back to article Hey, Boeing. Don't celebrate your first post-grounding 737 Max test flight too hard. You just lost another big contract

A Boeing 737 Max has flown for the first time since the fleet was grounded globally after two total-loss crashes – on the same day a European airline cancelled its order for almost 100 examples of the controversial aircraft and sued its US manufacturer over the debacle. The Monday test flight flew between America’s Seattle …

  1. SW10
    Stop

    All right now

    So:

    “We made a very complex machine that also had some complex software to make the machine behave like something it wasn’t

    We’re sorry about the accidents

    We’ve re-written the software (which still makes the machine behave like something it isn’t) and, working with a mate, found a couple of other glitches that shouldn’t have been there [1]

    It’s all good to go now, and we’re not quite sure why the world’s regulators don’t just get in line with our pet here...”

    [1] From the Air Current blog:

    “[Boeing...] was forced to tackle further changes to the software, including adjusting tolerances on sensors that were erroneously activating cockpit indications that the jet’s horizontal stabilizer was not properly configured.“

  2. Len Silver badge
    FAIL

    FAA's Fall

    "In the past, US Federal Aviation Administration certifications were accepted at face value by other countries, but that is no longer the case, in part due to serious failings highlighted by the 737 Max testing process."

    This is one of remarkable effects of this whole issue, the loss of trust in the FAA. It's probably going to take years to rebuild their reputation. I wonder if you're let's say the Australian or Zambian aerospace regulator and you don't have the capacity to test every new plane or significant modification you're now going to rely more on the EASA, even for non-European aircraft.

    1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      Re: FAA's Fall

      Or if you are feeling nasty - await certification from the Chinese equivalent of the FAA. (With the current trade war being promoted by Trump this could be a very long time coming!!!)

      1. Len Silver badge

        Re: FAA's Fall

        The big problem for the Chinese, and the reason why there is a ‘Brussels effect‘ but no ‘Beijing effect’ is that nobody trusts Chinese regulators. Not even the Chinese themselves.

        Remember the run on European baby food by the Chinese because they didn’t trust Chinese suppliers?

        Regulators need to be competent and trusted to be effective. Businesses require competence from their regulator (To understand the issue at hand, not be too knee-jerky, not too arbitrary or inconsistent), the market requires trust (a strong correlation between a regulators declaration and the actual situation).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FAA's Fall

      "This is one of remarkable effects of this whole issue, the loss of trust in the FAA. It's probably going to take years to rebuild their reputation."

      I think there is a bigger picture here. Although their is no direct correlation between Boeing/FAA and the Trump Vs Huawei fight, I think worldwide trust in taking any American company/organisation at face value is seriously waning at the moment. And that will take generations to recover. Trump and his attitude may be putting America first, but the rest of the world will not settle for being second.

    3. TDog

      Re: FAA's Fall

      Or wait to see what sort of 'aid', or 'new starter' package you were offered by purely disinterested parties.

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    One question

    Will the 737 Max be inherently stable and flyable in the event the software fails completely and safe flight is dependent on the pilot's skills alone?

    If not it shouldn't be flying as a passenger aircraft, that goes for any other aircraft too. The safety of people should come a long way before any profit.

    1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: One question

      Flyable yes - but there is a part of the flight regime where the throttles have an unusual effect on the pitch. If the pilots are trained for this then no problem. However Boeing as part of its sales pitch to airlines said that no training was needed and the MCAS software would do the pitch correction automatically. We all know what happened then.

      (Because the engines were moved far forward of their position in previous 737 aircraft, when the throttles are advanced the nose tends to pitch up - for part of the normal climb if uncorrected by either MCAS or the pilot then the plane could stall. Normally for all civil aircraft it is a certification requirement for there to be no such condition. Boeing might have got a waiver by requiring pilots to be properly trained for the changed handling - but then it would not have been able to sell it as "just a better 737". Instead by doing a sloppy job it killed over 300 people and cost the company many billions of dollars.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One question

        Several exposés on the incident noted that Southwest Airlines included a clause in a purchase agreement that rewarded Boeing with a bonus if no simulator training was required for the 737 Max for existing 737 pilots. Since the FAA was known for being rather arbitrary in deciding what triggers additional training, Boeing made every effort to keep potential triggers in check. So all of those people died due to the mere possibility of losing money.

      2. Fursty Ferret

        Re: One question

        Just to clarify this:

        All aircraft with underslung engines have a pitch-power couple, and it's either accommodated for by the pilot (737, 747 etc) or by the flight control computers (Airbus, B777, B787 etc). It isn't a problem normally.

        The problem is that the "pull" force on the flight controls should increase linearly up to the stall. By mounting the engines so far forward Boeing caused a complicated headache with regard to the aerodynamics on the Max, and as speed reduced in level flight with high angles of attack, the column force *decreased*. This is a very undesirable attribute.

        The solution / bodge is MCAS, which would trim forwards in this situation and effectively increase the force required from the pilot to maintain the high angle of attack.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: One question

      "The safety of people should come a long way before any profit."

      This is pretty much the principal that the FAA and the airline industry in general lives by.

      As a result, if a plane has a design problem, or if any aircraft crashes for ANY reason, it's HUGE news and a lot of effort goes into finding out WHY and then doing something about it to keep it from happening AGAIN. End result, best safety record EVAR.

      So I'd say the answer to your question is 'yes'. (I'm pretty confident the 737 Max will end up with a much better safety record than anything else on the planet, simply so that Boeing can compensate for their complete screwup and re-prove themselves to the world)

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: One question

        I'm pretty confident it will have a sterling safety record as no bugger will fly in it.

        1. Timbo

          Re: One question

          "I'm pretty confident it will have a sterling safety record as no bugger will fly in it."

          But the problem is that in some cases, passengers don't know what plane they are going to fly in, until they either get to the "Gate" or they are on board and browsing the safety info cards.

          (Though I know that some airlines disclose which plane they use if you are lucky enough to book specific seats on the plane).

          Even so, many passengers simply might not have a choice if they need to get to a particular destination...even if flying on a 737 Max is no guarantee of getting there in one piece !!

      2. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: One question

        If that were the case, why did the FAA resist grounding the plane after the second fatal crash? It was only after it had been grounded by almost every country in the world that the FAA finally grounded it in America too.

        What you say is what is supposed to happen. The problem is that in the case of the 737 Max, it didn't happen. That is the problem.

        1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

          Re: One question

          why did the FAA resist grounding the plane after the second fatal crash

          Because the FAA was taking their "cue" from Boeing. Boeing instructed recommended to the FAA that the MAX was still safe to fly (after the 2nd crash), however, all-bets-are-off and the-fat-lady-has-sung when China immediate suspended all MAX operation from it's airspace and Japan followed a few hours later.

          FAA had a tough choice to make: Cut your loses or be the world's laughing stock

          Let's put it in a different perspective: IF the FAA didn't ground the MAX, the only place where the MAX would still be flying would be in America.

          And in Rockhound's famous quote: You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?

          And if that doesn't give anyone a "warm fuzzy feeling", how about this: KC-46 delivery to Seymour Johnson delayed after debris found in fuel tank

          My point is this: Boeing can't even do a simple quality control on a FUEL TANK of a single airframe. What are the chances they've "fully tested" the software?

          My confidence level on the MAX will improve if the entire Boeing Board, President and VPs, including the upper echelon of the FAA are on a test flight of a MAX flying from the east coast to the west coast and back -- y'know, just to be sure.

          1. eldakka Silver badge

            Re: One question

            My confidence level on the MAX will improve if the entire Boeing Board, President and VPs, including the upper echelon of the FAA are on a test flight of a MAX flying from the east coast to the west coast and back -- y'know, just to be sure.

            That would do nothing for my confidence. Why? Because:

            1) the aircraft will be hand picked from the fleet, gone over with a fine-toothed comb by the best Boeing Enginners, Compliance inspectors and pilots;

            2) It will be flown by the finest test pilots who have hundreds of hours of experience in flight-testing the MAX. They will be entirely up-to-date with every little niggle of the aircraft. They will have experience with all those niggles, as they would be deliberately activated in the testing regime those pilots undertook.

            3) since all the issues with the MAX could ber overcome with experienced pilots having knowledge of the MAX's full flight envelope and undocumented (at the time) flight control systems, points 1 and 2 above would make it a perfectly safe aircraft, even if a pre-software-fix MAX was used.

            No, what I would need would be a dozen lat-minute randomly-assigned (so Boeing can't send in their best to evaluate/fix the aircraft or assign preferred pilots before the flight) flights on 3rd-rate airlines with green pilots. Like say in Pakistan where they have just de-registered 150 pilots (about a 1/3rd of all Pakistan-registered commercial pilots) because they had all cheated on pilot tests, they'd gotten others to sit their exams for them or cheated in the exams.

      3. Dog Eatdog

        Re: One question

        You are confusing the FAA with the NTSB.

        It's the NTSB that investigates crashes and makes safety recommendations. But the FAA - cosying up to the industry - does not always follow those recommendations.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would have sympathy for Norwegian if they hadn't cancelled my boyfriend's flight this morning, leaving us with no choice but to find an alternative at short notice....and of course they claim it can take up to 2 months to refund me even though the CAA makes it clear 2 weeks is the limit.

    So, I don't care if they go bankrupt any more.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      awww, so unfair

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I don't object to them cancelling. I know times are hard. What I do object to them is deciding that the law doesn't apply to them. It's not like Covid-19 struck yesterday and they've been caught on the wrong foot....they've had months to get their refund process streamlined and in order.

        If they're going to cancel people's flights, they must assume that people will apply for refunds, so it's not as if I surprised them with my request.

        Strictly speaking they're supposed to offer a refund OR a re-route (that is, an alternative flight from the same source to the same destination with one of their competitors), but since the woman I spoke to didn't even understand the concept I realised I'd be wasting my time trying to push for it.

    2. osakajin Bronze badge

      Waiting 3 months for a refund from Lufthansa. Filed a dispute with their regulator this morning.

      Twunts.

      1. John Doe 12

        One word - chargeback!!! Worked for me with Aer Lingus - my bank took back the money from them :-D Worth noting that the rules say that you have 120 days to make a claim and that clock only starts running from the date of your first flight.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Meh

          when it comes to credit cards, in the USA credit sales can be reversed within 30 days [as I recall]. Debit cards can NOT, however (which is why I use no debit cards online). in the EU and UK I understand that there's more of an "all sales are final" approach, but I'm not that familiar. Still I think it's a function of the banking laws as to whether a 'charge back' or 'reversal' is even possible. An associate of mine worked in the banking industry and explained it to me a few years back, but I'm certainly no expert, IANAL, YMMV, and all that. So yeah check your local banking laws to see what rights you have for getting stiffed on payments without goods delivered...

          1. John Doe 12

            My chargeback refund was on a DEBIT card and not a CREDIT card. It's a common misnomer that you only have protection if you use a Mastercard or something like that. Now I cannot speak for the USA as often the rules there are quite different but in Europe chargeback is very feasible as I can vouch for. Perhaps that's a bad choice of word as several of the scumbag airlines are trying to fob people off with vouchers and basically cheat them out of their legal right to a refund.

            1. TDog

              Small Claims Court

              Happened to a friend of mine re a holiday - was being fobbed off. Pointed out that in the UK you can file a claim online and takes about 30 minutes.

              Cost him £30 for a £400 claim. within 12 hours of filing was offered a full refund - they had only just noticed that he had slipped through the net. Including the 6 emails and two letters he sent them. Max claim is usually £10,000.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Small Claims Court

                A company I was dealing with were being awkward and refusing a refund (entry tickets). After they said that I couldn't have a refund I then wrote a letter stating a load of facts and reasoning but also stated that if I needed to follow this us further, unless it was to tell me I was getting a refund, I would be charging £15 for every e-mail I sent and £10 for every phone call.

                Still no joy and after another e-mail and two more phone calls (on the phone I stated that I would be charging for the call - and then the guy shouted something and then hung up).

                Put it though the small claims, for the cost of the tickets + the fee for court + £35 phone/e-mail charge) . A couple of days later their legal team rang me up and said they would be processing a refund for the whole amount including my extras.

            2. Dale 3

              (Offtopic)

              (Sorry for going offtopic, but I'll mention this in case someone finds it useful...)

              In the UK, credit cards are covered by Section 75 protection, which is a very powerful legal right. (It basically makes the card issuer equally liable as the goods/service provider so if something goes wrong and the provider doesn't deal with it adequately, the card issuer is equally liable to put it right.) Debit cards are (usually) covered by chargeback, but that is just a feature which card issuers offer, not a legal right and they don't have to honour it. S.75 protection is much stronger, which is why it's usually recommended to use a credit card over a debit card for big ticket items.

          2. Richard 12 Silver badge

            While over here, there's no time limit

            When you buy a consumer product or service above £100 using your credit card, the credit card company are jointly and severally liable for the proper delivery, fitness for purpose and reliability.

            If the store won't pay out for a TV that broke down 'unreasonably" quickly, the credit card company must refund you out of their own pocket.

            Even if the store and manufacturer both ceased to exist a year or two prior.

            Consumer protection for right-pondians is orders of magnitude better.

            Flights are no different, except that airlines that refuse to refund also cease to be airlines.

          3. eldakka Silver badge

            Still I think it's a function of the banking laws as to whether a 'charge back' or 'reversal' is even possible.

            While it can be a function of banking/consumer laws, it is also a feature offered by the credit card companies independant of (as long as it complies with) those various laws. Well before any such consumer/banking laws existed, it was in the terms and conditions of credit card companies to their users and requirements of payment processors/providers of the credit cards to be in compliance with the terms and conditions of the CC companies. It was one of the ways they enticed people to using CCs over things like travellers cheques, bank transfers, direct deposits, etc., it was an aded feature, a safety net the companies themselves offered and was often oncorporated later into individual countries laws. Therefore even if it isn't enshrined in law, it is enshrined contractually between the CC provider (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, etc., and the banks provding the CC under those umbrellas) and the business offering that payment option and the CC holder using that payment option.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @ Lufthansa refund

        LH did honour their 'free rebooking even if you didn't bother to tell us you weren't turning up' offer. I got a 600 odd quid return trip for nothing more than I paid for my original ticket - about 36 each way plus taxes.

        You've got until the end of the Summer to take them up on it and don't need to actually fly until the end of the year.

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: @ Lufthansa refund

          The only thing is you have to *call* them to make the booking... Unless something has changed in the last month (since I spoke to them on the phone). For added inducement, they also offered 50 EUR in a voucher you could apply to the booking as well if the original flight was effectively booked before the crap hit the fan, but the flight date was around the time Germany shut its borders down and LH had to cancel a load of flights.

          I have another month to dig up my old ticket and book mine...

  5. Peter Christy

    Learn from the smaller world...

    My hobby is building radio controlled models, and in particular helicopters. My son has flown at World Championship events for helicopter aerobatics, and made it into the fly-offs. Modern RC gear is heavily computerised, but this is not the same as having any form of auto-pilot system. It is intended to make the setting up and trimming of the aircraft simpler.

    Some years ago, at a World Champs event, I attended a lecture by one of the top Japanese Pilots (The Japanese and Americans dominated this sport for many years). He was adamant that the computerised radio should ONLY be used for "fine tuning" the aircraft, and that it was vitally important to get everything *mechanically* right first. This was a philosophy with which I wholeheartedly agreed - as well as being one which I had indoctrinated into my son!

    If only Boeing had followed this basic principle, they would not be in their current predicament!

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Learn from the smaller world...

      This is simple good sense. It's not a jet fighter that needs to pull high-g manoeuvres; the last thing it needs is a deliberately unstable airframe/flight mode. Relying on software to control an attitude unstable by design strikes me as not a good idea - perhaps a warning announcement/chime in the manner of stall warning or ground too close?

      But the real answer is - don't build an airframe that can do that.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Learn from the smaller world...

        MAX wasn't unstable by design. It's fully stable even at high AoA at full throttle. It's just that the elevator feedback forces were way too low.

        If Boeing had chosen to go with a stickforce feedback actuator it would have been fine.

      2. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: Learn from the smaller world...

        > But the real answer is - don't build an airframe that can do that.

        I seem to recall from my Control Systems days that (at least) one of the modern jet fighters was designed to be unstable (IIRC it was the Eurofighter) as it made it more agile. Control s/w was then used to keep it from unscheduled pit-stops on the ground

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Learn from the smaller world...

      There is mechanically nothing wrong with the Max. It's perfectly flyable and well stable enough even without MCAS. It's just that the elevator forces decrease too much when in high AoA at full throttle to be the same as the 737NG series. If Boeing had chosen to go with a new type rating certificate and simulator training they wouldn't have even needed MCAS. Its only because they wanted a universal 737NG and Max type rating that would allow operators to put their pilots on either aircraft and thus have easier fleet and crew planning.

      1. IJD

        Re: Learn from the smaller world...

        Even with a new type rating and simulator training the Max couldn't have been flight certified without MCAS, because the rules say that required elevator force to preserve attitude must always increase as angle of attack increases, and without MCAS the Max breaks this rule -- it's not that the plane is unstable or will stall, just that the pilot would have to pull less hard on the column and this is verboten.

        If Boeing had a proper FBW system like Airbus this wouldn't be a problem because the "feel" is artificial anyway and could easily be corrected, but what they actually have is a 50 year old mechanical flight control system with some electronic bodges added on -- one of these bodges being MCAS...

        But there still wouldn't have been a problem if either the MCAS bodge had been done properly so it was reliable (redundant sensors with voting and fail-safe), or it hadn't been designed with enough control authority to override the pilots (4x more than the FAA was told), or the pilots had been properly trained about what to do if MCAS went wrong.

        Unfortunately all these options would have cost Boeing a lot of money and possibly sales, so they opted to save the money, design a crappy MCAS, and hide it from the pilots and the FAA -- result, 300 dead passengers. There really is no excuse and the Boeing execs responsible should be jailed for corporate manslaughter...

        1. Peter Christy

          Re: Learn from the smaller world...

          I note the above comments about the aircraft being stable without the MCAS (computer) assistance, but also that the stick forces do not comply with accepted convention in these extreme attitudes.

          This latter is surely a *design* flaw - ie: mechanical - that has to be "fixed" by computer.

          So I stand by my original argument: Get the design and/or setup right first, and fine tune it by computer. Do not use the computer to "fix" an inherent flaw.

          As has been pointed out above, this is not a fighter that *needs* to be unstable to meet its performance requirements.

          This was an attempt to fix by computer an inherent design / mechanical flaw, and was always going to end badly.

          Boeing built its reputation in the days when it was led by its engineering expertise. That reputation is now being destroyed by its accounting expertise!

          1. DryBones

            Re: Learn from the smaller world...

            Considering the massive, massive damage their bottom line is taking in terms of writedowns and canceled sales and additional expenses and things of that nature, I would like to dispute the "accounting expertise" moniker. They tried to save a pound, and it's costing them a mint.

      2. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: Learn from the smaller world...

        The reduction in elevator forces meant it was below the limits prescribed in the certification requirements so it's not directly related to a universal type rating. You couldn't legally sell the 737 Max as an airliner without MCAS to correct the issue.

        The universal type rating meant they had to minimise the training required to swap between the two models so they basically didn't tell the pilots it existed, which makes it much harder to deal with when it goes wrong.

  6. John Doe 12

    First Flight Since The Grounding?

    My understanding was that there have been some limited flights (without passengers of course) to allow for planes to be stored in more sensible places. Is this true or did I just imagine it?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: First Flight Since The Grounding?

      Yes, I believe so.

      However those were unmodified and flown under special rules to minimise the chance of taking out other flights or people on the ground.

      This is the first flight of what Boeing are praying will be certifiable.

      Of course, given that airlines worldwide are almost dead, they're far too late and may not sell any, even if it does get certified.

    2. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      Re: First Flight Since The Grounding?

      Yes - several 737 MAX 8 aircraft have been flown to suitable parking spaces. No passengers on the planes and the pilots knew what to expect from MCAS and knew how to disable it.

  7. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    It worked once, ship it!

    I see no getting away from computers in the future. The next step in flight efficiency is going to require different methods of thrust and dramatically different body shapes. Not all of that will be controllable from a hydraulic line.

    The change will be testing electronics systems with as much detail as the critical mechanical parts. Stress test them, peer review them, test coping with their failure, routinely inspect them for malfunction, and replace anything that's not performing well. If tech companies did this more often in general I'd be in heaven.

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: It worked once, ship it!

      umm.......

      "Stress test them, peer review them, test coping with their failure, routinely inspect them for malfunction, and replace anything that's not performing well"

      they did this, they had to to meet certification.

      The problem is that they didn't do it rigorously enough & did it with the aim of ensuring certification and meeting shipping dates. They basically fudged their certification to meet their expectations of not needing to certify the ai frame anew.

      when 2+2 must equal 4 but you software shows 5 its often cheaper to write a routine to correct the result than fix the issue that calculates it incorrectly, especially in something that has been made.

      737 production should have immediately stopped and the aircraft redesigned with new certification. i won't be flying a 737 max & will be reluctant to fly a 737 ever again.

      one odd thing was the 737 1st delivery was to Malindo Air, for such a prestigious new air type you'd have expected it to be one of the large US carriers who got that honour.

    2. Dave K Silver badge

      Re: It worked once, ship it!

      You can also add built-in redundancy to that as well. If the Max had been fitted with three AOA sensors and a computer that could "vote out" a faulty sensor, it's highly likely that the crashes wouldn't have happened. Instead, MCAS got data from a single sensor, and the cockpit alarm to warn of an AOA disagree with the second sensor ended up being an "optional extra".

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: It worked once, ship it!

        I may be wrong, but I think adding extra sensors etc. would have required re-certification of the whole 737 Max or at least its flight control system, rather than using grand father rights from the original 1960s design. I'm pretty sure if you try and re-certify the whole thing it would fail against the current standards and you'd have to do a massive redesign. At which point a) it would take far too long to compete with the A320 Neo, and b) you may as well make a whole new aircraft.

        1. whitepines Silver badge

          Re: It worked once, ship it!

          I may be wrong, but I think adding extra sensors etc. would have required re-certification of the whole 737 Max or at least its flight control system

          No, especially if those sensors just fed the MCAS system. What likely happened in reality is that a triple voting system is expensive -- by specifying one, you've highlighted to the regulatory bodies "this item is safety critical" (MCAS was not specified as safety critical during design), and the extra weight for wiring and extra sensors goes into someone's budget somewhere. Knowing a thing or two about corporate culture, could have been as simple as no one wanted to trim something else out or be responsible for the increased weight of the overall aircraft.

    3. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: It worked once, ship it!

      Electronics for safety critical systems on aircraft have been around for a long time. The B777 has a triple redundant system with manual reversion (the pilots can take control).

      Some modern fly by wire actually drives electrical actuators.

      The mantra of the old (engineering led) Boeing that the pilots ultimately knew best. That was before the bean counters were put in charge.

      The avionics that make up flight control systems are rigorously tested against the airframer requirements for verification (verification can cost a lot of money).

      Boeing did the system integration and did things that should not have passed even a cursory check of what MCAS was capable of (the final system was nowhere close to what had been declared to the FAA).

      The MCAS computing element would have been designed, built and tested by a third party to Boeing's requirements and I would not be surprised if those vendors know where the bodies are buried as I am sure that if the vendor know this could control flying surfaces from a single sensor there would have been significant questions raised.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It worked once, ship it!

        Previous comments and news stories about 737MAX have suggested that it's not bean-counters to blame, but military-aircraft experts. A large cohort became employed by Boeing following the takeover of McDonnell Douglas in the 90s, and their engineering approach, complete with different calculations about the value of the lives of those on-board aircraft, gradually pervaded the company.

        For once evil accountants may not be wholly to blame.

        1. DryBones

          Re: It worked once, ship it!

          Military aircraft designers that allow single point failures? Baloney.

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Finally some real consequences

    First, Boeing is facing an uphill climb to get its 737 Max re-certified and, given the amount of deaths due to beancounter cost-cutting measures, that is perfectly normal.

    Second, the FAA has lost its prestige and now international bodies are setting up their own certification procedures. The buddy contract between Boeing and the FAA has backfired so spectacularly that the costs for Boeing are going to climb much higher to get itself certified on the international scene.

    Good. The rot that has settled in the top layers of US government agencies has come to light and now no one will trust the FAA on its word. I feel really sorry for the good people that I am sure work there, but their negligence and laissez-faire attitude is also responsible for the unacceptable amount of deaths that are due to the simple fact that the FAA couldn't be bothered to set up an actual test for that cursed model.

    The FAA is going to spend many, many years regaining its credibility - if that ever happens.

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Finally some real consequences

      one of the reports was that Boeing was able to pay contractors to perform certification work on behalf of the FAA as the FAA didn't have the funds or the smarts to do all the certification itself.

      The FAA effectively get the report and rubber stamp it after Boeing has paid friendlies to compile it to a specification aligned with the FAA's mandates but that the FAA does not understand.

      1. Dog Eatdog

        Re: Finally some real consequences

        The inspectors are not contractors - they are Boeing employees. That is how the system has always worked - but with one not so minor change. Originally these inspectors reported direct to the FAA, then a change was made so that they reported through Boeing's pointy-haired managers.

        Given this knowledge, I think the outcome was less than surprising.

  9. IGotOut Silver badge

    Except plenty more.

    Airlines have been crippled by Covid19. A simple way to get some cash back it hitting Boing with breach of contracts.

    No paying for expensive planes and a refund of a few hundred million

    1. Mark Exclamation

      Re: Except plenty more.

      Exactly this. The airlines no longer have any use for the aircraft they have on order, and have no money, either, both due to Covid. What better way to save and make money than to cancel orders and sue for a completely unrelated reason?

      1. Snapper

        Re: Except plenty more.

        Given that Boeing was prepared to put in a major design change and then try and get around certification (essentially fraud) by putting in poorly designed software to claim that no pilot re-training was required which cost 300 innocent people their lives in two crashes, I'd say the least that should happen is the directors responsible all get lengthy jail sentences. Losing an order and having to pay compensation is just good luck for the airlines involved. My heart is not bleeding for Boeing.

      2. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Except plenty more.

        Actually, if Norwegian had had its Max planes as per order book, they would've been less in a pickle finance wise than they are now. They had wanted to launch several routes based on the extended flight envelopes the Max aircraft offered, and were effectively forced to kill them. Along with that, the other claim in their lawsuit, the 787 engine problems, which also affected (and still affects) airlines like ANZ, Virgin Atlantic and BA, compounded the loss of fuel-efficient aircraft that their financial model was working with. Virgin had to bring back several of their A340-600s (which are more fuel efficient than the -300, but not nearly as efficient as the 787-8/9) from the desert, Norwegian had to lease some airframes in addition to paying the leases of grounded 787s.

        So yes, I can see why Norwegian said "enough now. We want our money back", especially given Boeing and the FAA were very optimistic about a swift return to the air (hence Boeing continuing to manufacture Maxes until their runways, taxiways and employee parking lots were bursting at the seams). The additional aftereffect of Boeing's OTT optimism was that Spirit Aerosystems (a former Boeing unit in Wichita, Kansas), who build the fuselage, were asked to continue at full tilt until they were brought to a screeching halt instead of tapering off manufacture and delivery of the fuselages whilst there was insecurity about the time frame of the return. This has led to some severe cashflow problems and many job losses there. :-/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Except plenty more.

      Except what? To a non-native speaker this sounds quite non sequitur...

      1. KarMann Bronze badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Except plenty more.

        I'm fairly sure it was a typo for 'expect'.

  10. Tim99 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    airplanes

    OK, Boeing is a US company, but in future please use "aeroplanes" or "aircraft".

  11. Marty McFly
    FAIL

    El Reg, a little reporting accuracy??

    Boeing has been regularly flying the 737 Max in testing. This is by no means their 'first flight'.

    https://flightaware.com/live/flight/BOE701/history

    1. Displacement Activity

      Re: El Reg, a little reporting accuracy??

      And, of course, airlines around the world have been regularly flying maxes to boneyards.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: El Reg, a little reporting accuracy??

        They've been flying the Maxes to airports with flaps extended (just enough to disable MCAS). This flight is one of the first post-grounding with MCAS active and monitoring.

        1. Marty McFly
          Alert

          Re: El Reg, a little reporting accuracy??

          Exactly. And El Reg didn't state that. They sensationalized the opening statement to incorrectly state this is the first time Boeing has flown the Max in over a year.

          There is enough of that crap reporting in the MSM. I don't need it here too.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it's a Boeing

    I still ain't going

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is you Chaplain speaking

    from Private Eye, time immemorial.

  14. regadpellagru

    contradictory

    "Investigations discovered that the Max contained software features that its pilots hadn’t been sufficiently briefed about, including the infamous MCAS automatic trim system."

    "In desperation to compete with Airbus’ market-share-gobbling A320 Neo, a direct competitor of the 737, Boeing assured airlines that pilots who flew previous 737 models could swap to the new Max with minimal training. This turned out to be a lethal cost-saving shortcut that left pilots unaware of how to shut off MCAS when it kicked in and forced their airplanes to point at the ground instead of the sky."

    Just saying, the 2 above statements are contradictory. The first hints at some good will mistake, while the second hints at some full good old corporate and lethal FAIL. Of course we all know which one is the right one.

    Actually, the MCAS presence was deliberately hidden from pilot's knowledge in the goal of no training and recert.

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: contradictory

      They're not contradictory... The first is a classic example of 'British understatement' ;-)

      Whilst MCAS was the primary problem, there were other little issues in the way MCAS behaved that were unexpected... like the extended trimming of the stabilisers. MCAS was meant to only trim stabilisers up to a certain number of degrees and only at a certain altitude or more. But if you switched MCAS off and then started it again, it would 'forget' that it had already trimmed to its maximum, and would trim more the next time. And some more the next time after that. And some more... the cumulative effect of the trims was... well... fatal, especially when you're in the middle of a takeoff from a hot-and-high airport like Addis. Then there was the fact that the AoA disagree warning light wouldn't indicate if the 'optional' warning software hadn't been ordered, and guess what... 80% of Max customers hadn't ordered the option (because it was optional).

      This is why the whole MCAS debacle is taking a *lot* longer... they identified the issues, but now have to test, test, test some more and see what other bugs reveal themselves in the shakedowns. There are other things that have revealed themselves to be shortcomings in the original design (like wiring paths that could cause short circuits that in turn could cause uncommanded trimming etc), so Boeing's also having to address those.

      These are all things that were definitely *not* in the manual and were discovered only during extensive testing whilst trying to fix the original AoA problem. EASA appears to want to see a form of synthetic airspeed à la B787, but Boeing is dead-set against that!

  15. kikipo
    Thumb Up

    A victory for the pedants

    The article does not call MCAS an anti-stall device! Well done The Register.

  16. mihares
    WTF?

    Still too few sensors

    So now Boeing progressed from using _one_ AoA sensor as the sole source of data for that specific measure to use all, that is to say _two_, AoA sensors to get to the same measurement.

    Which, in their defence, is an improvement.

    Still, it leaves them behind and significantly less safe than my Lego+Arduino project, which relies on three sensors to check lighting conditions. And I don't want to fly on that, so why should I want to fly on the MAX?

  17. bregister

    de Havilland Comet

    It seems the makers of this aircraft bounced back for a time.

    Who would act as the Hawker Siddeley/BAe to buy Boeing out though?

    1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

      Re: de Havilland Comet

      SpaceX, to eliminate a competitor?

  18. Long John Silver
    Pirate

    Boeing in a serious bind?

    Despite much deserved criticism of the manner in which Boeing has been operating in recent years (seemingly short-term profit maximisation and senior management perks at expense of all else), Boeing has accumulated immense aeronautical expertise; this embedded in the culture of its cadre of designers, engineers, and technical staff, and perpetuated by proven procedures and ways of doing things established during the course of the company's history. However, reputation is all. A series of (probably) avoidable misfortunes caused reputation to plummet and encouraged people knowledgeable about the industry to delve deeply into the company's current management culture, accounts, expectations, and procedures.

    Boeing, similarly to other major defence contractors such as BAE Systems in the UK, has for decades led a charmed existence insulated from harsh realities of conducting business in a competitive market. The USA government has literally chucked money at Boeing and other defence contractors with little concern for detailed audit and considerations of value for money. Doubtless, many individuals in the higher echelons of Boeing and others in politics, government, and federal administration, have done very nicely from this but ultimately at expense of US citizenry.

    In principle, largesse for defence manufacture could continue as is. However, Boeing manufacture for civil aviation in global markets looks to be in dire peril.

    I suggest the only means of saving intact the intellectual and skill resource represented by Boeing is through the company filing for Chapter 11 insolvency. Placed into administration it would be feasible to dismiss Boeing's entire top management tier, to write-off stockholders, and to reorganise a slimmed down version with clearly defined business goals. Thereby the legacy of skill would be retained whilst abandoning a corrupted management ethos.

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Boeing in a serious bind?

      Not going to happen. That much I can tell you now. The US government has way too much invested in them.

      1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Boeing in a serious bind?

        The US government has way too much invested in them

        Agree. Boeing has a lot of friends on "the Hill" and the US government will "move heaven and earth" to stop Boeing from going under.

    2. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Boeing in a serious bind?

      Could always give off the planes as, say McDonald Douglas, and bring in new management.

    3. ToddRundgrensUtopia

      Re: Boeing in a serious bind?

      We are talking about commercial and you are talking about defence kit. Very different beasts.

  19. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    It takes two-to-tango

    There is another flaw to this whole MCAS saga that everyone seems to forget: Angle of Attack vanes

    In the MAX, there are only TWO (2) of them. In both incidents, one of the two vanes was feeding faulty information back to the MCAS. MCAS picked the WORST reading as "reliable" and then started pitching the nose down.

    Guess what, MAX will continue to have two AoA vanes.

    If there were three vanes, it is an easy "election". But with two ... Just sayin'.

    1. Mark Exclamation

      Re: It takes two-to-tango

      Yes, there are two of them, but originally only one of them was used at a time, alternating with every flight. The crash flight(s) just happened to be using the faulty one at the time. Using both of them is an improvement, but as you said, there needs to be three, just as Airbus does.

      1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: It takes two-to-tango

        alternating with every flight

        No, that is not how Boeing designed it. The flights (plural) before the fatal JKT one had experienced the same thing. The pilot flying mistakenly did the correct thing and disabled the MCAS from the circuit breaker. Unfortunately, he failed to make a note in the sheet and failed to passed this information to the next flight.

        Boeing's MCAS takes the reading from the two AoA vanes and picks the worst reading as the "truth".

  20. ToddRundgrensUtopia

    I just don't want to fly on one, period! Boeing do not deserve to be in business for this mass killing

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