the air.
The FAA faces investigations from federal prosecutors and Congress regarding how it certifies new aircraft amid criticism that too much of the certification process for the MAX was given to Boeing employees.
Boeing Faces Complaints About 787 Dreamliner | Aug. 9, 2019
Already facing heavy scrutiny over its 737 MAX, Boeing is also getting complaints from airlines about the 787-10 Dreamliner, including concerns that the plane’s quality is below acceptable standards. According to reports, airlines complained about poor quality control at Boeing’s factory in North Charleston, South Carolina. The complaints were submitted in response to an internal Boeing survey, which not all airlines participated in.
The reports note that some of the airlines’ concerns match previous whistleblower claims about Boeing. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said Boeing’s North Charleston factory had quality control “way below acceptable standards,” and cited—among several issues—loose seats, untightened nuts and bolts, and a fuel-line clamp that was not properly secured. The airline further mentioned that Boeing personnel work too much overtime, affecting aircraft quality and the ability of the plane maker to meet its schedules.
United Airlines gave Boeing good marks but noted 20 issues with one of its 787-10 aircraft. Etihad, an airline from the United Emirates, said Boeing failed to properly communicate delays, which led to issues for the airline.
Boeing May Use Two Computers to Address 737 MAX Issue | Aug. 8, 2019
Reports from the AP and the Seattle Times indicate the software being developed by Boeing to address issues with its 737 MAX flight control system will take information from both flight control computers on the planes, rather than only one at a time. According to the reports, using data from both computers would eliminate both the original issue found in the 737 MAX’s flight control system and the newer issue that was discovered after the aircraft was grounded.
That new flaw apparently revolves around a microprocessor on the 737 MAX that did not have adequate protection against issues with bit flips (for example, when a 0 changes to a 1). Though the chances of this happening are rare (it would require cosmic rays hitting the chip), when pilots tested the scenario, it took too long for them to recover control of the aircraft. By using information from both flight computers, both would have to fail before a bit flip could lead to a disaster.
Boeing has neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
Families of Boeing 737 MAX Victims Want Aircraft Fully Recertified | Aug. 7, 2019
The families of more than 50 people who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March told the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they want Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft to undergo a full regulatory review before the planes are allowed to fly again. The MAX was approved based only on a review of the plane’s components that were different from previous 737 models, which allowed the plane to be certified years sooner than if it underwent a full certification.
This also meant that some of the plane’s software, such as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), was not fully reviewed. The MCAS was linked to both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes. During development, Boeing concluded that the MCAS was not dangerous, so FAA engineers, who apparently took Boeing’s word for it without independent verification, did not fully review the system when the MAX was certified.
The basis of Boeing’s conclusion, and the reasons for the FAA’s unquestioning reliance on it, have not yet been made clear.
Speaking with reporters, Michael Stumo—whose daughter, Samya, died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash—said the FAA was lax and compliant when it approved the amended 737 MAX certification.
According to the New York Times, Chris Moore, who also lost a daughter in the Ethiopian crash, said: “Essentially, what happened is my daughter and 156 others were on the second phase of a flight test. They were guinea pigs.”
Boeing Conducts Nearly 500 MAX Test Flights | Aug. 6, 2019
Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, said the aircraft maker has so far conducted approximately 500 test flights with its newly updated 737 MAX software. Speaking in an interview, Muilenburg said he had been on two test flights, and that other Boeing employees were “eager to do the same.”
According to Muilenburg, Boeing plans to submit its certification package for the updated 737 MAX software in September, with the expectation that the planes will be approved and allowed to fly again early in the fourth quarter. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded the aircraft following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, which occurred less than five months apart. Boeing has been working on a fix to an automated flight system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was linked to both crashes. However, since the planes have been grounded, additional issues with the 737 MAX have been uncovered.
Boeing to Completely Redesign 737 MAX Flight Control System | Aug. 2, 2019
Boeing is making fundamental changes to its 737 MAX flight control system after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uncovered an additional flaw in June 2019. Following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, the 737 MAX was grounded while Boeing developed a fix to the flight control system known as the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), but the additional issue requires Boeing to redesign the system.
According to reports, the aircraft will now take information from both flight-control computers. Previously, the planes took input from only one computer with pilots acting as a backup if there was an issue with the plane’s systems. The initial update that Boeing worked on meant the plane’s systems would compare data from two angle-of-attack sensors, not just one. Whether that update will remain in the redesigned system or is being replaced is not yet known.
FAA Misjudged Risk of Second MAX 737 Crash | Aug. 1, 2019
Speaking before a Senate hearing, Ali Bahrami, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) associate administrator for aviation safety, admitted that the agency had misjudged the risk of a second plane crash happening so quickly after the Lion Air tragedy. Rather than grounding the MAX after the Lion Air crash, the FAA only issued a warning reminding pilots about emergency procedures, but did not provide information about the exact issue that could cause a 737 MAX to crash.
In both catastrophes, officials have blamed a sensor malfunction and a flawed system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) for bringing down the planes and killing 346 people. At the hearing, Bahrami said that FAA officials engaged in a risk assessment and concluded they had sufficient time to work out a fix to the MCAS before a second tragedy could occur. It is not clear what factors were considered, what they meant by a “sufficient” time, or why they thought time was on their side.
The Lion Air and Ethiopian Air crashes occurred less than five months apart.
Senior FAA Officials Face Criticism from Lawmakers Over MAX Approval | July 31, 2019
Facing a panel of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials defended their process for approving the Boeing 737 MAX but said the system could be improved. Sen. Jack Reed chastised the FAA, saying the agency failed in its duty to ensure that the 737 MAX was completely safe to fly.
The FAA faces criticism not only for certifying the aircraft but also for not grounding it after the Lion Air crash, choosing instead to warn pilots about the plane’s flight-control software. Less than five months later, the 737 MAX was involved in another catastrophe, the Ethiopian Airlines crash. The flight-control software developed specifically for the 737 MAX has been linked to both crashes.
The 737 MAX grounding continues, with some experts saying that the aircraft might not be back in the air before 2020.
Ex-Boeing Engineer Says They Were Pressured to Keep Costs Down | July 30, 2019
Adam Dickson, who worked as an engineer for Boeing for 30 years, told the BBC that he and his coworkers faced pressure from Boeing to keep costs low, and that they did not have the funding they needed to do their job properly. He further said that they were told to downplay new features on the 737 MAX so Boeing did not have to undergo more significant review from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The goal, according to Dickson, was to ensure the 737 MAX was approved without the new features requiring a major design classification during certification. By portraying the 737 MAX as significantly similar to its predecessor—despite the inclusion of the new flight software system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS—Boeing could get the plane approved with a less strenuous review. Officials have linked the MCAS—a system pilots did not know existed—to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies.
“Certainly what I saw was a lack of sufficient resources to do the job in its entirety,” Dickson said, noting that the culture at Boeing was highly focused on costs.
Report: FAA Did Not Understand MCAS When It Approved 737 MAX | July 29, 2019
A report from The New York Times suggests an incredibly troubling development in the ongoing saga of the Boeing 737 MAX: regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not fully understand the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), but still certified the plane to fly. In fact, the FAA did not independently review the MCAS when they approved the plane, leaving it up to Boeing to ensure the system was safe and approve the MCAS itself.
When Boeing later expanded the use of the MCAS to help the 737 MAX fly more smoothly, the FAA did not review those changes, even though the revisions meant the MCAS relied on only one angle of attack sensor and the automated flight system now had more control over the plane. As the Times reports, the FAA made decisions about the 737 MAX based on Boeing’s deadlines and budget, not necessarily based on safety or the recommendations of its staff. When Boeing pushed back against FAA decisions, senior agency officials stepped in and reversed staff decisions.
Boeing had so much control over the certification process that by 2018, the aircraft maker was certifying 96 percent of its own work.
Even after the Lion Air crash, when FAA officials realized they knew very little about the MCAS, they made the incomprehensible decision to allow the 737 MAX to remain in the air, issuing only a warning to pilots about existing emergency procedures. While the FAA and Boeing continue to defend the process, federal prosecutors are investigating both organizations’ actions in getting the 737 MAX approved.
Experts Warn Boeing 737 MAX Issues Might Go Beyond Software Problems | July 26, 2019
On a call with analysts, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company was certain the grounded 737 MAX aircraft needed a software update, but no changes to its hardware. Muilenburg also noted that Boeing hopes to have its updated software to regulators in September for certification and have the planes returned to service by October.
Experts, however, are not so certain. Some say there is no way a software upgrade to address issues with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)—the program linked to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes—can be developed quickly. Others say the problem requires a hardware fix as well, and further argue that the software was used to mask problems with the hardware.
Last month, test pilots underwent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 737 MAX simulations and experienced “catastrophic failure” in the simulators, meaning they were unable to regain control of the plane. Under similar circumstances, it is possible an actual aircraft would crash.
Gregory Travis, an industry expert, wrote for IEEE Spectrum that even the most junior engineering staff should have recognized significant issues with the software developed for the 737 MAX.
Southwest Airlines Drops Boeing 737 MAX from Schedule into 2020 | July 25, 2019
Southwest Airlines announced it will not put the Boeing 737 MAX on its schedule until at least January 5, 2020, a longer cancellation than any other US airline has announced so far. The low-cost carrier also said it would pull out of Newark Liberty International Airport in November, citing the 737 MAX grounding as a factor in the decision. Instead, as of early November, Southwest will run its New York operations from LaGuardia Airport.
Southwest has more 737 MAX aircraft than any other US airline, with 34 of its planes currently grounded. CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC the airline is unhappy that the process for fixing and recertifying the Boeing 737 MAX has taken so long. Once the aircraft is recertified, Southwest says it could take one to two months to have the planes back on the schedule.
In an earnings release, Southwest said the moves to drop the 737 MAX from the schedule into next year and pull out of Newark were done to “mitigate damages and optimize our aircraft and resources.”
Boeing Says it Might Have to Halt 737 MAX Production | July 24, 2019
With no end in sight to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX, CEO Dennis Muilenburg told investors that the aircraft maker might either slow down or halt 737 MAX production. Even with the grounding, Boeing has continued to manufacture the 737 MAX, although at a slower pace. But should the aircraft remain on the ground through the fourth quarter of 2019, Boeing may have to stop production entirely.
Boeing says it is working on a fix to its automated flight control system software that would address a significant flaw which officials have linked to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines catastrophes. That fix, however, likely will not be presented to regulators until at least September, after which the company hopes to have a certification flight in October. But even after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifies the planes, it will still take time to retrain pilots and conduct the maintenance checks necessary to get the planes back in the air.
With the planes grounded, Boeing has not been able to deliver completed 737 MAX planes, and it will take months to get all the undelivered aircraft to customers once the planes can fly again.
American Airlines Pilots’ Union Speaks About Boeing 737 MAX Fix | July 23, 2019
Eric Ferguson, president of the American Airlines pilots’ union, said Boeing must be fully transparent about the upgrades it is making to its grounded 737 MAX and must fully explain the differences between the MAX and previous 737 models. Although the Boeing 737 MAX is substantially different from the older versions, pilots say they were not told about all the changes to the aircraft, including the inclusion of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Officials have linked that software to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines catastrophes, which killed a total of 346 people.
Boeing says is it is working to address issues with its automated flight software and other flaws that have been identified since the MAX was grounded following the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March. Though no timeline has been identified for getting the MAX back into the air, some experts say the planes will likely remain grounded until 2020.
Impact of the Boeing 737 MAX Grounding Felt Throughout Industry | July 22, 2019
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019, with no end in sight and no word from regulators on a possible timeline for the planes to return to the sky. The impact from the grounding has been felt not only by Boeing, who has taken a $4.9 billion after-tax charge in the second quarter, but also by airlines that have had to cancel flights, and by air travelers who have had their plans cancelled and found themselves paying more to fly.
Airlines have not only had to deal with parts of their fleet being grounded—Southwest Airlines has cancelled approximately 180 flights a day until at least the beginning of November—but have also had to rethink their growth, as no new Boeing 737 MAX planes will be delivered until the grounding is lifted. That means airlines that planned longer flights or new international destinations based on the 737 MAX will have to put that expansion on hold. Some airlines have combined flights or used bigger planes to move passengers, but even with those changes, passengers are paying more for seats due to the restricted airline capacity.
Officials have only said that the 737 MAX planes must be proven safe before they are allowed to fly again. Once the planes are recertified, pilots must be retrained, and all planes must undergo maintenance checks before the airlines can operate them, which could add more than a month to the grounding.
Cellphones a Danger on Some Boeing Planes | July 19, 2019
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a safety bulletin in 2014 warning that cockpit screens on over 1,300 Boeing 737 NG and 777 airplanes were vulnerable to cellphone and radio signals. Airlines were given until November 2019 to fix the units, which were made by Honeywell International, Inc. Although many have been fixed, there are still approximately 400 units that require upgrades.
The FAA bulletin noted that interference from cellphone and other radio signals could cause the disappearance of flight-critical data, resulting in “loss of airplane control at an altitude insufficient for recovery.” Honeywell said it was unlikely that radio signals would affect a plane in flight, but the FAA said tests on in-service planes showed the units failing. Furthermore, in the past three years there have been more than a dozen reports of flight information on Boeing 737 NG or 777 aircraft disappearing.
Crash Victims’ Families Want Increased FAA Oversight | July 18, 2019
Two men whose family members died in the Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash told congress that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) process to certify new aircraft is not strong enough. Michael Stumo, testifying before the Aviation Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, said that employees of aircraft manufacturers should not be allowed to conduct safety inspections of the planes they make. Paul Njoroge—who lost five family members in the Ethiopian Airlines catastrophe—also said FAA leadership should be changed so that safety engineers are in charge, and that Congress should increase FAA funding.
During the same hearing, Mike Perrone, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a union that represents FAA inspectors, said plane manufacturing employees are now responsible for more than 90 percent of FAA aircraft certification duties.
“Risk is continually being introduced into the system that may not manifest itself for years to come,” Perrone said.
Devastated Man Who Lost Family in 737 MAX Crash Testifies Before Congress | July 17, 2019
Paul Njoroge—whose wife, three children and mother-in-law died in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash—testified before Congress about Boeing’s actions and the emotional suffering he has endured since losing his family. Njoroge spoke about Boeing’s “utter prejudice and disrespect” and said that the aircraft maker focused on profits “at the expense of the safety of human life.”
He further testified that Boeing’s blaming of “foreign pilots” for the Lion Air crash in Oct. 2018 allowed the 737 MAX to remain in the air, which directly led to the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the death of his family members. Njoroge said he is consumed by thoughts of the plane his family was on struggling to gain height before it dove to the ground, killing everyone on board.
“My life has no meaning,” Njoroge said. “It is difficult for me to think of anything else but the horror they must have felt. I cannot get it out of my mind.”
US Airlines Continue to Cancel Flights in Wake of Boeing 737 MAX Grounding | July 16, 2019
US airlines continue to cancel Boeing 737 MAX flights following the crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines MAX aircraft. Initially, airlines expected that the planes—grounded following the second catastrophe in five months—would be back in the air by September 2019, but as months have gone by without the Federal Aviation Administration certifying the planes as safe, the cancellations have been extended.
Both United Airlines and American Airlines announced the planes would be taken off their schedules through the beginning of November, while Southwest Airlines canceled flights involving the 737 MAX through the beginning of October. Those dates are not guarantees of when the planes will be back in the air; reports now indicate the grounding could continue to January 2020.
American Airlines said approximately 115 flights per day would be canceled in October, while 5,000 United flights through September and October are affected.
Boeing 737 MAX Grounding Could Last into 2020 | July 15, 2019
A new report suggests the Boeing 737 MAX grounding could now last into 2020, with the discovery of additional issues linked not only to the 737 MAX but also to an earlier 737 model. The list of upgrades for the aircraft continues to grow and now includes issues with electronic parts, software malfunctions and problems with emergency recovery procedures. Although the original upgrades were meant only to include the 737 MAX, some of the newly uncovered concerns extend to the 737 NG.
American Airlines Group has said it is keeping the 737 MAX off its schedule until Nov. 2019, following an earlier decision by United Airlines to do the same.
The report says Boeing’s fix for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), the initial software program that required a fix, has been completed, but additional complications have arisen. Among those issues are whether an average pilot is physically capable of manually turning a vital flight-control wheel in a crisis and a microprocessor failure that prevented test pilots from addressing an MCAS error quickly.
United Airlines Extends Boeing 737 MAX Flight Cancellation | July 12, 2019
United Airlines announced it extended its cancellation of flights involving the Boeing 737 MAX until at least November, affecting approximately 5,000 additional flights. The previous cancellation extended to Sept. 3, but Boeing has not yet submitted its fix for the software flaw linked to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Furthermore, additional flaws have been uncovered since the 737 MAX was grounded, which may require more upgrades to be made.
Once the software upgrades are sent to the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA must approve them and recertify the planes. Even then, it could be months before the 737 MAX planes are back in the air, as pilots will need retraining and the planes will have to undergo maintenance.
Southwest Airlines and American Airlines so far have not followed United Airlines’ move.
Head of United Airlines Flight Attendants’ Union Not Keen on Boeing | July 11, 2019
Sara Nelson, head of the United Airlines flight attendants’ union, has said she is not in a hurry to get back aboard the 737 MAX aircraft. Nelson said that she would not consider flying on a MAX until all investigations are complete and the aircraft is recertified. She also noted that she has concerns about how Boeing has operated, calling them “a very arrogant company that really was allowed to call the shots all the time.”
Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft remain grounded following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that killed hundreds of people. Boeing is working on a fix for numerous software issues—at least one of which has been directly linked to the two tragedies—but it could still be months before the planes are in the air again. Officials are still investigating the cause of both crashes.
European Regulators Find Additional 737 MAX Flaw | July 10, 2019
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sent its list of concerns regarding the 737 MAX aircraft to Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), outlining issues it wants addressed before the planes are allowed to fly again. One of the issues the regulator outlined had not been previously identified.
The new issue is a problem with the 737 MAX’s autopilot, which fails to disengage in certain emergency situations. Failure of the autopilot to disengage could prevent pilots from intervening before the aircraft enters a stall.
The European regulator conducted its own independent review of the 737’s flight control system, examining differences between the MAX and the previous version of the 737, known as the “Next Generation.”
The FAA is now facing investigations over how it certified the 737 MAX and its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.
Boeing Reports No New Orders for 737 MAX | July 9, 2019
Boeing once again reported it received no new orders for its 737 MAX and further noted fewer aircraft deliveries for the first half of 2019 compared with 2018. For the first half of 2019, Boeing delivered 239 commercial airplanes, a drop of 37% over the same period last year. Airbus, meanwhile, reported 389 commercial plane deliveries in the first six months of 2019.
June is the third straight month that Boeing has not received any orders for its Boeing 737 MAX. In addition, Boeing recently lost a customer when Saudi Arabia’s flyadeal canceled its provisional order for as many as 50 Boeing 737 planes, switching to Airbus A320 jets instead.
Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are still grounded while the aircraft maker works on fixes for a software flaw which has been linked to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that killed 346 people. Officials have not given a timeline for when the planes will be allowed back in the air.
Saudi Airline Cancels Boeing 737 MAX Order | July 8, 2019
The Saudi Arabian airline flyadeal has cancelled its order of up to 50 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, choosing instead to go with Airbus A320neo jets. The airline ordered the now-grounded 737 MAX jets in Dec. 2018 but canceled the $5.9 billion deal as more issues with the Boeing aircraft have been uncovered.
While the 737 MAX remains grounded, Boeing has stopped deliveries and is working on a software update to address issues with the MAX’s automated flight software system. Since the grounding began, an additional flaw in the plane’s software was discovered, though officials have not said whether this flaw is linked to the Lion Air or Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Boeing says it hopes to submit a software update for regulators to review by September, which would mean the grounding could be lifted by the end of the year.
If Boeing does not have a fix to regulators soon, other airlines could follow flyadeal’s lead. Oman Air and flydubai have both said they are considering switching to Airbus aircraft.
Europe Lists Its Boeing 737 MAX Demands | July 5, 2019
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued its list of requirements that Boeing must address before the agency will allow the 737 MAX to fly again. EASA sent the list to both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), although it’s not clear how similar the two agencies’ requirements are, since the FAA has not made its list of demands public.
Among the issues EASA wants addressed are pilot difficulty turning the 737 MAX’s manual trim wheel, angle-of-attack sensor unreliability, inadequate training procedures, the autopilot failing to disengage during certain emergencies, and the new software issue uncovered in the past week concerning a microprocessor lag. The agency did not state how it wants Boeing to address the issues it outlined, instead asking the aircraft maker to propose potential solutions.
According to reports, the FAA, EASA, Canada and Brazil have a tentative agreement to coordinate the Boeing 737 MAX’s return to service, though there is currently no official timeline for the aircraft’s recertification. The FAA has said the plane will not be allowed to fly again until the agency is assured it is safe and pilots are properly trained.
International Regulators to Meet to Discuss Pilot Licensing | July 4, 2019
In the wake of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, international regulators will meet next week in Montreal, Canada, to discuss pilot licensing procedures. The meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was not called as a response to the Boeing 737 MAX crashes, but issues raised following those crashes—such as whether increased aircraft automation is negatively affecting pilot skills—will be discussed.
Boeing faces criticism that it downplayed differences between the new 737 MAX and previous 737 aircraft to allow 737 pilots to fly the new planes with minimal training. Furthermore, pilots and airlines argue they were not made aware of the existence of the Manuevering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), automated flight software that was not present on previous 737 planes. Even with increased licensing requirements, such as additional hours in the cockpit, an important question is whether or not better-trained pilots could effectively manage a failure of software they do not know exists.
Boeing Sets Aside $100 Million for MAX Crash Victims’ Families | July 3, 2019
Boeing announced it has set aside $100 million saying it is to assist families of passengers killed in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes and to assist, in some unspecified way, communities affected by the tragedies. The $100 million does not affect any lawsuits filed against Boeing related to the crashes, and those who access the funds will not be required to waive their right to pursue a civil claim. However, the money will not be made available all at once, and Boeing did not announce a schedule for the release of the money, nor how any family or community could access the money. In making this announcement, Boeing was short on many important details, including what process or requirements would be required for release of money to those most affected by the tragedy, and how it would determine how much money could be released to a single family or community.
The aircraft maker faces more delays in recertifying its 737 MAX aircraft after an additional software flaw was discovered during testing. Boeing has been criticized for not being transparent about issues regarding the MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which has been linked to both crashes. It has also come under fire for rushing to manufacture the MAX and pushing for pilots to undergo minimal training before flying the plane, despite the MAX having new software not found on earlier 737 aircraft.
Report: Boeing Has History of Safety Issues | July 2, 2019
A new report from The Washington Post argues Boeing has a history of failing to address vital safety problems, and that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uncovered shocking safety lapses committed by the aircraft maker and its subcontractors. Among the issues included in the report are falsified cargo door certifications, tools left inside plane wings and improperly installed wires that could result in fires.
The FAA also reportedly found that Boeing had a pattern of agreeing to address its safety issues but then failing to do so, leading the agency to consider launching numerous legal enforcement cases against the aircraft maker. Instead, the FAA combined the violations and addressed them as one, resulting in a five-year settlement in which Boeing agreed to make significant changes to its internal safety processes. The company also agreed to pay a $12 million penalty.
During the first three-and-a-half years, however, Boeing repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement, most notably the issues involving tools left behind in aircraft. The company also took over a year to alert the FAA about a software issue linked to its 737 MAX. Both the FAA and Boeing face hearings and investigations into their actions surrounding the certification of the 737 MAX in the wake of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies.
Boeing 737 MAX Likely Grounded Until Late 2019 | June 28, 2019
A newly discovered chip failure that can cause the airplane’s elevator (a panel on the 737 MAX’s tail that controls pitch) to move without the pilot’s input—resulting in the plane’s nose being pointed downward—could mean Boeing’s MAX aircraft will not fly again until late 2019. Additional testing of 737 MAX systems after the chip failure was discovered showed that it took too long for pilots to address the problem in simulations.
Boeing has said it expects to have a fix to both the original issue with the MAX’s automated flight software system and the new chip issue by September, but even if they meet that timeline it will take at least two more months to get the planes back in the air. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has to recertify the planes, Boeing and the airlines will have to agree on additional pilot training, and the planes will have to undergo maintenance checks.
The FAA has said it will not commit to a timeline for getting the 737 MAX recertified.
New Flaw Found in Boeing 737 MAX Software | June 27, 2019
The Boeing 737 MAX, currently grounded to fix a flaw in its software, reportedly has an additional issue that was only uncovered through simulator tests. Official reports into the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes linked the Boeing 737 MAX’s stabilization system to the tragedies, finding that in both crashes the system pushed the aircraft’s nose down to prevent a stall, but left the pilots unable to regain control of their plane.
Since the second crash, the 737 MAX has been grounded around the world while Boeing develops a fix that would prevent the same scenario in the future, but simulator tests have reportedly uncovered a microprocessor failure that can also push the plane’s nose down. So far, the microprocessor has not been linked to either crash, but final reports have not yet been published and investigations are ongoing.
According to a source familiar with the testing, when the microprocessor in the simulators failed, pilots had difficulty recovering within seconds, increasing the risk of a crash. This additional flaw means it will likely be months before the 737 MAX is approved to fly again.
Air Canada to Put Pilots Through 737 MAX Simulator Training | June 26, 2019
International airlines and regulators are meeting at a summit in Montreal to discuss the potential recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which has been grounded around the world since shortly after the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019.
Boeing is working on a software update to address issues with its automated flight control system, which has been linked to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The aircraft maker must then submit its proposed software and training upgrades to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Even if the FAA recertifies the planes, however, there is no guarantee that international regulators will follow suit, as some have said they have their own concerns that Boeing must address.
One key issue to be discussed at the meeting, hosted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is what training 737 MAX pilots should undergo before flying the aircraft. Air Canada has said that all 400 of its pilots will undergo simulator training. The Canadian airline is the only carrier in North America that currently owns a MAX simulator.
American Airlines Executives to Fly 737 MAX Before Passengers | June 25, 2019
American Airlines has said its executives will be the first to fly on the Boeing 737 MAX once the grounding is lifted, in an attempt by the airline to help passengers feel more at ease about getting on board the aircraft. Don Parker, CEO of American Airlines Group, said at an annual shareholders’ meeting that the airline’s executives and staff would take test flights on the 737 MAX after it received certification to fly again.
In the aftermath of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that killed more than 300 people, many Americans have said they would not feel comfortable flying in the aircraft. A UBS poll found that 41 percent of Americans would not get on a 737 MAX until at least six months after the grounding was lifted.
Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have said passengers who do not want to fly on the 737 MAX once the grounding is lifted will be given free rebookings.
American Airlines CEO Says “Politics” Could Keep Boeing 737 MAX Grounded | June 24, 2019
In a town hall meeting with employees, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said politics could keep the Boeing 737 MAX grounded even longer, a sign the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering its international reputation following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines catastrophes. While international agencies around the world grounded the aircraft quickly in the aftermath of the crashes, it took the FAA longer to do so. The agency has also come under scrutiny for its certification of the 737 MAX, including facing federal and congressional investigations.
Typically, international regulators accept the decisions of officials in the country where the plane was manufactured, meaning once the FAA certified the plane other countries would accept that certification. Multiple international agencies, however, have said they have their own concerns that must be addressed before they will allow the planes to fly again, indicating they do not necessarily trust the FAA’s decision-making in this instance.
Parker’s comments suggest the FAA could wait until other international regulators are confident in the plane’s safety before it removes the grounding.
Pilots’ Union Wants 737 MAX Simulator Time | June 21, 2019
Daniel Carey, president of the American Airlines pilots’ union, issued a request to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg that his airline’s safety experts be given time in a 737 MAX flight simulator before the planes are allowed to fly again. In requesting the simulator training, Carey said it is essential that the pilots responsible for flying the aircraft be part of the recertification process.
No MAX 737 simulators are owned by airlines in the US, but Boeing has its own simulator that could be used. Without simulator training, the pilots would only undergo computer-based training in order to fly the updated MAX 737 planes. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have come under fire for certifying pilots to fly the 737 MAX with minimal training even though the aircraft has an automated flight software system—the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)—that did not exist on previous versions of the 737.
Not only was the MCAS new on the 737 MAX, pilots say they were not even told about the system’s existence. The MCAS has been directly linked to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
Famed Pilot Says Boeing 737 MAX Crashes “Should Never have Happened” | June 20, 2019
Pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, known for his safe landing of a disabled plane on the Hudson River, spoke before Congress about the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes, saying that the two crashes “should never have happened.” He further stated that the tragedies might have been avoided with better safety and enhanced pilot training, noting that there was evidence the current system of designing and certifying aircraft had failed.
Sullenberger pointed out that while the two crashes happened in foreign countries, if adequate corrective action is not taken they could happen in the United States. Specifically, he noted that pilots, in order to be properly prepared, must experience the circumstances that cause crashes firsthand in simulator training, not on an iPad.
Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) face hearings regarding their actions surrounding the design, certification, and training linked to the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Boeing also faces lawsuits filed by the families of those who died in the two crashes.
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger Says Pilots Need 737 MAX Simulator Training | June 19, 2019
Speaking before a congressional panel, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger said pilots certified to fly Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft should be trained on a simulator, not on an iPad. Sullenberger told panel members that he used a simulator to recreate the series of events that led to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes and thought the “startle factor” when the plane’s automatic flight software kicked in and pushed the nose down was confusing and real. Sullenberger, the pilot who famously landed his crippled jet in the Hudson River in 2009, said he understood why the crews on both flights had such difficulty trying to regain control.
“Reading about it on an iPad is not even close to sufficient,” Sullenberger told the House aviation subcommittee as part of a series of hearings into Boeing’s 737 MAX.
Meanwhile, Daniel Carey, president of the American Airlines pilots’ union, said Boeing’s efforts to minimize airlines’ costs for pilot training on the MAX resulted in a “crisis of trust” in aviation safety.
Both Carey and Sullenberger questioned whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is separate enough from Boeing, given how much the FAA relied on Boeing to perform safety tests and inspections.
Pilots’ Union Blames Cost Cutting for Boeing Crashes | June 18, 2019
In a statement prepared for a hearing into the causes of the Boeing 737 MAX tragedies, Captain Daniel Carey, president of the American Airlines pilots’ union, said Boeing’s efforts to save its customers money contributed to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The two planes crashed five months apart, and a new automated flight system that pilots were not aware was on the plane has been directly linked to both crashes.
Among Boeing’s attempts to cut costs for its customers was a push to have pilots certified to fly the plane with minimal additional training. Carey noted that not only did Boeing not tell pilots about the existence of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), but it failed to provide “robust pilot training” so pilots could regain control of their aircraft if the MCAS failed. Boeing has also come under criticism for not telling pilots, airlines or regulators about an alert—which Boeing knew to be non-functional on some aircraft, including those involved in the two tragedies—that would have warned pilots about issues with their plane’s angle-of-attack sensor.
Carey also raised concerns that the 737 MAX certification was based on the 737 checklist, which was validated in 1967 and has reportedly not been updated since, even though there have been multiple and dramatic 737 upgrades since 1967. Carey finally argued that there is no evidence that accidents like the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes would have been avoided by pilots trained in the US.
Boeing Executives Apologize for Tragedies | June 17, 2019
Boeing executives issued an apology to the families of the people who died in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies, saying that the aircraft maker is working to ensure such crashes never happen again. Kevin McAllister, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, also apologized to airlines and passengers for the disruptions that ensued following the 737 MAX aircraft’s grounding.
Officials are still investigating the catastrophes, but Boeing has acknowledged that the 737 MAX’s automatic flight control system was a factor in both crashes. Both planes crashed following malfunctions in an angle-of-attack sensor, which then sent faulty information to the aircraft’s flight control system, triggering anti-stall software that pushed the plane’s nose down in an attempt to prevent a stall. Although crew on both planes fought to regain control of their aircraft, they were unable to do so, and both planes crashed, killing everyone on board.
Although equipped with two angle-of-attack indicators on each of the planes, one had not been activated when the airplane was delivered. One of those was not functioning properly. The pilots had no warning that the sensor was likely sending faulty information to their aircraft’s flight control system. Had the other AOA indicator been activated and functioning properly, an AOA disagree light would have informed the pilots that they were not in fact in danger of stalling. Boeing engineers knew in 2017 that safety required both indicators to be active but did not warn the FAA or the airlines that the 737 MAX was being delivered without both indicators fully functional. Thus, pilots were in the dark about the system, and were never trained to handle the emergency created by the single malfunctioning AOA indicator.
Boeing 737 MAX Makes Forced Landing in France | June 14, 2019
A Boeing 737 MAX that was being moved by Norwegian Air was forced to land in France after Germany refused to allow the aircraft into German airspace. Norwegian Air was attempting to move the plane, with no passengers on board, from Spain to Sweden, to keep their MAX planes in the same location. Although all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft have been grounded, some airlines have flown them—without passengers—to new storage sites, with each individual country having the right to determine whether it will allow planes being repositioned to fly in their airspace.
France allowed the plane into its airspace and later instructed the pilots to land at a French airport after Germany would not give the crew permission to fly through. Germany recently extended its ban on all 737 MAX flights to Sep. 8, 2019, including repositioning flights.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has said it has its own conditions that must be met before it will lift the grounding, except in cases of repositioning flights. As such, even if the Federal Aviation Administration certifies the planes as safe, it could be longer until the planes are allowed to fly with passengers in Europe.
Boeing 737 MAX Planes May Not Be in Air Until December | June 13, 2019
Boeing’s 737 MAX planes have been grounded since March 2019, following the tragic Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines MAX 8 crashes. Initially, regulators indicated they thought the grounding would be lifted by the summer, but now they’re saying the planes might not be in the air until December. The planes are grounded until Boeing develops a software fix for its flight control system, which has been directly linked to both tragedies.
However, once that fix is developed and tested, it has to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Although, typically, international regulators would follow the FAA’s lead on certifying the planes, officials in multiple regions have expressed concerns about how the FAA handled the 737 MAX’s certification in the first place, with some countries saying their own issues must be addressed before they will allow the planes to fly again. Even if the 737 MAX is allowed back into the air in the US, it may take even more time before it can fly again in other countries.
For now, the Boeing 737 MAX remains grounded, with no firm timeline on when it will be returned to service. Ali Bahrami, the FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety, said in an interview that he believes the planes should be certified by the end of 2019.
Boeing Planned to Delay Sensor Fix Three Years | June 7, 2019
A new report indicates that Boeing hoped to delay fixing issues with the angle-of-attack sensor on Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for three years and only moved to fix the problem after the Lion Air crash in Oct. 2018. The angle-of-attack indicator—which alerts pilots that the angle-of-attack sensor might not be working properly—was meant to be standard on all planes but, thanks to an error, was linked to an optional safety upgrade, making it non-functional on any plane that was not outfitted with the upgrade. Boeing has acknowledged that engineers knew about the issue in 2017 but took no steps to fix it, deferring a solution to 2020.
Malfunctioning angle-of-attack sensors that gave incorrect data to the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which then took unnecessary action to prevent a stall, have been directly linked to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Neither airline paid for the safety upgrade.
US Reps. Peter DeFazio and Rick Larsen sent letters to Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) demanding that both provide information about what they knew regarding issues with the MAX, when they had that information, and when airlines were told.
Both congressmen expressed concerns that it took Boeing more than a year to disclose the angle-of-attack indicator issue to the FAA. Boeing and the FAA have come under fire for their roles in certifying the 737 MAX, in not alerting airlines and pilots to the existence of the MCAS on the aircraft, and not moving quickly enough to ground the planes after the tragedies.
Consumer Advocate Argues Boeing 737 MAX Should Remain Grounded Forever | June 6, 2019
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, whose grandniece died in the March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash, has come out against allowing Boeing 737 MAX aircraft back in the sky. Speaking in Washington, DC, at an aviation safety event, Nader said the engines on the Boeing 737 MAX, which are larger than on previous 737s, amount to a design flaw that is “too much for the traditional fuselage.”
When Boeing designed the 737 MAX, it made modifications to the existing 737 rather than designing a new plane from scratch. To make the MAX more fuel efficient, Boeing designed it with larger engines that were mounted higher on the aircraft’s wing to accommodate the larger size. That modification, however, changed the plane’s maneuvering and put it at a higher risk of stall in some circumstances. To address that issue, Boeing installed the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was designed to prevent a stall but which officials have linked to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
Nader argued that the 737 MAX must not be allowed back in the air and called on Boeing officials to resign.
Passengers Say They Will Avoid Boeing 737 MAX | June 5, 2019
A new study suggests at least 20 percent of travelers in the US will avoid flying on a Boeing 737 MAX in the first six months after the aircraft’s grounding is lifted. The study, conducted by Atmosphere Research Group, further found that more than 40 percent of travelers say they would rather go with more expensive or inconvenient flights than travel on a MAX. Meanwhile, only 14 percent of US passengers said they would definitely fly on the aircraft within the first six months.
Atmosphere’s report noted that passengers are terrified of the MAX following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines catastrophes that killed more than 350 people. Southwest Airlines Co. and United Continental Holdings have said passengers will be allowed to switch from the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to other planes without being charged a fee.
Boeing is still working on a software fix for the 737 MAX aircraft to address a serious malfunction in the MAX’s flight control system that has been directly linked to the crashes. Regulators have not given a timeline for when the aircraft’s grounding will be lifted, but doing so will require the software fix to be certified and pilots to undergo additional training.
Test Pilots, Engineers Not Told About 737 MAX Single Sensor | June 4, 2019
A new report suggests that Boeing’s test pilots and engineers, as well as federal regulators, were not told that changes to the aircraft maker’s 737 MAX planes included alterations to the number of angle-of-attack sensors that would be active to trigger the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Although the original version of the 737 MAX relied on data from at least two sensors, the final version of the plane relied on data from just one angle-of-attack sensor. Therefore, if one sensor was feeding incorrect information to the MCAS system, there was no way for pilots to know if the information was good or faulty. If there are two sensors, and one disagrees with the other, the pilots would have meaningful information that the airplane was not likely to be approaching a stall and could safely continue to fly without corrective action. If the two sensors agreed that a stall was imminent, then the pilots would know that emergency action was required. It is considered to be a remote possibility that both sensors would be giving incorrect information at the same time. Redundancy of critical safety of flight systems has long been regarded as a hallmark of aviation design that placed safety of flight before all other considerations. By activating only one sensor, that paradigm was violated.
Many people tasked with the 737 MAX’s development said they were not aware of the change that resulted in only one angle-of-attack sensor being used, and said that Boeing workers each focused on a small area of the plane, so very few had the full picture of how the anti-stall system ultimately worked. Initially, the MCAS was designed to trigger only under very specific conditions while relying on data from sensors that measured the plane’s acceleration and its angle to the wind. Furthermore, the system was supposed to nudge the plane’s nose down, not react forcefully.
Engineers changed the system, however, so that it would avoid stalls in a wide range of situations. This gave the MCAS more control over the plane, and that control involved more aggressive actions that were based only on the plane’s angle to the wind, not considering its speed.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), having approved the original version, was under the impression that the MCAS was rarely used and relatively safe. Unaware of the changes to the MCAS, the FAA approved Boeing’s request to remove mention of the MCAS from the 737 MAX pilot’s manual.
Officials have linked the angle-of-attack sensor and the MCAS to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines catastrophes. Pilots have criticized Boeing for not telling them about the existence of the MCAS until after the Lion Air crash in Oct. 2018. Boeing faces federal investigations into its actions leading up to the two tragedies.
Boeing Warns Some 737s May Have Faulty Parts | June 3, 2019
Boeing announced on June 2 that some of its 737 MAX and 737 NG aircraft may have faulty slat track assemblies on their wings. Leading edge slats help control a plane’s aerodynamics and are positioned at the front of an aircraft’s wing. The slats extend the chord of the wing and provide extra lift to keep the plane safely flying at relatively low speeds, such as experienced during takeoff and landing. Boeing said it learned about the problem on Friday, May 31, after Boeing employees, at a meeting with the slat track supplier, noted some parts were not properly heat treated, which could cause a safety issue.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the defect could cause the slat tracks to fail or crack, which could damage a plane in flight. The FAA plans to issue an airworthiness directive which will require airlines to inspect their planes and repair faulty slat track assemblies within 10 days. Not all Boeing 737 planes are affected, but the FAA advised airlines to check their planes. Boeing estimates 20 737 MAX and 21 737 NG planes will require repairs before they can be returned to service.
Boeing 737 MAX Likely Grounded at Least Until August | May 31, 2019
The head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it is unlikely Boeing’s 737 MAX will return to service before August, although the final decision on timing rests with regulators. Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft have been grounded internationally since the March Ethiopian Airlines crash, which followed the Lion Air crash by less than five months. Both tragedies involved the 737 MAX aircraft.
IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac told reporters that members of the association do not expect the grounding to be lifted in fewer than 10 to 12 weeks, though he acknowledged that regulators have the final say. Some sources reportedly believe the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will approve ending the grounding in late June, but international regulators may not follow suit. Europe and Canada have both said they have specific concerns that must be addressed before they allow the aircraft to fly.
Once the grounding is lifted, all planes will undergo maintenance checks and software updates. Pilots will also undergo training before they can fly the 737 MAX again, though it is not yet clear whether the training will be on an iPad or in a simulator.
Boeing CEO Admits 737 MAX Software Was Incorrectly Implemented | May 30, 2019
Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, acknowledged in an interview with CBS Evening News that software on 737 MAX 8 aircraft was incorrectly implemented. When asked by CBS about the issue with the lack of an angle-of-attack indicator—which was supposed to be standard on all aircraft but was not—Muilenburg said, “The implementation of that software, we did not do it correctly.”
Not only was the software not properly enabled on all aircraft, but also Boeing’s engineers knew about the error for more than a year and did not alert the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about the problem. Issues with the angle-of-attack sensors and the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) have been blamed for the two massive Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed everyone on board both planes.
According to CBS News, the MCAS on Lion Air Flight 610 was activated two dozen times before the plane crashed into the Java Sea, with pilots fighting against the MCAS—which was triggered by erroneous information from an angle-of-attack sensor—to regain control of the aircraft.
Boeing 737 MAX planes have been grounded internationally while Boeing develops a fix for the software issues. Officials have not given a timeline for when the grounding will be lifted.
Ethiopian Airlines Pilot Warned About Lack of Training | May 29, 2019
An Ethiopian Airline