back to article Boeing boss denies reports 737 Max safety systems weren't active

Boeing has once again been shaken by its 737 Max saga, this time after it was revealed that safety features for the controversial airliner were inactive – which was not what the airlines flying the craft had been led to believe. The American planemaker's chief exec, Dennis Muilenberg, gave a press conference yesterday in which …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    Somebody should tell Muilenburg to stop digging, Boeing are in a deep enough hole already.

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge
      FAIL

      Here's a Thought...

      Have pilots actually fly the aircraft.

      By all means, have technology aid and prompt them, but any changes in flight attitude should be controlled by a human being, not a code segment.

      Neil Armstrong did all right with much less technology (which was freaking out at the time of the moon landing with 1201 and 1202 program alarms).

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Here's a Thought...

        Here's another thought:

        Don't do a major redesign on a critical part of the aircraft without updating other parts of the design to match. Especially not just so you can pretend very little has changed so as to avoid recertification of the design.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Here's a Thought...

          "Don't do a major redesign on a critical part of the aircraft without updating other parts of the design to match. Especially not just so you can pretend very little has changed so as to avoid recertification of the design."

          I wonder how the latest 737MAX compares with the 737 original certification? I wonder just how much uncertified "grandfathering" of supposedly minor changes have occurred since that certificate of airworthiness was issued?

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Here's a Thought...

            I wonder how the latest 737MAX compares with the 737 original certification?

            It doesn't as the original 737 predates certification. The 737 itself was grandfathered in as a proven design.

          2. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Here's a Thought...

            supposedly minor changes have occurred since that certificate of airworthiness was issued?

            I imagine the certificate of airworthiness for the original 737 is long since defunct. CoAs are issued for individual aircraft, not aircraft type.

            I think you may be looking for Type Certificate.

          3. MudFever

            Re: Here's a Thought...

            Grandfathering as explained by Trigger ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUl6PooveJE

        2. fobobob

          Re: Here's a Thought...

          What?! You mean we can't (excluding digestive transit time) have our cake and eat it too? Say it ain't so...

        3. anoncow

          Re: Here's a Thought...

          Even better thought: retire that disgusting, outdated hack of an airframe and go through the proper design and certification of one that isn't an obsolete deathtrap.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Here's a Thought...

        Ask pilots on long-haul flights how exhausting was to control the engines before FADEC were introduced - you needed a full-time engine flight engineer to keep them within the right parameters. Also, flying at very high altitudes to save fuel means also the air is so thin there's very little space for errors, as the stall speed and the max speed can be very close - it would be quite difficult to fly safely without a computer help.

        Armstrong went once to the Moon and was selected among the top of top pilots. If he had to go to the Moon and back every day, it would have been very different.

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: Here's a Thought...

          The best American pilot was excluded from the space program due to lack of a university education.

          1. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: Here's a Thought...

            If it's who I'm thinking of he couldn't even get the altitude record in an NF-104 so best might be stretching it.

            http://www.kalimera.org/nf104/stories/stories_11.html

          2. phuzz Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Here's a Thought...

            The best pilot in the world was excluded because he was British ;)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Pint

              Re: Here's a Thought...

              Wow, what an amazing life he had, just from reading the wikipedia summary, all the honours and awards were fully deserved.

              Heres to 'Winkle' =>

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Here's a Thought...

        "Neil Armstrong did all right with much less technology (which was freaking out at the time of the moon landing with 1201 and 1202 program alarms)."

        He also privately reckoned their odds on successfully returning to earth in one piece was 90%. His odds on an actual moon landing were 50:50. Funnily enough, airline passengers demand slightly better odds than that today.

        That sort of argument is up there with anti-vaxxers' "my grandparents survived measles ok" (ask the descendants of those who didn't survive, oh wait, you can't). Measuring success based on the successful missions only isn't how you base things. For instance, in this example, of the 32 (?) Apollo astronauts selected, 3 of them didn't survive (Apollo 1).

    2. el kabong

      But they did, they told Muilenburg to stop digging, many times.

      In fact they are doing it again, right now.

      But he won't listen, that guy seems to be uncorrectable, like those very dangerous flawed airliners he's trying to hard sell, Muilenburg's behavior is, in all probability, uncorrectable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But they did, they told Muilenburg to stop digging, many times.

        And the fact that he is still digging that hole deeper is the exact reason why the MAX shouldn't be allowed back into the sky, and is also worrying enough to consider grounding other Boeings built under his tenure. Safety is a cultural thing that comes down from the top, and if the boss doesn't get it then how is the rest of the company supposed to deliver "safety"?

        There's heaps of circumstantial evidence now to support the hypothesis that Boeing are corporately incapable of being safe; actual FOD problems in the new tankers, reports of FOD on the MAX (damage to AoA sensor wiring no less...), the dangerous implementation of MCAS 1.0, the existence of MCAS in the first place on 737MAX, the cheapening of the design of MCAS on the MAX (it was first used on the old tankers, but there used 2 AoA sensors vs the MAX's 1), the court case surrounding the electrical system of the yet to fly 777x, the court cases about the bear straps on 737NG, topped off by the recent request to the FAA to be allowed to reduce quality inspection rates in their production lines, and even the weasely lawerese used to announce their internal review of their practices to "confirm" that all is well. This kind of thing is not normal if a company has an effective approach to safety.

        All of that circumstantial evidence is quite likely to sink the effort to certify MCAS 2.0 outside of the USA. These appalling recent events have created the circumstances where it's probably not possible for the likes of EASA, CAAC to ignore the heap of circumstantial evidence. I think the FAA realises this because they're trying to organise a global meeting of certification agencies to head off any independent reviews by the EASA, CAAC, but Boeing seem hell bent on ruining that. So be it. Perhaps when the EASA and CAAC refuse to let the 737MAX or 777x fly Boeing may then get it.

        1. Kimo

          Re: But they did, they told Muilenburg to stop digging, many times.

          You can't simply blame one executive or one aircraft builder (not that Boeing is innocent here). The FAA allows employees of the manufacturers to do the bulk of certification work. Certification requires the cooperation of aircraft firms, but also requires that the personnel in charge are not paid by the companies they are certifying. They need the independence and authority to ask difficult questions and delay certification without worrying about losing their jobs.

          1. asdf

            Re: But they did, they told Muilenburg to stop digging, many times.

            All government is bad m'kay and the market fixes all ills are the main two dogmas to America's true religion.

            >They need the independence and authority to ask difficult questions and delay certification without worrying about losing their jobs

            Reminds me immediately of the board room scene in the beginning of the movie Brain Candy.

          2. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

            Re: But they did, they told Muilenburg to stop digging, many times.

            Attitude at the top has a major impact on the company as a whole

            A non-technical CEO may not see the benefit of precise engineering and extensive testing and will probably surround him/her self with like minded people.

            It's human nature, but means that engineering will slowly take a back seat, while the focus changes to profit.

            This has a ripple effect throughout the organisation down to the people doing the actual engineering work.

            Disclaimer: I did not actually check out if this particular CEO has an engineering back ground ir not.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: But they did, they told Muilenburg to stop digging, many times.

              Disclaimer: I did not actually check out if this particular CEO has an engineering back ground or not.

              Muilenberg has a bean counter back ground, basically he is a button sorter an not even nearly a scientist, leave alone an engineer.

              1. Aitor 1

                Re: But they did, they told Muilenburg to stop digging, many times.

                Makes sense then.

                The preliminary reports blame the MCAS.

                Simulations prove it is almost impossible to recover from that situation if you dont understand the problem soon enough (the trim goes stronger than the yokes, and manual non electric trim is IMPOSSIBLE due to aerodynamic forces).

                If he says "we are guilty" they would have to pay money.. so he refuses to accept any responsibility.. therefore, the pilots must be guilty, as there are no other options.

                You should NEVER put a bean counter as CEO as they will do what they know to do: reduce cost, increase profit. Even if it means having substandard products. And those substandard products will mean the end of the company in due time.

    3. Ryan 7

      Re: Somebody should tell Muilenburg to stop digging

      Maybe he's trying to raise his shovel, but it keeps pushing its own nose down.

    4. Aqua Marina

      Just to clarify what MCAS really does.

      I'll point out the circumstance in which MCAS should activate, because there is so much misinformation going on.

      1) Airspeed is decreasing and the pilots have not noticed or they ignore the airspeed indicator.

      2) Physical stableiser trim is activated (disk spinning backwards) and the plane pitches up, if this ignored then...

      3) Pitch limit indicators on the digital gimbal appear. If this is ignored then...

      4) An amber line is drawn on the airspeed indicator. If this is ignored then..

      5) A "Buffet Alert" message is displayed on the screen (called the FMC CDU). This is to warn that the aircraft may start shaking. If this is ignored then..

      6) Air speed indicator starts blinking amber and the plane calls "Airspeed low, airspeed low". If this is ignored then..

      7) Air speed indicator turns solid amber (normal is green). If this is ignored..

      8) The airspeed indicator displays black and orange stripes (barbers pole). The aircraft should start shaking now. If this is ignored then..

      9) Motors in the stick start to shake it violently like a force feedback joystick. If this is ignored then..

      10 The plane stalls.

      11) The pilot must pitch forward at this point. To ignore would be certain death. Assuming the pilot is now no longer ignoring the plane he would.

      12) Deactivate the autopilot if engaged.

      13) Push the stick forward. If this fails..

      14) Trim forward. (The assumption is this will work, or death). When the plane is pitched forward then..

      15) Retract speed brake.

      16) Roll wings level.

      17) Start to slowly increase thrust.

      18) MCAS kicks in to ensure that as recovery thrust is increased, it doesn't force the plane back into a nose-up position if too much thrust is applied.

      It is simply untrue that MCAS is always active and adjusting control surfaces like you would get on an unstable fighter plane. The 737 Max is an aerodynamically stable aircraft that does not require fly-by-wire. It has hydro-mechanical physical cables between the stick and control surfaces. If the plane loses power, the pilot can still direct the control surfaces manually, including the trim. The plane is so stable it can glide without thrust approximately 10-15 miles, per mile of altitude lost. Compared to other similar sized aircraft, this glide ratio is considered high (therefore stable).

      MCAS is not needed because the plane is aerodynamically unstable, it is needed because the engineers performed a "What if this goes wrong, then what if this, then this, and this and this, then this" analysis. Even when steps 1 to 10 above occur, it still doesn't start to affect the control surfaces until step 17 to help the pilot recover. It's the ABS of stall recovery, and it is this that has gone through certification.

      Neither is MCAS there to mislead the pilot so he can pretend he is flying a different plane he holds certification for while MCAS changes his control inputs behind the scenes to match new flight characteristics. MCAS is not certified for constant manipulation of the control surfaces so it flies like a different plane as so many commentards here believe.

      The issue is not the aerodynamic stability or instability of the plane. The issue is that faulty sensors triggered the MCAS system into activating because it could "see" that the pitch was too high and airspeed was too low.

      The newspapers however see MCAS and have decided that it's existance must be because the airframe is designed faulty or unstable and this fault is being hidden from pilots. It isn't. This is like pointing to ABS and deciding that all cars that have it must be faulty. Yes a faulty ABS can cause a car to lose control during an emergency manouver and crash. In this instance a faulty sensor caused the MCAS to activate and crash the plane.

      There are also some reports in the papers that the actions taken by the MCAS were too aggressive and beyond it's limits. If this is the case then like the sensors, there is clearly a fault that needs fixing, and that fault is still not the airframe.

      MCAS is a system that will become standard on all aircraft, and already is on other aircraft under different names. It's supposed to be there to assist the pilot in recovery and remain inactive at all other times.

      TL/DR - A safety feature mis-activated bringing a plane down. The plane itself is aerodynamically stable otherwise.

      1. Electronics'R'Us
        WTF?

        Re: Just to clarify what MCAS really does.

        From Boeing:

        Boeing stated that MCAS was added to “to compensate for some unique aircraft handling characteristics during it’s (sic) Part 25 certification”.

        In other words, the aircraft could not be certified without MCAS.

        A system that has control authority (even at limited times) should always be treated as safety critical; using a single AoA sensor destroys any notion that it was so considered.

        MCAS is is always actively monitoring incidentally.

        It will be interesting to see if the low airspeed warnings actually occurred as looking at the flight radar data the actual profile looks quite normal apart from the vertical rate where MCAS quite clearly kicks in.

        Initial climb out at 2000 feet per minute seems quite reasonable.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just to clarify what MCAS really does.

        MCAS attempts to produce control column pitch force similar to a 737NG in a similar flight regime. MAX has large, far forward engine nacelles, which generate considerable lift at high angles of attack, making the pitch input more sensitive at high angles of attack. This can further lead to a situation where the lift from the nacelles becomes so great that the elevators cannot resist the pitch up, and aircraft stalls.

        MCAS also reduces the tendency towards pitch up feedback by providing a counterbalance to the nacelle lift. Stabilizer trim (what the MCAS is affecting) is very slow compared to elevator input. A sudden pull on the yoke could initiate said feedback loop, if AoA was already high, and no automatic function would be able to avoid the stall. Stabilizer/elevator authority would rapidly diminish with increasing AoA and decreasing speed.

        Also has nothing to do with power pitch up; low mounted engines causing pitch up is a known issue; it does not appear to be a consideration for MCAS. I believe the speed trim system handles this aspect of aircraft performance. B737 MAX, while not generally unstable, does suffer this one major instability, albeit at a relatively extreme region of the flight envelope.

        Finally, Boeing's awareness of the pitch feedback tendency is likely, given their eventual adjustment of the system to allow effectively unlimited authority of the horizontal stabilizer (the complete range available to the autopilot trim system, which both MCAS and STS use to effect their changes).

      3. anoncow

        Re: Just to clarify what MCAS really does.

        The issue _is_ the aerodynamic instability of the airframe in near stall. If it were not unstable then there would not have been any MCAS and all those people would still be alive. Just retire the 737, it had a good run but by today's standards it is a scary piece of junk.

  2. Hans 1 Silver badge
    Boffin

    2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

    1. The MAX should NEVER have been certified with the new engines, an inherently unstable aircraft might be acceptable for military fighters, NOT passenger jets.

    2. A software system that has only two sensors is brain-dead, you need three, ok, then that software either "reacts to just one sensor" or "engages when sensors disagree" (two version of the symptoms I have heard up until now) is also brain-dead. IT SHOULD ALWAYS DISENGAGE IF IN DOUBT.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

      1. The plane is not inherently unstable. The stability margin is just slightly smaller and the stick forces involved slightly different and it is that difference that the MCAS was meant to protect against. The alternative was to expose the difference fully to pilots and say "hey this planes feels a bit different under these circumstances and your pilots will need some additional training on the simulator" and the salesmen at Boeing didn't want that.

      2. Two sensors are enough as long as it fails safe (disconnects on disagreement and displays a warning). This is the part they kind of seem to have forgotten.

      1. Steve Hersey

        Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

        To your first point, it appears that the MCAS system was added because without it, the aircraft was not stable enough to get flight certification. I'd say that DOES qualify as "inherently unstable," though I'll agree it isn't as inherently unstable as, say, an F-14.

        To your second point, it's actually even worse than just fail-safe: If I read the reports correctly, the two-sensor configuration was sold as an extra-cost option; the standard configuration had a single sensor, with no failover capability at all. Set negligence level to "criminal stupidity with a side order of arrogant avarice."

        1. jtaylor

          Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

          "the MCAS system was added because without it, the aircraft was not stable enough to get flight certification."

          It was added so that pilots already certified on 737 could operate the 737-MAX with a very quick and cheap differences course rather than a very expensive new training and certification. There's nothing to indicate that 737-MAX is inherently unstable.

          I would argue that, done properly, such a modification can increase safety because it would reduce confusion during a busy and critical phase of flight. I'm not arguing that MCAS was done properly.

          "To your second point, it's actually even worse than just fail-safe: If I read the reports correctly, the two-sensor configuration was sold as an extra-cost option; the standard configuration had a single sensor, with no failover capability at all."

          You're correct that it was "worse than just fail-safe." It always had two sensors. The computer received data from both sensors. It used 1 sensor as primary at a time, alternating which was primary. The "optional safety feature" was to warn the pilots if the sensors disagreed. Software change, not hardware.

          Not only was there no failover between sensors (with 2 inputs, you can't identify the outlier), but it didn't fail over to the pilots by cancelling MCAS. To be fair, I'm not sure that suddenly dropping envelope protection during such a busy and risky time would be so wonderful either. As an analogy, some anti-lock-brake systems activate when a wheel hits a bump and bounces up. You wouldn't want ABS to suddenly cancel while you're panic-braking on uneven road surface.

          1. Hans 1 Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

            There's nothing to indicate that 737-MAX is inherently unstable.

            Well, does it or does it not have an annoying tendency to push up the nose without MCAS correction? This will inevitably stall the aircraft if the pilots do not intervene, hence why you want a third sensor, two sensors is a SPOF.

          2. ChrisC

            Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

            ""the MCAS system was added because without it, the aircraft was not stable enough to get flight certification."

            It was added so that pilots already certified on 737 could operate the 737-MAX with a very quick and cheap differences course rather than a very expensive new training and certification. There's nothing to indicate that 737-MAX is inherently unstable."

            Nope. As Steve noted earlier, the raw flight characteristics of the MAX were such that the aircraft would NOT be certifiable. Not even if Boeing had plastered information about these changes in flight characteristics in 1000 point text along both sides of the fuselage prior to delivery so that everyone knew perfectly well it wasn't just like ye olde 737, and not even if Boeing had paid for every single 737 pilot in the world to undergo thorough retraining in how to fly the MAX and deal with those characteristics.

        2. Robert Sneddon

          Not failover

          All 737MAX aircraft used a single AOA sensor to determine entry into stall triggering the MCAS system to push the nose down. The plane has two sensors, the routine was to switch between them after each flight leg was complete. There was no automatic failover system, merely an extra-cost optional warning on the cockpit displays that the two sensors were disagreeing. Both the planes that crashed did not have this option fitted. Boeing has now announced that all 737MAX planes will be getting this "disagree" option alarm fitted at no extra cost (it was about $80,000 if I recall correctly).

          1. Hans 1 Silver badge

            Re: Not failover

            Well, that is better, but, as I have said time and time again, two sensors is a SPOF and you do not want a SPOF on a civil aircraft.

            The software adjustments are all nice and good, should have been default at delivery, I know hindsight, but come on ...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Not failover

              Two sensors are technically not a SPOF, it's dual modular redundancy. It provides for error detection, but not correction (which triple modular redundancy provides).

              I get what you're trying to say, it can't operate in isolation, and seemingly failed to alert for error detection (as safety is apparently an optional extra with Boeing these days...)

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

          "To your second point, it's actually even worse than just fail-safe: If I read the reports correctly, the two-sensor configuration was sold as an extra-cost option; the standard configuration had a single sensor, with no failover capability at all. Set negligence level to "criminal stupidity with a side order of arrogant avarice."

          My understand is that all 737's have had two AoA sensors - before the 737MAX they were effectively unused. This appears to have led Boeing to believe the sensors are more reliable than they actually are.

          In addition, most 737MAX's shipped with status indicators for the AoA's and western pilots were aware (trained? it's not clear why some pilots knew how to handle a fault that has happened significantly more than the number of crashes indicates) that in the event of a actual or suspected AoA failure to disable MCAS. It appears that the status indicators became an option at some point - again it is not clear when or why other than speculation around cost.

          So the issues appear to be:

          a) a design fault in MCAS in terms of handling AoA information during AoA faults

          b) a misunderstood or under-designed system with the AoA sensors and their reliability

          c) a reluctance to retrain pilots in the correct operation of the 737MAX's (in particular, MCAS)

          d) an unclear understanding about the reliance on the AoA status indicators in the operational fleet masking the risks of the first three issues

          The first two issues are design issues - it will likely mean Boeing has to certify all future design changes meet current safety standards. Costly, but manageable as it will affect competitors as well.

          The third issue is a sales/cost issue - it suggests that Boeing let these decisions outweigh safety concerns. Boeing managements response seems to reinforce this point. Which implies Boeing will be hit by higher levels of regulation or safety inspections to address this. This is likely to be the area Boeing suffers the most as delays here will result in difficulties meeting customer orders.

          The final issue is the one that alarms me the most. Normally pilot feedback on this type of issue would have resulted in swift action, either noting failure/reliability issues with the AoA sensors or noting the impact a failure had on MCAS requiring it to be disabled. Once the Air crash had happened and there were indications it was an MCAS issue, this should have become an even bigger issue. Why is this broken as this should have identified the issue and workarounds (training and equipment) sooner? Are airline safety bulletins etc being used effectively or are they just another area where cost cutting has led to no safety margin in the event of problems, or worse, near misses?

          1. Aitor 1

            Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

            There were bulletins released after the first MCAS accident.

            But those made clear that the procedure is the "runaway trim procedure". Only that is not completely true.. because the MCAS acts again after a few seconds... so you think you got it under control, and there it goes again!

            Also, nowhere it is specified that you can go full trim, or any consideration that if you go down with plenty of trim and speed, the manual (non electric) trim will probably be too hard to operate. If you then try to activate the electric trim to manually trim the plane to stability, then again you get attacked by the damn MCAS.

            And all of this while taking off, at full thrust and low altitude!

            I believe that Boing made an error, made it worse to charge more money, and then when they found out tried to cover it up, and as part of covering it up, they made incomplete reports of the correct actions to take, as that would reveal how bad the design was.

            1. leexgx

              Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

              MCAS can only reactivate if the pilot switch back on the trim power runaway trim procedure is to cut the trim powered system but on the last flight that crashed they actually switched it back on which finally resulted in the plane doing a final trim down again on the lion air crash they never remove the power to the trim system they just simply kept the button on the up trim on the sticks lion air crash they never remove the power to the trim system they just simply kept the button on the upstream on the sticks they knew they were fighting the power trim system but at no point for the 12 minutes the fault was happening they never removed the power to the trim system which is very bad

          2. Bruce Grunewald

            AOA is not unused or new

            AOA is one of the inputs the "stick shaker" stall warning, so they have been around for a long time.

      2. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

        I'm still not sure about 2 sensors being enough. We know that the 737 MAX is more prone to nose lift at higher thrust and hence more prone to stalling. Disengaging MCAS if the two sensors disagree is a start, but you still now have to trust that the pilots can fly the plane which has different handling characteristics without stalling it (given there's no longer any automatic trim). And as much as I have huge respect for airline pilots, MCAS was designed to allow the 737 MAX to avoid re-certification and hence additional pilot training.

        Fact is, you're left with a plane which handles differently to those the pilots may have previously flown, they've not had additional training on the MAX and due to a single sensor fault you no longer have any automatic trim. Still sounds like an unacceptable risk to me - a risk which could be easily reduced with a third sensor and a computer system that could "vote out" a faulty sensor without losing MCAS altogether.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

          MCAS was designed to allow the 737 MAX to avoid re-certification and hence additional pilot training.

          That's irrelevant now as Boeing will be requiring the additional pilot training going forward, and with all the publicity surrounding this there will never be a pilot flying a 737 MAX that isn't aware of MCAS until the last one is retired decades from now.

        2. Keith Langmead

          Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

          "but you still now have to trust that the pilots can fly the plane which has different handling characteristics without stalling it (given there's no longer any automatic trim). And as much as I have huge respect for airline pilots, MCAS was designed to allow the 737 MAX to avoid re-certification and hence additional pilot training."

          I think that's a good point. Surely when training pilots for any system which may stop working and then pass direct control back to the pilots, those pilots should be trained in handling the plane in that failed state. So if the design change alters the flight characteristics enough that you need that system to help those pilots, you either need to ensure it can't fail, or that the pilots are trained for if it does. How can they get away with essentially saying that additional training isn't required so long as the system works correctly.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

        @AC,

        1. The plane is not inherently unstable. The stability margin is just slightly smaller and the stick forces involved slightly different and it is that difference that the MCAS was meant to protect against..

        We don't actually know that it's "stable".

        We do know that the FAA required MCAS to be fitted to maintain parity with the NG. We also know that the agreed trim inputs would be 0.6°, that the actual trim inputs were 2.5°, and that the FAA were unaware of that discrepancy. Also, 2.5° is a honking great input, not a subtle and unnoticeable adjustment.

        All of this gives rise to the suspicion that the underlying flight characteristic is dire in the relevant part of the envelope. Just how dire is a matter of speculation, but the magnitude of the trim inputs suggests Boeing wanted to keep the aircraft a long, long way away from that corner of the flight envelope.

        It seems that straying into that corner results in the AoA running away from the pilot as the engine cowls catch the airstream. This positive feedback between AoA and pitch-up from the cowls fits a definition of instability. The fact that this positive feedback doesn't exist at lower AoA simply means it's stable, but only in some parts of the flight envelope.

        So its a mixed message. Though I agree it's not unstable in all parts of its envelope in the way a Typhoon or F117 is.

        AFAIK no other civil airliner behaves like this, and that all by itself should have been a big red flag for Boeing but wasn't seen as such by their senior management.

        2. Two sensors are enough as long as it fails safe (disconnects on disagreement and displays a warning). This is the part they kind of seem to have forgotten.

        Two is enough if it's deemed acceptable to expose the true flight characteristic to pilots in the event of a system failure. If fully trained a pilot ought to be able to manage, but we're likely to end up debating whether the training package (half an hour of iPad time?) counts as "adequate". This is where it gets very murky, and I don't think Boeing are doing themselves any favours. The EASA and CAAC are going to be very interested in this aspect of recertification of the MAX.

        1. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge

          Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going! 2 sensors?

          One thing puzzling me.

          If the two AoA sensors disagree and control is passed back to the pilot, how does s/he know the AoA and the consequent action to take?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 2 big no-no's - if it's Boeing, I am NOT going!

        The region of the envelope in which the instability is most pronounced is encroached upon all too often: low speed, high AoA flight. Can't always climb out at full throttle and a shallow pitch.

  3. DavCrav Silver badge

    "As in most accidents, there are a chain of events that occur. It is not correct to attribute that to any single item."

    I don't believe this for a minute. In most accidents, there is a root cause (blown tyre, kid runs out into the road, O-ring, metal fatigue around windows, etc.) and it might have been saved if other things did something/worked, but the root cause is the problem.

    MCAS is the problem, this guy's lying to save his company and his personal stock options.

    1. graeme leggett

      There will be a immediate cause such as "blown tyre" (proximate cause of the accident) but there will be a reason the tyre blew eg it was worn, then there will be a reason why a worn tyre was used on the aircraft eg not picked up at inspection, then there will be a reason why it wasn't picked up at inspection eg insufficiently trained inspector and vague checklist and then there will be a reason why the inspector wasn't trained correctly and a reason the checklist was vague. And there lie the "root causes".

      And uncovering the root causes might then show a risk to a whole fleet of aircraft. Which is what aviation accident investigators are after.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Apparantly DavCrav hasn't ever had to troubleshoot anything.

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        "There will be a immediate cause such as "blown tyre" (proximate cause of the accident) but there will be a reason the tyre blew eg it was worn, then there will be a reason why a worn tyre was used on the aircraft eg not picked up at inspection, then there will be a reason why it wasn't picked up at inspection eg insufficiently trained inspector and vague checklist and then there will be a reason why the inspector wasn't trained correctly and a reason the checklist was vague. And there lie the "root causes"."

        This guy is saying "MCAS isn't to blame. There are a lot of people doing stuff, it could be any of them." Since it's blatantly MCAS or something concerning MCAS that's to blame, all of the possible points of data in the blame game are inside Boeing. He should shut his trap and start writing cheques.

        1. Cxwf

          Well you’re like half right. The CEO is technically correct that the accidents were caused by a chain of related problems and that the MCAS couldn’t destroy the planes ALONE. But it was clearly PART of that chain of problems, and several other parts of the chain were inside Boeing as well. Not the entire chain (as then you’d have seen every 737-max crash instead of just 2), but ...enough that by the time the planes reached the airlines, the list of things that had to go wrong at the same time to cause a disaster was much shorter than it should be. So you get 2 crashes in 6 months instead of 2 in 20 years.

          The CEO knows all of this but is hoping to distract us with the “it’s complicated” handwave long enough that no one will look too closely at Boeing’s part in the mess.

          1. DavCrav Silver badge

            "Not the entire chain (as then you’d have seen every 737-max crash instead of just 2)"

            I don't see that. You seem to be conflating "all things that have gone wrong were done by Boeing" with "all things that Boeing did went wrong".

          2. Natalie Gritpants Jr

            I'm surprised he hasn't used the line "Technically the crash was caused by the ground being in the wrong place"

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge

              "Technically the crash was caused by the ground being in the wrong place"

              Muilenburg should try throwing himself at it and missing.

              Then, after he's got the hang of it, try again with a plane around him.

        2. nematoad Silver badge
          Mushroom

          "He should shut his trap and start writing cheques.

          If there is any justice in this world (I remain to be convinced) he had better be quick about it as I don't think that he would have access to a chequebook in prison.

      3. MJB7 Silver badge

        You've missed the bit about why the stability of the vehicle was such that a blown tyre caused an accident, and why that got through certification. There doesn't have to be just *one* root cause. But of course your general point is right. Particularly in aviation there is *always* a chain of failures - a lot of engineers have spent a lot of brain-power ensuring that no single event can take a plane down.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          a lot of engineers have spent a lot of brain-power

          ensuring that no single event can take a plane down.

          A self-locking nut, other than castle nut with cotter pin as specified, had been installed at the bolt for connection between pull rod and bellcranck in the elevator control system. The nut screwed off, resulting in bolt loss, which led to the loss of pitch control.

          A single proximate cause, but as usual a number of events that comprise the root cause: installation of an incorrect part, maintenance technician ignorant or not caring about parts difference, the signing-off on that afterwards. Not sure if there had been subsequent inspections where this was missed (or ignored again).

          There have been similar crashes (Boeing 727, IIRC) due to insufficient lubing of this trim assembly. Again, single proximate cause, multiple root causes leading to it

    2. JeffyPoooh
      Pint

      DavCrav offered, "...don't believe this for a minute."

      It's the Swiss Cheese (or broken windows) model, in that the holes need to line-up. It's a widely accepted model of aircraft safety theory.

      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        I first came across that model in the introduction to the Deepwater Horizon accident report (a very interesting document if you're interested in complex systems failure modes) so I suspect it can be generalised to many / most accidents involving complex systems, whether they're aircraft, oil rigs, power stations, chemical plants,...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Swiss cheese?

          "I suspect [swiss cheese] can be generalised to many / most accidents involving complex systems, whether they're aircraft, oil rigs, power stations, chemical plants,.."

          In which case you (and others) might be interested in the works of Charles Haddon Cave.

          Aircraft: RAF Nimrod inquiry, Kegworth air crash, etc.

          Oil rigs: Piper Alpha (long before Deepwater Horizon)

          Roll-on-roll-off ferry: Herald of Free Enterprise (Zeebrugge).

          And so on.

          https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/JCO/Documents/Speeches/ch-c-speech-piper25-190613.pdf

          "it is important to look at the underlying organisational causes of any major accident. It is easy to blame the guy with the screwdriver or the joystick or the clipboard in his hand. But it is vital important to examine the fundamental ‘organisational causes’ of accidents.

          I found 12 uncanny, and worrying, parallels between the organisational causes of the loss of Nimrod XV230 and the loss of the NASA Space Shuttle ‘Columbia’"

          Read the list, and see how many turn out to have applied inside Boeing in recent years. This stuff is well known, well understood, and widely ignored. Why might that be?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Swiss cheese?

            This may be a better starting point for the lessons Haddon-Cave describes:

            https://www.rusi.org.au/resources/Documents/2014_04_09%20Haddon-Cave%20transcript.pdf

            It's a talk to the Australian equivalent of the UK's Royal United Services Institute.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The real problem is that management let or made this happen.

    4. oldcrab

      Ignorance is worse than lying in this case.

      To me it looks like he simply does not understand the problem ..... much more frightening for someone in his position.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Ignorance is worse than lying in this case.

        He is incapable of understanding the problem, not completely unexpected in a bean counter, but extremely frightening for someone in his position, which really requires somebody with at the very least a theoretical understanding of aviation and thus the problem.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There is always a chain, but the objective is to fix as many parts of the chain as possible. Check out American Airlines 191 as a classic example. The "root cause" was maintenance not being carried properly, which caused pylon damage resulting in the engine detaching at takeoff.

      This would have been survivable but numerous other things contributed to it being an accident that killed everyone on board and some people on the ground. If the single engine checklist was different, if the wing slats had a backup that prevented them being forced down when hydraulics failed, if both sticks had been fitted with stall shakers, etc, etc they would have gone around and landed safely. These issues were all addressed after the investigation.

      Eliminate as many parts of this chain and even if the root cause happens again, people still survive.

      Not that I am disagreeing with you that this guy is a total dick and MCAS is an abortion of a hack of a kludge of a system.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Not that I am disagreeing with you that this guy is a total dick and MCAS is an abortion of a hack of a kludge of a system.

        If only MCAS were aborted, those people would still be alive.

  4. Sir Adam-All

    and..... queue all wanna be airline pilots, air frame technicians, aeronautical engineers, watchers of "aircraft investigation" and the like to begin cutting and pasting their views.... and go.

    1. Matt Ryan

      So we should believe what the CEO says instead? No reason for him to lie (other than a propensity for psychopathic behaviour, massive salary and non-vested options).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I suspect some of the people who will comment here, not having axes to grind, will be more competent to do so that the CEO of a company experiencing serious difficulties.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      queue all wanna be airline pilots, air frame technicians, aeronautical engineers...

      There's a queue for the El Reg commentards section now? How reassuringly British...

      1. nichomach
        Trollface

        Hang on...

        ...I was next!

        1. Craig 2

          Re: Hang on...

          I was going to mention he pushed in but instead I studiously avoided eye contact and did nothing.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hang on...

            You must be English.

          2. Omgwtfbbqtime
            Big Brother

            Re: Hang on...

            Did you tut under your breath?

            1. 's water music

              Re: Hang on...

              he simply must come for dinner next time he is in the area

              1. yoganmahew

                Re: Hang on...

                I tutted at "queue" rather than "cue"...

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "There's a queue for the El Reg commentards section now? How reassuringly British..."

        Ackshully...some articles still use the moderator flag for all comments, so yes, sometimes there is a an actual queue :-)

    4. not.known@this.address Silver badge

      Armchair experts ahoy!

      On the other hand, some of us do have experience in those fields so unless you have a magic system to show who does know what they are talking about and who does not AND can display that information to the rest of us, your post was about as helpful as the MCAS on the Max-8.

      Regarding Boeing and safety, you might want to think about how the 737 crew that crashed on the M1 at Kegworth managed to get their wires crossed as to which engine was really on fire...

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Armchair experts ahoy!

        how the 737 crew that crashed on the M1 at Kegworth managed to get their wires crossed

        Err, by not sticking to the proscribed procedures during the accident? From the AAIB report: "The operating crew shut down the No 2 engine after a fan blade had fractured in the No 1 engine. This engine subsequently suffered a major thrust loss due to secondary fan damage after power had been increased during the final approach to land. The following factors contributed to the incorrect response of the flight crew: 1. The combination of heavy engine vibration, noise, shuddering and an associated smell of fire were outside their training and experience; 2. They reacted to the initial engine problem prematurely and in a way that was contrary to their training; 3. They did not assimilate the indications on the engine instrument display before they throttled back the No. 2 engine; 4. As the No 2 engine was throttled back, the noise and shuddering associated with the surging of the No 1 engine ceased, persuading them that they had correctly identified the defective engine; 5. They were not informed of the flames which had emanated from the No.1 engine and which had been observed by many on board, including 3 cabin attendants in the aft cabin."

        There's nothing in that report to support faulty wiring (engine #2 indicated when it's actually engine #1 that's on fire) or otherwise incorrect indications, and while the plane was still climbing, the hectic part of take-off had been over for a couple of minutes so it doesn't appear to have been an error due to workload either.

        Tl;dr: I'm not sure what you're trying to suggest here.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Armchair experts ahoy!

          He may be referring to the fact that the Kegworth aircraft was a new model and Boeing had changed the design of the vibration gauges. This was documented, but unfortunately the crew had been trained on a simulator for the old model.

          I think there was also something similar with the engines - the previous models had used the right engine for a particular function and the -400 had changed this to the left engine.

          Remarkably similar to the -MAX issue when you think about it...

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Armchair experts ahoy!

            I think there was also something similar with the engines - the previous models had used the right engine for a particular function and the -400 had changed this to the left engine.

            One engine was used for compressed air for the cockpit so when the pilots smelled smoke in combination with an engine fire alarm, it was a nearly automatic reaction to shut down that engine. Unfortunately, Boeing switched the engines and old training cut in.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge

              Re: Armchair experts ahoy!

              One engine was used for compressed air for the cockpit so when the pilots smelled smoke in combination with an engine fire alarm,

              Although they smelled and saw smoke (and the passengers and cabin crew did too) there was no fire alarm at first, only shortly before the actual crash. Also, the first officer stated that he monitored the engine instruments and responded to the captain''s question about which engine the fire was in: "It's the le ... it's the right one" (verbatim from the AAIB report).

          2. tellytart

            Re: Backhander

            It was the air feed into the cockpit that used to be fed from one engine, and in the newer model was switched to be fed from the other engine.

            The pilots observed or smelled smoke coming in via the cockpit ventilation system, and shut down the engine they believed to be feeding the cockpit, not realising Boeing had changed the design and the cockpit was now fed from the other engine to the older model.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Backhander

              On the newer 400 the air was changed to be from both engines The crew didn't trust the vibration sensors as they were known to be unreliable and they had no 400 sim time as the version was new and there were no UK based 400 sims.

          3. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Holmes

            Re: Armchair experts ahoy!

            He may be referring to the fact that the Kegworth aircraft was a new model and Boeing had changed the design of the vibration gauges. This was documented, but unfortunately the crew had been trained on a simulator for the old model.

            Reading the accident report it was not just the design of the vibration gauges. The entire engine monitoring panel had been changed to use pseudo-analog LED gauges (a circular band of LEDs acting as the tip of an analog gauge pointer) as well as numerical displays. Although the placement of the gauges wasn't markedly changed between the old and new model, the 'dials' for the secondary engine parameters on the new model were smaller as they had to accommodate five pairs of gauges where the old model had four, in the same vertical space.

            The report goes into the readability aspect as well as the pros and cons of the layout used for the gauges. And reading between the lines I get the impression that Boeing wanted to keep things superficially looking the same so there wouldn't really need to be renewed usability testing, and training. Sounds familiar, somehow.

        2. not.known@this.address Silver badge

          Re: Armchair experts ahoy!

          So they just decided to shut an engine down at random? I would expect 2 reasonably competent aircrew to be able to tell left from right, and with a twin-engine airframe that tends to mean they should be able to tell which one had failed... but maybe not.

          But following the pilots' reporting that they had bad indications from the hardware, Boeing issued a notice requiring immediate inspection of the wiring on board not just the737s but all Boeing airliners - and that *did* find many instances of crossed wires. Which is how the system should work - a problem was identified, the problem was fixed and lessons were learned. At least, some lessons were.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: Armchair experts ahoy!

            But following the pilots' reporting that they had bad indications from the hardware,

            Not from this crash. The AAIB report makes no mention at all of miswired, or even just malfunctioning gauges. The first officer's hesitation in indicating the problem engine appears to have been some unfamiliarity with the new layout. "The first officer later had no recollection of what it was he saw on the engine instruments that led him to make his assessment.". Having shut down engine #2 the pilots noticed the smell and smoke dispersing, and the commander "remembered no continuation of the vibration after the No.2 throttle was closed.".

    5. DavCrav Silver badge

      "and..... queue all wanna be airline pilots, air frame technicians, aeronautical engineers, watchers of "aircraft investigation" and the like to begin cutting and pasting their views.... and go."

      If only we had a website where lots of technology/software minded people gathered. It would need some news stories about technology to get them here, then have some kind of comment section for them to discuss the topics. As it's tech-based website, we maybe could call it something that has a meaning in both the tech world and in the news world. Any suggestions?

    6. heyrick Silver badge

      to begin cutting and pasting their views....

      It's Moomins what did it. I told you them little bastards was trouble.

      Oh, wait, what were we talking about?

    7. Chris G Silver badge

      @ Sir Adam-All

      I have worked as an Airframe engineer, from what I read here there are many commenters who have sufficient engineering knowledge to have a valid opinion and that's not to say other opinions are not valid.

      Much of this boils down to common sense because we are talking about the potential to lose lives.

      Are you qualified well enough to criticise these comments?

      @Boeing C'mon 'fess up you know it will make you feel better to tell the truth.......................might upset your shareholders though.

    8. Snorlax
      Headmaster

      @Sir Adam-All

      "and..... queue all wanna be airline pilots, air frame technicians, aeronautical engineers, watchers of "aircraft investigation" and the like to begin cutting and pasting their views.... and go."

      The word you're looking for is 'cue', not 'queue'.

      A cue is a signal for an event to begin....

      There, you learned something today.

    9. BigSLitleP

      Cue the queue jokes

      Also methinks Sir Adamthinksheknowsit-all forgets that some of the people that read El Reg ARE air frame technicians,aeronautical engineers, pilots etc. Not everyone here is an IT only bod.

      1. usbac

        Re: Cue the queue jokes

        And...some of us are both qualified pilots and IT professionals!

    10. el kabong

      @Sir Adam-All, are you still here?

      Yes?? Then, I guess you missed your cue.

    11. Mystic Megabyte

      @sir adam

      Or you could listen to a 777 pilot explaining the changes that Boeing are making to the MCAS system. Then you could make an educated guess that MCAS was previously unfit for service and that Dennis Muilenberg is full of crap.

      The official documents start at 01:10

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGM0V7zEKEQ

      His follow-up video "The Cost" was uploaded yesterday, he mentions Dennis Muilenberg.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KB4lCbT5oX8

    12. bazza Silver badge

      (Must feed the troll...)

      and..... queue all wanna be airline pilots, air frame technicians, aeronautical engineers, watchers of "aircraft investigation" and the like to begin cutting and pasting their views.... and go.

      You forget to mention system engineers. I don't care wether or not you really know what one of those is. What I do know is that for a long time Boeing have been really bad at doing their systems engineering, or have been ignoring it because it's been telling them bad news.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        What I do know is that for a long time Boeing have been really bad at doing their systems engineering, or have been ignoring it because it's been telling them bad news.

        The real problem is that the bean counters only had ears for the good news.

    13. JLV
      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They had a choice

    Due to market pressure Boeing chose to portray a major flight characteristics change as "nothing to see here, we've got it covered with software, move along". They were wrong, and sadly that cost a lot of lives. If they start blaming the pilots they turn a bad choice into something much worse.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: They had a choice

      If they start blaming the pilots they turn a bad choice into something much worse.

      As well as opening themselves up to an anti-defamation suite of truly epic proportions. I don't know about Africa, but in Indonesia, like the rest of South East Asia, face is definitely a thing. This last attempt to blame the pilots for an accident caused by a defective plane might be enough for serious litigation.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: They had a choice

        The preliminary reports that I read from the Crash Investigators, suggested that the Pilots in both crashes were 'doing things by the book'. Perhaps the 'book' is wrong. That's what Pilots are taught to do, follow the book. Only in exceptional circumstances do they not follow the book and get away with. AFAIK, the plane that landed in the Hudson River is one of those cases. It should not have been possible for it to get that far but it did.

        Back on topic...

        Who wrote the 'book'? Boeing...

        Who certified the book? The FAA at the very least.

        Boeing are at least culpable here.

        If you think that this is a legal minefield just wait for all those self-driving cars that are about to 'hit' the roads in California.

        "Not me Officer. I was in the passenger seat sleeping. The car drove itself into that brick wall."

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: They had a choice

          Only in exceptional circumstances do they not follow the book and get away with. AFAIK, the plane that landed in the Hudson River is one of those cases. It should not have been possible for it to get that far but it did.

          In that case Chesley B. Sullenberger wrote the book. There now is an official procedure for landing on the Hudson.

          More importantly, he rewrote procedure by starting the APU as his first action instead of as the last on the official list. As a result, that single item was moved to the top by Airbus in case of dual engine failure.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: They had a choice

            In that case Chesley B. Sullenberger wrote the book. There now is an official procedure for landing on the Hudson.

            There ought to be a Haynes manual on landing a DC10 after total hydraulic loss.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: They had a choice

          "Who certified the book? The FAA at the very least."

          The original 737 "book" would have been part of the original certification. How much involvement the FAA have in self-certified "grandfathering" changes I don't know. Anyone here know?

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: They had a choice

            The original 737 "book" would have been part of the original certification.

            But the 737 wasn't certified, it was grandfathered in when certification became the norm.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Craig 2

    Safety features should be mandatory and always included in the base model. It's crazy that effectively a bloody warning light is an "optional extra".

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Apparently, Boeing say it's not a safety critical feature, but not surprisingly have stated (from the BBC) once the 737 Max 8 returned to the skies, it would have "an activated and operable disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator".

      So Boeing are saying the "optional" indicator will be fitted/retro-fitted as standard.

  7. Valerion

    MCAS met its "design and certification criteria"

    That doesn't mean MCAS is not at fault.

    It just means the design and the certification criteria were unsuitable.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: MCAS met its "design and certification criteria"

      Yep. And this is hugely embarrassing to the FAA, and it's going to make it difficult for the EASA, CAAC and everyone else to accept the FAA's word. Which makes getting the MAX back in the sky quickly outside of the USA very difficult...

  8. lansalot

    highly relevant...

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/aviation/how-the-boeing-737-max-disaster-looks-to-a-software-developer

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: highly relevant...

      It may be, but sadly it also seems to be behind a paywall.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Meta

        And for Boing, so was their safety feature.

  9. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Question...

    Does anyone know whether MCAS alerts the flight crew when it activates? It certainly sounds like it doesn't, as the fix would presumably be as simple as flipping a couple of breakers (or tapping the glass, these days) to take the system offline. No?

    1. PerlyKing Silver badge

      Re: Question...

      According to what I've read on the Internet - no. The whole point of MCAS was to change the flight characteristics of the 737MAX to match those of the previous model so unobtrusively that it would not require costly recertification and training. Allegedly MCAS was mentioned in some documentation but no simulator training was required.

      Apparently part of the problem in the second crash may have been that by the time the MCAS was disabled it had moved the control surface so far that the pilots did not have time to reposition it manually.

      Heads should roll at Boeing and the FAA, and if it hurts the share price then that's just too bad!

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Question...

        and if it hurts the share price then that's just too bad the correct consequence!

        FTFY.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Question...

          > and if it hurts the share price then that's just too bad the correct consequence!

          On the contrary, shareholders should be (must be, in fact) rewarded for removing the CEO, managers, and engineers responsible for this problem and installing leaders who will prevent the root causes within their control from recurring. Just as they should be punished for allowing them to be there in the first place.

          Let's put this in concrete terms: today Boeing's common share is trading around USD377. I am not at all interested in owning it at that price even absent these circumstances. What price would I be willing to pay? That depends; let's consider three scenarios:

          1. An alternative present in which Boeing had the proper leaders in place and remained true to their engineering values (the pilots fly the aircraft), so this problem never occurred.

          2. The actual status quo; i.e., there is one or more major design problems with an important aircraft, which occurred on the watch of the people who are still in positions of authority, and those people seem to be acting dishonestly in addressing it, seeking to minimise and obfuscate rather than being direct and working the problem. In other words, the company is being run by slimy salesmen rather than strong leaders in engineering and management.

          3. A future in which those people are removed, an honest report issued describing in detail how these problems came to be, not only in an engineering sense but also a management, leadership, and regulatory sense, and new leadership installed who will return the company to its proper values and manage the company in ways that prevent a recurrence of these failures.

          In scenario 1, I might be willing to pay USD200 for a share. In scenario 2, I don't know what price would be fair, because I can't trust the company's management to design and build working aircraft, never mind protect my investment. USD50, maybe? Less? But to the point, in scenario 3, I'm probably not willing to pay USD200, because some real damage has been done that will take time to recover, but I'm certainly willing to pay more than USD50; perhaps USD150 would be a fair price.

          Strong engineering leadership is, as the bankers put it, "highly accretive to shareholder value".

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: Question...

            Hmm... excellent points on who needs to be "removed" but this is "corporate America". Most likely a couple of engineers will be fired as gesture to the "cause". The CEO, board, and manglement will stay intact and comfy.

            The last major company (other than startups) that had a "tech" type of CEO was Chrysler with Iacocca running it. The ones running things at major companies now are all "money" types.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Question...

              > Most likely a couple of engineers will be fired as gesture to the "cause". The CEO, board, and manglement will stay intact and comfy.

              That's certainly possible, and I'm not going to take the other side of that wager. That said, consider the counterexample of Wells Fargo. The company acted dishonestly over a period of years, eventually resulting in a scandal and unfavourable regulatory action. Not only was the CEO canned, so was the next one (who had also been in a leadership role at the time). And no one even died.

          2. bazza Silver badge

            Re: Question...

            Regarding your scenario 3, that's likely to require a US government bailout. It's quite likely that Boeing are going to need a complete overhaul, verging on binning the whole outfit and starting again. That's an enormous long term investment with no returns for a decade-ish (several years to re-build the team and get the processes right, 5 minimum to get a new design together). Not a great market proposition. In this scenario if Uncle Sam wanted the USA to continue in the airliner market and not simply hand the whole sector over to the Europeans, Uncle Sam may have to pay for that.

            I don't think that Airbus would mind particularly. They kinda need a healthy competitor, and they'd still have a decade long monopoly. I wouldn't be surprised if their protestations were more muted than they might be.

            Regarding your scenario 2, I think you're putting it quite nicely. To a large extent I think the market has no clue as to just how bad things could be inside Boeing, or just how vulnerable they are to the decisions to be made by the EASA, CAAC, etc. The points of view of just a few people has the potential to commercially wreck Boeing completely, and right now we know they don't trust the FAA or Boeing one little bit. Worse, they're not American, and can't be sacked by the Federal government or Boeing. The potential for Boeing to fail with little warning is, I think, frighteningly high. Afterall, the EASA and CAAC could insist on a full recertification of the whole aircraft under their rules, not the FAA's. That'd be the end of the 737MAX and Boeing's cash cow.

            Regarding your scenario 1, perhaps Airbus are that company. Any company that can build something like the A380 and, seemingly, not mind too much that it's not been a commercial success is probably quite keen on doing big engineering properly.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Question...

          "It's a safety feature that failed leading to a crash, and that is the issue."

          That's not really true though is it.

          It's a set of failed attempts to hide a physical and behavioural change caused by the new geometry of the 737 MAX.

          737 MAX has become a "defective by design" aircraft, which has almost-silenttly turned an optional risk management feature into a safety critical necessity, which had been hidden from people who matter.

          Sympathy and condolences to all those affected.

          "There seem to be a lot of reg commentards on here who believe that MCAS is constantly adjusting the trim like some unstable fly-by-wire fighter aircraft"

          Regardless, the 737 MAX would have been unsaleable without something like MCAS as originally specified to the regulatory authorities, because the aircraft's behaviour in a small but particularly important part of every flight would have been unacceptably risky.

          The 737 MAX came to market with a significantly different MCAS and a demonstrably untrustworthy regulatory approval process (especially in the US). 737 MAX has already been shown to be defective by design.

          Those are some of the issues; there are others in the industry, not all relate specifically to 737MAX or even to Boeing.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Electronics'R'Us
    FAIL

    FAA Part 25 drove MCAS

    Boeing stated that MCAS was added to “to compensate for some unique aircraft handling characteristics during it’s (sic) Part 25 certification”.

    The issue at hand is that the angle of attack can increase beyond that commanded from the controls due to the fact that in engines can contribute significant lift (and nose up as they are mounted so far forward) which is a violation of part 25 so the system would be required to be active to actually certify the aircraft.

    In it's original incarnation, it effectively had unlimited trim authority, but apparently at full trim (which is the entire horizontal stabiliser minus the elevators) the elevators have insufficient authority to produce nose up trim:

    From a previous El Reg article:

    The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.

    That, and the fact that Boeing had declared the trim system as a secondary system (inappropriately in my view as it can override the elevators at full trim extents to say nothing of any system that can operate control surfaces is hardly secondary) and then proceeded to rush the aircraft to market resulted in certification that should probably have never been given.

    Then they say:

    "The disagree alert was intended to be a standard, standalone feature on Max airplanes. However, the disagree alert was not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended," Boeing said in a statement.

    If it was not activated as intended, did they knowingly sell an aircraft that was in violation of it's type certificate? Inquiring minds really want to know.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: FAA Part 25 drove MCAS

      The disagree alert was intended to be a standard, standalone feature on Max airplanes. However, the disagree alert was not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended," Boeing said in a statement.

      If it was not activated as intended, did they knowingly sell an aircraft that was in violation of it's type certificate? Inquiring minds really want to know.

      If we go back a bit, earlier on Boeing was saying that these features for checks and balances and even the second indicating system were "options". Since when is safety of flight considered an "option"?

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: FAA Part 25 drove MCAS

        Since when is safety of flight considered an "option"?

        Since bean counters are in charge of safety (as well as all the rest).

  11. steelpillow Silver badge
    Trollface

    Trolls, squirrels, whoever

    Two sensors are enough as long as failure of one is not safety-critical. For example, as long as you have a DISAGREE warning flash up and the pilots are trained to take over and manage the situation. Oh, wait...

    MCAS did not fail (how dare anybody suggest such a thing - the MCAS team probably have their own lawyer). It was just hooked into a failed system implementation by [insert distracting squirrel here, do not re-read the previous paragraph], one which it was not designed to fix. So let's all blame the distracting squirrel...

  12. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Someone has to do jail time

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The reason civil aviation has such a good safety record is that it doesn't have a blame culture, and instead concentrates on fixing the problem so it doesn't happen again.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        That's so only at the personal level in operations, within the aviation community. You're not immune from prosecution anywhere.

        For example, evidence given to or collected by the UK's AAIB cannot be used in a court case. But that doesn't stop the prosecutors collecting the same evidence themselves. The AAIB simply gets first dibs.

      2. Brit Flyer

        @anonymous coward

        Totally agree and this has made people generally confident about flying. This is the really worrying factor that the way this is being handled undermines that ethos.

        I have never boycotted sn aircraft in over 40 years , Antanovs and all I will never get on a 737 "Death" MAX.

  13. Tigger_MK

    Blame Game

    I spent 22 years in the aircraft industry certifying and delivering new commercial aircraft to airlines.

    Whenever an incident like the 737 Max crashes occurred everyone waited to see how long an airline, maintainer or manufacturer would take to put someone in front of a microphone to say "We have complied with all the relevant airworthiness directives". Unfortunately in complex incidents like these, there are always new directives written, that then need to be complied with.

    Who is to blame and who, inevitably, gets sued will depend on the final investigation report.

    Personally, I don't see Boeing getting through this unscathed!

    1. rgmiller1974

      Re: Blame Game

      "I spent 22 years in the aircraft industry certifying and delivering new commercial aircraft to airlines."

      There's something I haven't been able to find out, and it sounds like you might be qualified to comment on: How much did MCAS save in terms of certification and pilot retraining effort?

      Or, to put it another way: What if Boeing had NOT developed MCAS and simply said, "Here's the 737 Max. It has a slightly more pronouced pitch-up-with-engine-thrust behavior than previous models and pilots need to be aware of it." Would the FAA have accepted that and just required some more time in the simulator for pilots? And would that extra training requirement have disuaded airlines from buying the MAX?

      (As it is now, it appears pilots are going to have to get training in how to handle the aircraft when MCAS fails, and I'm beginning to suspect that will actually be more training than if MCAS just didn't exist.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Time not cost?

        I think the sunk cost was in time to train/market, not necessarily in cost of development etc. It's "competitive" so you have to beat the other person, even if they got a head start.

        Boeing lost the head start, and cut corners to make up time, instead of playing the long game (Say like AMD vs Intel or Samsung/Nokia vs Apple).

        Here though, it's not shareholders and factory jobs just at risk if the latest phone or processor fails to sell... it's lives.

  14. Mystic Megabyte
    Joke

    Next week...

    Boeing, BOGOF!

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Next week...

      I was expecting the CEO to highlight the positive - 737Max claims lowest fuel consumption of any airliner for the second month running.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Next week...

        How is fuel wasted by not reaching the destination counted?

        1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

          Re: Next week...

          On the fingers of no hands.

          (It doesn't take long).

  15. Louis Schreurs BEng Bronze badge
    Megaphone

    If MCAS action would only be sounding a LOUD alarm, it would be safer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not necessarily.

      In crude terms, sound is more directly wired to the brain than vision (various reasons one of which was the nocturnal phase through which mammalian evolution went). The result is that response to a sound stimulus may be more "instinctive" than a light stimulus.

      This is fine for telephone rings and alarms but not so good when a specific sequence of events has to be triggered.

      The way to make MCAS safer seems, from what is being published here and elsewhere, to be to eliminate the need for it.

      1. Dr. Ellen

        I have never flown an airplane. However, I have operated a large bit of tech with a lot of control functions and alarms. Operators NEED a switch or button to shut up the alarms, because otherwise they can't even think, let alone solve the problems. It's not so bad when one alarm goes, but when there's a cascade of problems and a cascade of horns, buzzers, honkers, and god knows what ...

  16. JLV
    FAIL

    More of a Perrier guy than a Tylenol moment. In the first, Perrier blamed everyone for a supposedly fake contamination that turned out to be real. In the second the CEO unilaterally overrode his PR and accountants and pulled all the products to keep the customers safe.

    Boeing’s 737 fate is in the hands of regulators at this point and it makes no sense to try to push the narrative either way until the findings are fully in. Amidst all the outrage at the alleged (but likely) flaw there is the fact that flying with either Airbus or Boeing is very safe. Because, as we well know, each accident is obsessively analyzed and whatever needs fixing is fixed. Engineering faults are always obvious, in hindsight. But they get fixed because that’s the ethos of the industry.

    Mr. Moron here is doing his best to undermine that narrative and bring in a Ford Pinto moment. What he needs to do is just communicate that our safety is first and his $ second. Even if he thinks the opposite.

    His only saving grace is that the duopoly have little actual competition to worry about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Because, as we well know, each accident is obsessively analyzed and whatever needs fixing is fixed."

      > Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea in Indonesia on October 29

      > Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed the morning of March 10

      How obsessive was the analysis, did whatever needing fixing get fixed?

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        If the first crash had been in USA or Europe, the second one would never have happened. False prejudiced assumptions of where the causes lay caused the second crash. A disgrace.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          With regard to the first crash:

          A Boeing technician and engineering team, and a team from the US National Transportation Safety Board arrived on 31 October to help with the investigation being conducted by the NTSC. Personnel from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and engine manufacturer GE Aviation were also sent to Indonesia. A team from Singapore, that had already arrived on the night of 29 October, was to provide assistance in recovering the aircraft's flight recorders. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau sent two of its personnel to assist with the downloading process of the FDR.

          Why does the place where it crashed make any difference?

  17. jonathan keith Silver badge

    The more I read about the 737-MAX...

    ... the more clearly apparent it becomes of quite how large a clusterfuck it actually is.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: The more I read about the 737-MAX...

      Rather like the proverbial horse, designed by a committee

  18. cornetman Silver badge

    I can fully see these aircraft being pulled from service permanently. That would be a massive blow for Boeing but perhaps the industry needs something like this to remind them about cutting corners and putting paying customers at risk.

    Whether they are modified to be within safe parameters might well be moot.

    I for one will not fly on one and I'm sure that many others will be of the same view.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Flying on 737MAX

      I for one will not fly on one and I'm sure that many others will be of the same view.

      I will most definitely fly on one ... after ten consecutive years of no incidents with them whatsoever, not even incidents that are 100% attributable to something else like a tow truck crashing into a parked plane.

      1. Brit Flyer

        Re: Flying on 737MAX

        The CEO say he and other Boeing executives will be flying on the first flights.

        Now would that be the ones in the US where many first officers have at least 1500 flying hours , lots of experience of 737 into "safe" airports.

        I suspect no one will be on an airlines with limited 737 experience , relatively inexperienced pilots, hot and high conditions and challenging airports.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Flying on 737MAX

          The CEO say he and other Boeing executives will be flying on the first flights.

          I suspect no one will be on an airlines with limited 737 experience , relatively inexperienced pilots, hot and high conditions and challenging airports.

          Hot and high just might be conditions necessary to regain a certain minimum amount of trust and those are available in the USA. And as I understand it, challenging airports are also available in the USA.

      2. cornetman Silver badge

        Re: Flying on 737MAX

        > I will most definitely fly on one

        I guess that's not my point really. This is a public relations disaster for Boeing.

        When you have an industry which is obsessive to the point of insanity about safety (rightly so) to the point that accidents are extremely rare, an incident like this means that standards are slipping.

        Everyone know that MCAS is a sticking plaster designed to save money in certification, with an execution that leaves a lot to be desired. It's just not acceptable.

        They made a bet and lost, with a load of people paying with their lives.

        Whether or not the plane can be made safe is beside the point. Trust in the aircraft has taken a beating. Their CEO is trying to shift blame to other parties and obviously so. He's just making things worse.

        Admit that mistakes were made, take the flack and move on.

        Airbus must be wetting themselves with glee.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Flying on 737MAX

          Airbus must be wetting themselves with glee.

          Not with glee, with fear as they already see (American) anti-monopoly legislation coming on if Boeing goes down.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: Flying on 737MAX

            Anti-monopoly laws aren't going to fly when for the next ten years or so the only big craft US airlines are able to buy are made by a single manufacturer.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: Flying on 737MAX

              When has common sense ever stopped any government, leave alone the American?

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                Re: Flying on 737MAX

                Common sense isn't, especially with the current bunch.

                But the combined clout of the airlines affected by such a measure would, and could, make the government see the error of their ways.

                1. werdsmith Silver badge

                  Re: Flying on 737MAX

                  I understand that the 787 is a superb aircraft and is doing well in the market ahead of the Airbus A350 variant. That along with the existing world wide fleet means Boeing are not going anywhere.

                  Given Airbus somewhat backed the wrong horse with A380, I can see Boeing continuing to be strong in long haul, whilst conceding the smaller short haul workhorse to Airbus, at least in the short term. With an increased role for Bombardier.

  19. Brit Flyer

    Pilots to blame not Boeing

    So according to Boeing:

    1. This is a great airliner - despite the fact it is yet another re-hash of a 1960s design, which has been pushed too far by putting massive new engines on it.

    2. It is "so" identical to the previous versions that you just need a couple of hours on an ipad to fly it. This is despite the fact that the engines change the flying characteristics of the plane.

    2. The fact that the MCAS system was linked to ONE sensor which breaks the golden rule about air safety.

    3. The MCAS system which Boeing did not tell any of the pilots about initially was so powerful that it could over wealm crews and force planes to crash.

    4. Even when Boeing decided to admit this system existed and gave some instructions on how to deal with it , they crashed.

    5. The pilots were obviously to blame and Boeing are the poor innocent people trying to sort out this tragic mess created by others.

    6. The fact that ex Boeing employees claim they were told to produce designs much faster to very tight budgets . I am sure that was their fault to.

    I have had a lot of respect for Boeing and flown on most of their products over 40 year. The way this aircraft was designed highlights the worst in Corporate greed. The actions of Boeing after the crashes seem to focus on blaming anyone else apart from Boeing and getting the $$$$ rolling in asap.

    Hopefully the global certification will not be railroaded by the FAA/Boeing alliance by allowing it back into the sky without proper pilot simulator training.

    A minimum of 1500 hours to be a First Officer would be a good safety measure.

    Boeing will fight the first like mad. Safety or Profit?

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Pilots to blame not Boeing

      Hopefully the global certification will not be railroaded by the FAA/Boeing alliance by allowing it back into the sky without proper pilot simulator training.

      I think it's very unlikely that the various certification authorities outside the US will allow that to happen.

  20. Fred Goldstein

    The real problem boils down to three letters: MBA. Muilenberg and his cronies come from the school of generic financial managers. Boeing used to be run by aircraft experts, and their accountants told them how they were doing and how much they had to charge. The newer MBA culture is all about shaving pennies at the excuse of anything. Thus they tried to modify a 737 rather than design an inherently-stable plane with the bigger engines, like an A321. They tried to avoid retraining pilots. They tried to limit recertification. They charged extra for safety features like the AOA disagreement warning ($80,000). The result is bad planes, like the MAX, which is, as Ralph Nader once says, "unsafe at any speed".

    All of the executives involved with creating approving that fustercluck should be fired and imprisoned for negligent manslaughter. The company should be put under receivership, the MAX retired, and they should go back to the new-plane program they abandoned when the bean counting MBAs decided that they could get the MAX to market faster.

    1. Robert Sneddon

      SWA > Boeing > FAA

      The pecking order in aviation is the big buyers, the airframe builders and finally the certification authorities.

      Thus they tried to modify a 737 rather than design an inherently-stable plane with the bigger engines, like an A321.

      The big buyers don't want a new plane, they want the same plane but better. South West Airlines (SWA) owns 750 737s of various vintages, they don't fly anything else. All their pilots and first officers can fly anything they've got since they're qualified on the 737 as a family which makes rostering for flights easy and cheap. Maintenance, parts, engineering support, ramp equipment, it all works with the 737 of any vintage (737Classic, NG, MAX). Changing over to, say, the Airbus 321neo would cost them tens of billions because they'd have to operate as a less efficient two-aircraft fleet before they could replace all of their 737s over a long period, decades possibly.

      As for certification the FAA delegated a lot of that on the MAX version back to Boeing for some reason, and Boeing quite happily rubber-stamped their own work with a gold star, not surprisingly. That could really be where the bodies are buried, if a proper investigation can be carried out.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: SWA > Boeing > FAA

        The buyers will have to learn to respect some limits and the FAA should be more powerful, but the real problem is in the C and D level bean counters at Boeing. Had the C and D levels consisted (mainly) of aviation engineers (as it once used to be), the buyers would have been told that they had a choice between more of the same or a better plane requiring an upgraded skill set of the pilots. And the FAA could have rubber stamped it, the only thing the FAA is capable of since it was gutted by subsequent administrations, starting about the time Ronald Reagan began his second term.

      2. nematoad Silver badge

        Re: SWA > Boeing > FAA

        "South West Airlines (SWA) owns 750 737s of various vintages, they don't fly anything else. "

        Thanks for the warning. You know I absolutely hate single aisle aircraft. Having a few medical problems means that I need to use the loo when I fly and struggling to push past all the passengers, luggage and other obstacles make moving about a real misery. I have only been lucky enough to fly in a wide-bodied aircraft once and the difference it made was amazing. No pushing past people.more elbow room and a chance to get away from the bloody windows (I have acrophobia) was pure luxury.

        Now I know economics means that airlines want to pack in as many people as possible but surely a shorter wide body would be as efficient as a long, stretched version of something designed and first flown in the 1960s

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: SWA > Boeing > FAA

          A stubby widebody would be less aerodynamically efficient than a longer narrowbody, for a similar drag coefficient. Drag is proportional to frontal area. You must also take other factors into consideration, such as the effectiveness of control surfaces: e.g. Boeing 747SP is considerably shorter than other 747 models, and needs a taller vertical stabilizer to compensate for the shorter yaw moment-arm. That all being said, the difference in drag wouldn't likely be huge issue, especially if you could sell costlier tickets for the luxury.

    2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      "They charged extra for safety features like the AOA disagreement warning ($80,000)"

      That's quite expensive for an essential indicator "lamp"...

      Makes you wonder why? Was the safety of the crew and passengers the justification for the high price? Some kind of extortion?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It just gets worse for Boeing and their responses just keep getting even more wormish. A pity this isn't a traditional Japanese company and the Chief Exec do the honourable thing by jumping off the roof of the headquarters.

    1. Diogenes

      There was an incident many years ago where a Japanese CEO ignored the advice of lawyers and publicly apologised* for a stuff up that cost lives. Victms lawyers rubbed their hands with glee, and went back and increased the damages claim by ten and successfully got that higher amount. Effect , no CEO will ever apologise until ALL legal proceedings are over.

      *how many times have you heard victims in court after an accident say .. its not about the money, all we want is an apology ?

      1. tfewster Silver badge
        Facepalm

        > Effect , no CEO will ever apologise until ALL legal proceedings are over.

        Apologising as soon as the facts are known is the Right Thing To Do. And he may have been smarter than his lawyers - he'd have saved on defence costs so more money that can go to he victims. Plus the positive PR from admitting and fixing a mistake could outweigh the additional compensation costs.

  22. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Idiot Boeing management trying to explain away hundreds of dead due to moronically inept system designs. Way to effing go.

    So now we have two of the only two major airline manufacturers who can't design a safe aircraft. It seems Airbus is ahead on the deadly learning curve on this one -meaning I'd rather fly with Airbus at the moment.

  23. Sir Adam-All

    Sigh....

  24. JaitcH
    Meh

    I Will Only Fly Airbus (And Dakota 3)

    Several Boeing m\aircraft models are considered dubious apart from the MAX. 737NG (bad construction); 787 (pants on fire)

    The old Dakota 3 (some still flying) is a wonderfully reliable, forgiving aircraft.

    QC might improve if they used inspectors who weren't employed by Boeing.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: I Will Only Fly Airbus (And Dakota 3)

      QC might improve if they used inspectors who weren't employed by Boeing.

      QC might even improve if they used inspectors who were employed by Boeing. The only thing necessary is a (stated and applied) policy of rewarding legitimately reported problems.

  25. ricardian

    At least the sensors were mounted the right way up unlike those of the Russian Proton-M (which were hammered into place when they did not fit despite the arrow indicating "This way up"!)

  26. martinusher Silver badge

    The problem may be a bit more tricky than just software and sensors....

    Apparently its been a feature of 737 aircraft from the earliest versions that they can get into a rather nasty condition where a combination of speed and incorrect trim can make it difficult for the pilots to reset the trim. The trim works by the tailplane being mounted on a pivot so its angle of attack can be altered by a jackscrew which is operated by either a motor or cables connected to a trim wheel in the cockpit. Its a nice arrangement except that it seems that the center of pressure -- the place where the force from the air appears to act on the tailplane -- is not at or near the pivot point so it needs quite a lot of force to move the tail and so trim the plane, especially if the plane is trimmed down and the pilots are struggling to keep it level by pulling up elevator. The solution to this problem in the earlier manuals was to pull the plane up into what's effectively a stall which relaxes the pressure on the tail for a few moments, allowing the pilots to wind the trim back. Apparently this got lost in the wash through various versions of the plane and now you've got an automatic system that decides that if you try to pull up much it will push the nose of the plane down for you.

    Many of us will have seen this type of system SNAFU in our careers where incremental improvements over the life of a product gradually lose sight of the big picture. Everything just hums along until the day when a seemingly trivial modification causes the entire system to crater. Fortunately for most of us this is just a metaphor; for a company like Boeing its unfortunately it's all too literal. I hope they can come up with a fix that allows pilots to trim the plane at any speed without needing Hurculean strength or resorting to aerobatics. I'd guess the ideal solution would be to redesign the tail but that's probably not going to happen; I'd be a lot happier if they did, though, because that jackscrew is not only stressed but represents a single point of failure (and we had a DC-9 have one fail near us some years back -- it ended up diving into the sea with a total loss of life).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "a bit more tricky than just software and sensors...."

      "a bit more tricky than just software and sensors."

      Putting it very politely :) (and politely ignoring the failures of the Boeing board and the associated US approval process, but that's another story for another day).

      "a feature of 737 aircraft from the earliest versions ... The trim works by the tailplane being mounted on a pivot so its angle of attack can be altered by a jackscrew which is operated by either a motor or cables connected to a trim wheel in the cockpit. "

      Some people like diagrams at times like this. The following article contains definitive info and diagrams:

      https://theaircurrent.com/aviation-safety/vestigal-design-issue-clouds-737-max-crash-investigations/ (published 4 April 2019, underlying info goes back decades)

      There's even a video of the jackscrew and the pivot and all that stuff, on a 737NG (pre-Max), but the basic principles of the mechanics are largely unchanged in the 737 MAX, they just need to be "augmented" (and also the augmentation system needs to be treated as safety critical in specific parts of the flight envelope):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxPa9A-k2xY

      If folks are unfamiliar with this kind of thing, the video alone is well worth a look. It's a bit trickier than (e.g.) a servomotor moving a print head on a 3D printer.

  27. -v(o.o)v-

    The article contains some factual errors.

    1- The nose-up condition is not due to pitch/power but due to the engine nacelles creating lift at high AoA.

    2- MCAS is not a stall-prevention system but simply, as the name states, modifies the maneuvering characteristics i.e. control forces on the yoke, in effect causing the yoke to need increased power to be pulled aft as the AoA increases. This is simply an FAA certification requirement and the airframe could not be certified without a system such as stick pusher, MCAS, etc. The additional lift of the nacelles would otherwise cause lessening of required control forces as the aircraft approaches high AoA/stall. Possibly aerodynamics could be altered also such as slots on the nacelles, vortex generators, canards, devices at the tail of the plane such as seen on some BJs etc. but these would come at increased drag i e. reduced efficiency.

  28. toffer99

    Modern 737's are a continuation of a design that dates back to the 1960's. Since then, Boeing have been changing fuselages, engines and bolting on winglets and other systems in an effort to keep them up to date, saleable and flyable by existing 737 pilots. I think they hit the buffers when they rolled out these models in an effort to avoid the expense of designing a new aircraft. Their competitors went for new designs instead. This may mean the end of Boeing. It'll almost certainly mean the end of the 737; after all would YOU climb aboard one now?

    1. Andromeda451

      depends

      I'd fly a 737 only on an American Flag carrier. Even then it would be a white knuckle ride.

  29. Andromeda451

    FIASCO

    I'm gonna take a hard line here and recommend that FAA and Boeing manager be sentenced to 30 days worth of flights on the 737 MAX with no software updates. The plane would have to be modified so the pilots can eject safely of course.

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