back to article US govt watchdog barks at FAA over 737 Max inspectors' lack of qualifications

A whistleblower has claimed America's Federal Aviation Administration misled investigators checking whether FAA personnel were fully qualified to sign off Boeing 737 Max training standards. A letter published by the US Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) claims that the FAA had contradicted itself in statements it made about …

  1. TheVogon

    Pffft @ $5.6 billion. Peanuts compared to the US subsidies Boeing has required to remain "competitive":

    https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.org/parent/boeing

  2. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

    While the last para is correct in that Boeing has not announced any orders for the B737-Max, it's slightly misleading in that it has announced agreements to buy: https://boeing.mediaroom.com/2019-06-18-International-Airlines-Group-Announces-Intent-to-Buy-200-Boeing-737-MAX-Airplanes

  3. Jim Mitchell

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/magazine/boeing-737-max-crashes.html?searchResultPosition=1

    An interesting take on the whole thing, with information that I did not previously know.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Wish I could give you more upvotes just for the link alone.

      Just wow... what a flustercluck.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Said clusterfuck grows by the day.

        One might start suspecting corruption/favouratism at the FAA, but it's probably just incompetence compounded by complacency and Dunning Kruger effects.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hmm!!! Boeing supporter in disguise ..... perhaps !!!

      A nice way to resurrect the original attempt to 'Blame' the pilots for not having the correct 'Experience or Training' !!! (Hmm!!!)

      Not impressed ........ if you did not 'hide' MCAS there would be no need for 'Experience & Training' to handle its sudden appearence & the affinity to 'Flying into the ground' !!!

      Supposedly creditable because the author has track record in Aviation Journalism, but not sure this is enough to ignore the 'real' problem which is to do with the 'too close' relationship between Boeing & FAA and the 'Hiding of MCAS' issue.

      This inspector problem just adds to the whole mess and yet again exposes the FAA's lax 'attention to detail' / 'subjugation' to Boeing business demands.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      Sure, very skilled pilots could get out of deadly situations, but a plane shouldn't enter a deadly situation routinely and cunningly because of bad designs and cost savings attempts. Especially when you sell your planes telling customers they don't need much that expensive training.

      Also, why Boeing doesn't act to stop those sales of bad spare parts from Florida?

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Windows

      An interesting take on the whole thing ...

      Interesting is not the half of it. It seems to be a very professionally prepared combination of the three time-honoured ingredients: a) slight the dead pilots, who are in no position to tell their side of the story; b) imply it can't happen here because we are so much better than the "third world"; c) pretend that grizzled Boeing engineers are if not always wise then above yielding to the pressure from the marketing and sales.

      Not exactly the sort of journalism I was expecting from NYT, but a very professional and likely expensive piece of work indeed.

    6. Milton

      Yes: click the link

      As linked by Jim Mitchell, this article is absolutely excellent—a well balanced and forensic examination that anyone interested in this should read. It's pretty fair, I think, in questioning Boeing's mistakes with MCAS, but also pointing out that every pilot should have been trained in the correct response to a runaway trim failure using the cut-out switches. It's a good antidote to some of the more savage criticism and blaming of Boeing—though by no means a total exculpation of its behaviour.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/magazine/boeing-737-max-crashes.html?searchResultPosition=1

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "a well balanced and forensic examination"

        It's full of hypothesis and "those pesky foreigners aren't credible" - including France BEA - jabs.

        Also, look at the corrections at the end of the article.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Yes: click the link

        By the way, today on NYT also:

        Boeing executives said that the accidents could have been avoided if pilots had simply run a standard emergency procedure. But officials with the safety board suggested that Boeing was too confident the average pilot could easily recover the plane in that situation, because the company had not considered the chaos that ensued inside the cockpit.

        Look at how Boeing position was exactly that in the previous article.

        “They completely discounted the human factor component, the startle effect, the tsunami of alerts in a system that we had no knowledge of that was powerful, relentless and terrifying in the end,” Dennis Tajer, the spokesman for the American Airlines pilots union, said of Boeing.

        https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/business/boeing-737-max-ntsb-mcas.html

      3. Olivier2553 Silver badge

        Re: Yes: click the link

        Why should they have trained? The whole purpose of MCAS is that it needs no training.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yes: click the link

          "Why should they have trained? The whole purpose of MCAS is that it needs no training."

          The "no training necessary" was a Boeing claim that turned out to be a lie.

          The NYT article is interesting, not just for its content but for its context (first NYT article from this author? OK everybody's got to start somewhere, but...)

          I don't rate it as a balanced article, based on what it inc;ludes (far too much 'blame the pilots') and what is excluded (nothing like enough 'blame the regulatory setup, especially self certification')

          But that's only my opinion.

    7. Olivier2553 Silver badge

      Instead of a journalist article, it may be worth reading something written by profesionnals: the NRSB report on the said crashes: https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/ASR1901.pdf

      And listen to what is being said by NTSB: “We saw in these two accidents that the crews did not react in the ways Boeing and the FAA assumed they would,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Those assumptions were used in the design of the airplane and we have found a gap between the assumptions used to certify the MAX and the real-world experiences of these crews, where pilots were faced with multiple alarms and alerts at the same time. It is important to note that our safety recommendation report addresses that issue and does not analyze the actions of the pilots involved in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents. That analysis is part of the ongoing accident investigations by the respective authorities.”

      (quoted from avherald.com)

    8. PeterGriffin

      Another reliable source of commentary is Juan Browne on his Blancolirio channel on YouTube. Excellent commentary, insight and careful explanation that I can understand. He has lots of 737 Max content.

    9. martinusher Silver badge

      Runaway Trim

      I read an analysis of the crash some months ago by an active pilot who mentioned that 'runaway trim' is actually an endemic problem with all 737s since the earliest types. There used to be a recovery procedure in the manual but the manual entry gradually disappeared as new versions came out. Th procedure was a bit heroic -- because the condition leads to excess pressure on the horizontal stabilizer (the 'tail') it makes it almost impossible for the flight crew to move the trim wheels manually; what they were supposed to do was bring the plane up to a stall at which point they could furiously wind the trim back. (Must have been fun for the passengers.....) What seems to have gone wrong for Boeing is instead of noting this nuisance and actively working to fix it in later models they've actually made the problem worse and a real fix is not going to be a simple matter of tweaking some firmware.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Read the New York Times? OK, now try the Seattle Times.

      https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/the-inside-story-of-mcas-how-boeings-737-max-system-gained-power-and-lost-safeguards/ (22 Jun 2019)

      [...]

      Engineers observed a tendency for the plane’s nose to pitch upward during a specific extreme maneuver. After other efforts to fix the problem failed, the solution they arrived at was a piece of software — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — that would move a powerful control surface at the tail to push the airplane’s nose down.

      [...]

      a safety-analysis led by Boeing concluded there would be little risk in the event of an MCAS failure — in part because of an FAA-approved assumption that pilots would respond to an unexpected activation in a mere three seconds.

      The revised design allowed MCAS to trigger on the inputs of a single sensor, instead of two factors considered in the original plan. Boeing engineers considered that lack of redundancy acceptable, according to proprietary information reviewed by The Seattle Times, because they calculated the probability of a “hazardous” MCAS malfunction to be virtually inconceivable.

      As Boeing and the FAA advanced the 737 MAX toward production, they limited the scrutiny and testing of the MCAS design. Then they agreed not to inform pilots about MCAS in manuals, even though Boeing’s safety analysis expected pilots to be the primary backstop in the event the system went haywire.

      [...]

  4. Len Silver badge
    Holmes

    Battle of the regulators?

    It's interesting that the EASA has stopped accepting FAA safety assurances and insists on doing its own certifications to decide if and when the 737 Max can return to European skies.

    In an intriguing way we are seeing that competent regulators are becoming a competitive advantage for certain regions, benefiting businesses that work in their jurisdiction. Now the reputation of the FAA is shot for a while (and will take years to recover) we may witness that under-resourced regulators (Asia? South America?) will be more likely to follow the EASA lead than the FAA lead.

    1. Richard Jones 1

      Re: Battle of the regulators?

      While one could hope that the under-resourced might tend to follow the best, experience has taught me that this is not always the way that things go. Sadly, they will usually follow where precedent or external direction points them.

      1. Len Silver badge

        Re: Battle of the regulators?

        It depends. If we leave morality completely out of it, some times it's easier to cut corners, some times it's easier to just copy someone else's homework.

        There will be cases where, let's say the Cambodian air safety regulator, benefits from less strict rules. There will also be cases, for instance saving a lot of money on having to do your own airworthiness tests or crafting your own safety notices, where it's easier just to follow one of the major regulators.

        As the FAA in the case of withdrawing certification for the 737 Max was literally a 'very late follower' instead of a 'leader' I can see their global influence waning for a bit.

    2. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

      Re: Battle of the regulators?

      Funny you should say that ... U.S. transport chief warns against mixed messages on Boeing's 737 MAX states: U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao warned regulators on Wednesday against sending conflicting messages as they work to ensure Boeing Co’s 737 MAX is safe to resume operations.

      That to me sounds like FAA is telling every regulators "you WILL approve".

      Sometimes, I really wonder how far corruption in the US has reached.

      1. Len Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Battle of the regulators?

        To be honest, I'm not too worried. These sort of statements only make the case for independent tests stronger. Besides, I doubt anyone at EASA will care that much about what some American says, they have their own responsibilities.

        Regulators are built on trust and trust is hard to gain but easy to lose. They will be very careful not to be tainted by the loss of trust in the FAA.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: Battle of the regulators?

          I think the safest option, as always, is to have a regulator from another country/region doing the main work. That way they have less political pressure and less "capture" effect.

          Sure it might go the other way, but at least spurious objections have to be properly dealt with and if found to be bollocks, then someone is taken down a few strips. The reverse is you get the current arrangement of the FAA rubber-stamping Boeing’s statements, something which will cost Boeing, the FAA, and ultimately the USA far more in the long run.

          Edited to add: Yes I might be a European and so might be assumed to support Airbus, but the loss of competition from a failing Boeing would cost us dearly as well.

    3. Olivier2553 Silver badge

      Re: Battle of the regulators?

      Reputation of FAA was not very good even before that.

  5. Mark 85 Silver badge

    If the MCAS operation was upfront and center as many have suggested, it's quite possible that even the trainers overlooked it and/or weren't aware of it nor how it worked. Just sounds like someone's covering their ass for not doing their job at both Boeing and the FAA. This seems more like a "hidden" feature with a built in surprise function.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What does unqualified mean ?

    I make medical devices.

    My training on our in-house Quality System Procedures has lapsed

    I have to sit through a 3minute website presentation which has changed from the last one only in that a slide references a new edition of ISO 13485

    I am currently "unqualified" - it doesn't mean my PhD is now invalid

    Did they hire non-engineers or have the inspectors just not watched the powerpoint updating ISO9001:2018 ?

    1. Paddy

      Re: What does unqualified mean ?

      If your medical devices kill 400 people and investigators find your training had lapsed...

      Best to follow the procedure, or get it changed if you think it is more harmful than good. You shouldn't just ignore it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What does unqualified mean ?

        Yes I'm just saying "unqualified FAA inspectors approved 737" makes a good headline but needs digging into further.

        Aircraft have a "minimum equipment list" of essential stuff that must be working, anything not on the list can be faulty and the plane still flies. Almost all aircraft have failures of some non-essential system.

        So a perfectly true headline would be "Boeing knowingly allows millions of 737 flights with faulty equipment"

  7. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    The stew is starting to thicken nicely.

    Just keep on stirring, you never know what'll come out next.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boeing needs to split

    Put the commercial aviation on one side, and the military stuff on the other - along with ALL management. Then Boeing can promote from within to refill their management ranks and get back to being what they used to be until McDonnell Douglas people with the military mindset ruined them. As a potential bonus, maybe the military side will collapse under its own weight and then we only need to destroy Lockheed Martin and we might be able to successfully cut the military budget since they won't have anywhere to buy boondoggle aircraft from!

    1. RPF

      Re: Boeing needs to split

      Much of the best bits in more modern Boeings were designed by McD-D engineers.

      1. AIBailey

        Re: Boeing needs to split

        That explains the 737 Max problem, if most of the engineers are used to designing plastic toys for happy meals.

    2. not.known@this.address Silver badge

      Re: Boeing needs to split

      Doug S, you are talking rubbish. McDonnell Douglas had a proven track record of successful civilian and military aircraft and helicopters for many years before Boeing got their claws in. For example, MDD decided to develop the F-15E Strike Eagle as a private venture because they realised the USAF would need an aircraft to replace the F4 Phantom (also a highly successful, long-lived MDD design), and rumour has it that the asset-strippers, sorry, C-Suite execs at Boeing were a little perturbed to discover that the MD500 and its derivatives, including all that lovely NoTAR IP, had been specifically excluded when they had purchased MDD and MDH.

      And if you can come up with an airframe capable of taking on the tasks required for any potential future conflicts - or even the ones currently going on - then why don't you put them forwards to replace all those "boondoggle aircraft" you are moaning about? It sounds like you think it should be an easy thing to do...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Boeing needs to split

        Sorry, but MDD civilian aircraft weren't exactly successful, especially when companies start to put seats just next the MD-80 engines....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Boeing needs to split

          Think the DC10 crashes started the rot at MD.

    3. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: Boeing needs to split

      The decision to move Boeing HQ to Chicago away from the engineers in Seattle might also be a contributing factor to how the company sank so low.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No recent news on law suits; I know at least one airline announced it was suing Boeing over the Max8

  10. Reg T.

    Swift justice would cure the problem.

    That is, the corporate officials would be tried for murder/manslaughter within 30 days of the event and then hanged on public scaffolds. Unfortunately, the pols and judges have interfered with justice by declaring that a Corporation is a person. Since a noose cannot be fitted around the neck of a corporation, the idiocy and perversion of such legal distortion is obvious.

    The alternate realistically is to never fly as passengers on the aircraft no matter what resolution is reached.. Also, one can compare the aircraft manufacturers ratings statistically and readily see that the FLE ratio (full Loss Equivalent) for Boeing are outrageously high compared to Airbus and others, with the exception of the Fokker F28.

    So, inept pilots or inept engineering, Boeing is the leader for being the leader in the FLE stats. The crash rate per million miles for the Boeing 737 MAX - all models - is 3.08 per million - an industry leader except for the Concorde.

    http://www.airsafe.com/events/models/rate_mod.htm

    Parts sourced from the PRC - especially circuit boards? If Hauwei is bad - what of all the Chinese crap?

  11. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    What was that old saying again? If it ain't broke ...

    'System is not broken' after 737 MAX crashes: review panel chair

    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration process for certifying new airplanes is not broken but needs to be improved ...

    At the end of the day, the FAA is "owned" by Boeing. When Boeing says "jump" ...

    The trustworthiness of FAA as an "independent" organization is now a myth (and a running joke).

    Boeing is THE FAA.

    In other Boeing-related news: Fleet of Boeing 737 Max to be Parked in the Middle of Australia

    I suspect Singapore's aviation regulators do not see 737MAX returning to service any time soon.

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