back to article Proposed US fix for Boeing 737 Max software woes does not address Ethiopian crash scenario, UK pilot union warns

The British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) has told American aviation regulators that the Boeing 737 Max needs better fixes for its infamous MCAS software, warning that a plane crash which killed 149 people could happen again. Airlines, in contrast, are broadly happy with proposed changes to the Boeing 737 Max, even as …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hard to believe Boeing are still trying to "cheat the system" and get unsafe planes back in the air.

    These planes need to all be recalled and scrapped, and never flown again.

    1. jospanner

      The high powered business types talk a lot about how they need to be paid so much money because they take risks and face consequences, right?

      This would be "consequences".

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Perceptions of 'risk'

        When a senior executive at my previous company was ousted, he walked with a reputed £2.4 Million payoff. When queried about the amount of the award, even more senior management basically claimed that people at this level take big risks so deserve big payoffs.

        My personal understanding of risk is somewhat different. At the time, had I left employment I would have need a new job or I would have become homeless in a few months. On the salaries senior people are on, they could stop work right now and never need employment for the rest of their lives. OK so they might have to sell the third home and the fourth and fifth Range Rover Evoques, and possibly even do their own vacuuming and ironing, but they should not have been faced with homelessness. But their perception was that they were running far greater risk than the 'minions'.

        1. Olivier2553

          Re: Perceptions of 'risk'

          What risk there is if you get paid even if you do something stupid? The risk is that you lose everything is you miss and get a big reward is you succeed.

          Get rewarded or get rewarded is not a risk.

        2. tip pc Silver badge

          Re: Perceptions of 'risk'

          "people at this level take big risks so deserve big payoffs"

          the senior manager was paid to go and keep his mouth shut.

          if you knew something and they wanted your silence you could expect some form of payout too.

          not saying its right, just saying thats often how things are.

      2. Stratman

        What are they risking, apart from other people's money?

        1. Robert Helpmann??

          Q: What are they risking, apart from other people's money?

          A: Other people's lives.

          1. squidlips

            They risk other peoples money. Make life threatening decisions based on boosting their bonuses. Then hide behind a wall of corporate lawyers paid for by the company and shareholders. No risk at all just free reign in getting rich without consequences of your bad decisions.

    2. Snake Silver badge


      There is, fundamentally, nothing "wrong" with the 737 Max airframe concept, in that they don't need to globally remove the Airworthiness Certificate and scrap the entire run. The "fundamental" problem is Boeing management - cutting corners *constantly* was inherited from MD and is now the rampant status quo.

      MCAS can be fixed, there are dual sensors and computers. The problem is that Boeing cut corners to begin with, ignoring the failsafe standard and judging airplane positioning by using one sensor, not two. The fix requires that Boeing completely redesign of the software integration, which in turn will require a complete recertification of the airframe and retraining of the pilots to fully integrate the new MCAS reactions into proper flight procedures.

      And Boeing simply doesn't want to spend the money.

      That's the fundamental issue here: Boeing *management* put quarterly profit reports before its decades of engineering skills, and human beings paid the price. And they are STILL at it.

      But nothing can, or will, get fixed until Boeing management is taken to task by the only people they care about - their stockholder-owners.

      Until then, we'll all get platitudes, shortcuts, poo-poo's of 'good enough' and dismissals of their ultimate responsibilities.

      1. s. pam Silver badge

        Re: Fundamentals

        Sadly you're incorrect -- the loading area Centre of Gravity of the wings and engines extended forward shift the pivot point of the plane. Software can not fix the laws of aerodynamics Boeing has violated with the redesign.

        1. Snake Silver badge

          Re: Fundamentals

          There are PLENTY of aircraft with centers of gravity shifted from an expected point. MCAS wasn't created as a fix to address a fundamental design flaw; MCAS was a 'fix' to address the point that Boeing promised no retraining required from previous 737 design specs.

          Take MCAS off the 737 Max and the plane would still fly, but the FAA would demand a retrain in order for pilots to become comfortable with its new flight dynamics due to the relocation of the center of gravity. The pilots would need to be retrained to "Do this, not that" and "if A occurs, do B". But that not only requires the airlines pay the manhours of retraining the flight crew, it would also demand that the airlines purchase the 737 Max simulators

          (which ended up having programming flaws anyway).

          The issue is that Boeing promised the airlines that neither one - cost of retraining plus cost of new simulators - would ever come into effect. So Boeing created MCAS in order to make the plane handle like a 737NG, which would appease the FAA (in essence a 'cheat') that "We really didn't change the plane!" in order to get the FAA's stamp of approval, and the airlines would get a new airplane that they didn't have to spend any real money worth mentioning in getting their pilots up to speed on.

          And it all fell flat in everyone's faces.

          The airlines cheaped out by demanding no retraining AND no new simulators.

          Boeing cheaped out by making MCAS react to a single sensor input; outsourcing the software development to a group of people that, it seems, lacked any proper aeronauics background to understand the concept of what "failsafe" in the avionics world means; and distanced their management away from engineering to cripple oversight and accountability, all for the sake of saving money.

          The FAA bought the corporate spin because they wanted everyone happy and making good quarterly profits, forget safe. Forget doing their job, which they completely washed their hands of when they started allowing manufacturers to self-certify - allowing the fox to guard the hen house.

          And now Boeing is proposing that pilots can regain control of an out-of-bounds MCAS activation by manual MCAS system shutdown and manual manipulation of the trim controls. Hoping that the vast, vast majority of the uneducated public does know that Boeing reduced the diameter of the manual trim wheels on the 737 Max, due to cockpit space limitations, and at high speed it is almost impossible for the pilot (even with the help of the co-pilot) to overcome the dynamic forces against the trim due to the reduced leverage caused by the smaller wheel (indeed, in the simulator for the Ethiopian Air crash, *both* test pilots could not move the wheels).

          So Boeing is STILL feeding the world a line of spin on the 737 Max, the spin designed to reduce Boeing's costs of mitigation, save face, and let the airlines off the hook on spending big sums on new training and procedures.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Fundamentals

            Maybe I've missed something obvious, but:

            1. Wouldn't it be possible to add "trim up" and "trim down" switches next to the trimwheel, to manually control the motor if required?

            2. If there are new procedures for flying the 737 Max with MCAS disabled, which the pilots have to learn for use in emergency, then why don't they just learn to fly the plane with no MCAS all the time?

            1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

              Re: Fundamentals

              I don't know about the specific for this model (in terms of where the switches are), but there will be an electric trim - it's exactly what MCAS uses to trim the aircraft. The problem is that disabling MCAS is by turning off power to the electric trim system. So MCAS goes wrong, you have to power off the very system you need to recover from MCAS having gone wrong.

              That alone should have raised warning flags to those designing the system.

          2. Electronics'R'Us

            Re: Fundamentals

            The 737 MAX requires MCAS (or something that does the job albeit in a less lethal way) because without it, it cannot be certified under part 25 rules (Passenger aircraft). The aircraft still has to pass these tests even if it is a derivative design.

            The rule in question states that for a given amount of pull force on the column, the rate of change of AoA must not increase.

            In a particular part of the flight envelope, the rate of AoA increases without additional pull force and the aircraft is therefore not airworthy according to those rules.

            So MCAS was not only to pitch the aircraft (no pun intended) to the airlines as being 'just the same' as a 737NG but also to pass the airworthiness rules.

          3. martinusher Silver badge

            Re: Fundamentals

            Nice anaylsis.

            The fundamental problem the plane seems to have is that the elevator is a full flying stabilizer -- that is, the whole of the stabilizer tilts to trim the plane. This works well, its got the least drag, but it the force needed to move the stabilizer will vary depending on the flight conditions of the plane. The 737 has always suffered from potential runaway trim conditions where its flying out of trim but the force required to get the stabilizer is beyond the capabilities of the flight crew. Early versions had a note in the manual that described the procedure to recover as -- effectively -- put the thing in a stall and wind the trim back while the wings are unloaded. (Probably not too popular with the passengers.) Later versions will have exacerbated the problem until we're in the current situation where Boeing is expecting to sell the idea that recovery procedure has both pilots pulling at the trim wheel while trying to fly a 'not flying very well' plane. They're nuts if they thing that they can sell that to the pilots.

            The long term solution would be to move the elevator pivor point to a more suitable location but that would be expensive and require extensive re-certification. Adding power might work but I remember what happened when a similar design failed on a DC-9 on a Mexico to Californa flight -- the plane became progressively unflyable and finally flipped upside down and dove into the sea with a total loss of life. (The jackscrew wasn't properly maintained -- true -- but it violated a fundamental design principle of these planes that the failure of a single component should not cause the plane to crash.)

        2. rototype

          Re: Fundamentals

          Ye Cannae change the laws of physics Cap'n

        3. Fluffy Cactus

          Re: Fundamentals

          Enter Bill Murray, coming in with a smirk, saying: "Hey, dudes, maybe I can be of assistance!"

          As for the trim wheels, would they allow pilots to weld on their own metal bars,

          so they have more torque to physically move these wheelee-gigs?

          Crazy Idea alert: Maybe it would be better to have a system that pushes the back and the whole body of the airplane up instead of the nose down.

          For example, a 90 degree modification to the thrust reversers, so they could be employed with only one of the two reverser blades. Meaning, to push part of the

          the jet output downwards, and thus the airplane upwards.

          Is that too crazy, or just too expensive?

          As a boy I folded paper airplanes, and from trial and error I learned the importance

          of the trim in the wings, as well as the need for having the paper plane weighted

          just so that it would "sit easily in the air", (i.e. without going nose up & loopy, or

          nose down & crashy.) In that environment it was easy to tear an extra pair of trims

          into the wings, as needed.

          Plus, using paper clips, the proper weight distribution can easily established. The main problem with this approach is that the required monster-sized paper clips are likely no longer in production, hard to stick on with Velcro, and possibly a bit unsightly on an actual 737 Max.

          Ok, clarification, I am not really Bill Murray.

        4. J__M__M

          Re: Fundamentals

          Sadly, you're also incorrect because the CG is different from one flight to the next depending on load.

          Besides, how much do you really think moving the engines 7 inches (and moving the center of thrust zero inches) can change the flight characteristics of a 130 foot airliner? I'll tell you how much. None whatsoever inside the normal flight envelope, and not much more than that outside.

      2. naive

        Re: Fundamentals i.e. fundamentally wrong

        A commercial airliner should never have to rely on computer systems which act autonomously, i.e. change controls without pilot input, to keep the plane in the air.

        These planes are only suitable for military use.

        So either Boeing replaces the engines with smaller and lighter JT8D's and deactivates MCAS, or sell them to the men in green.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fundamentals i.e. fundamentally wrong

          You're out of your mind.

          We are not that many years from the first commercial aircraft that have no pilots. Aircraft that ONLY have computer systems which act autonomously. They will ONLY change controls without pilot input.

          MCAS isn't going away. It's one part of the systems that will make "pilot" as a profession go the way of the buggy whip manufacturer.

          Boeing needs to get it right, because it will never be deactivated.

        2. J__M__M

          Re: Fundamentals i.e. fundamentally wrong

          JT8D's? Well why don't they just go with Merlin's?

      3. Retro Man

        Re: Fundamentals

        I will have to hold my hand up and say I was a big fan of Boeing up until about couple of years after the Douglas-Boeing merger.

        From the article: "Various fixes to the 737 Max design, its software and procedures for pilots to follow in the event of a problem".

        Therein is the question, define the problem.

        The problem is two fold. - 1 - The MCAS software design - 2 - The 737 Aircraft design itself.

        MCAS. -Surely you would use as many input sources as possible to ascertain stall conditions ? To ascertain if the aircraft is going to stall it needs a combination of indicated air speed, ground speed, angle of attack, Altimeter (pressure), Rate of Climb, Radio Altimeter, attitude indicator.

        If determining stall is only going to use IAS then this is a design flaw surely ?

        It is beyond me how anyone can sign off on a design that would ignore two other inputs which show the aircraft is descending, another that shows the ground speed and another that shows the descending aircraft is less than 1000ft above the ground and still descending (and probably shouting "pull up terrain") and still pushed the nose down. How can this even get past the design concept ? It's like having a "kamikaze mode" button, I don't wish to be flippant with that comment, but it still gives me the shivers when I think of what must have been going through those Pilots minds whilst they're fighting with the pos control systems they've been given as the aircraft hits the ground . . . . .

        737 Aircraft. - Good aircraft, but has had its day in its current design I think. (first commercial flight 1968) Fatter engines with larger air intakes flung further forwards and upwards is only going exasperate the problem isn't it ? Yes, you can design aircraft with a shifted COG away from the MAC and compensate for this with trim, but that is going to affect the overall efficiency (trim tabs with a large angle will increase drag) and dynamic balance of the aircraft. What happens when there is no seating control with the fast turnaround of budget airlines and you have an aircraft 66% full and everyone sits at the front so they can be first off ? (yes this is small percentage in overall weight terms but it's still in the wrong direction). This will make the issue highlighted by BALPA a "fact" and not just a "maybe". The flat forward engine style has a simple overview here

        The design is now far away from the original aircraft. To keep costs down (retraining pilots) the fix was the flawed MCAS.

        Money-saving and profit margins are the reasons . . . what price safety . . . . ???

        PS. Anyone have information on the fact that there were upgrade options for MCAS (which had to be paid for) which would have mittigated this issue ? If thats the case then the whole Boeing board should be up in court . . . . .

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fundamentals


          Thanks for the opportunity to remind readers of a few fundamentals.

          "Anyone have information on the fact that there were upgrade options for MCAS (which had to be paid for) which would have mittigated this issue ?"

          Have a look at any decent article referencing "737 AoA disagree", e.g.

          and see if it matches what you remember.

          "If thats the case then the whole Boeing board should be up in court . . . . ."

          Your first few words are surplus: "The whole Boeing board should be up in court . . . . ." and maybe a few others too.

          MCAS as shipped was rather different than MCAS as originally authorised. That's not an excuse for anything, in fact it's probably yet another reason for People At The Top to lose their liberty, and for regulatory authorisation processes to be significantly tightened up.

          "Boeing originally designed MCAS as a simple solution with a narrow scope, then altered it late in the plane’s development to expand its power and purpose. Still, 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."

          Three seconds to work out what had happened and start fixing it?

          The quoted text is from a Seattle TImes article I referenced here at El Reg in December 2019:

          See also this from Electronics'R'Us right here, in August (2019):

          and maybe also this text from my reply to Electronics'R'Us at the time:

          The MCAS kit as originally specified was allegedly intended to have a limited-authority (maybe 25% of jackscrew travel, or something like that??) one-shot effect on a flight control surface. Perhaps in those circumstances it *might* just about have been acceptable to not have much resilience designed in (but the system might also have not had the authority to achieve the intended effect either).

          As time went by, the fundamental MCAS design got transmuted into "keep retrying till the aircraft/system is back in control. No limits." So 25% authority on a one off basis, to full authority, whatever it takes, and nobody considered it might call for improvements in sysem resilience and recovery mechanisms?

          Presumably MCAS variations got a "delta" design review rather than a "start from a blank sheet of paper" review, just like the 737 in general hasn't had a proper design review for decades.

          1. J__M__M

            Re: Fundamentals

            "Anyone have information on the fact that there were upgrade options for MCAS (which had to be paid for) which would have mittigated this issue ?"

            I do. There is no upgrade option for MCAS. The option the "safety should be free" crowd is usually chirping about is the "aoa indicator". There are two things they always fail to mention. First, the actual price: an "option" that costs 85 grand on a 100 million dollar airplane is not a barrier, period. It's also not making anyone at Boeing rich, so calm down I make my kid wear a helmet in the bathtub types. And second, an aoa indicator is not a primary parameter like air speed, attitude, altitude, vertical speed, etc. In an emergency, more is not better. Some groups of pilots prefer them (like military), and some don't. Some parts of the world like them, some don't.

            I don't know about you, but I would prefer the airline I'm flying on have the choice that fits their pilots and their situation best, rather than have something they don't need or want stuffed down their throat by a manufacturer or a politician.

        2. Stoneshop

          Re: Fundamentals

          until about couple of years after the Douglas-Boeing merger.

          At the core it was McDonnell-Douglas taking over Boeing by inserting its board into the resulting company's upper management, then cementing that by moving HQ from Seattle to Chicago, away from those pesky engineers who always spoiled the quest for ever more profit by declining to cut corners.

        3. EnviableOne

          Re: Fundamentals

          As with all mergers, the expectation is the best of both companies will be combined into the new entity.

          Frequently, as with the Boeing McDD merger however, it ends up being the worst bits of each company that get retained.

    3. dajames

      These planes need to all be recalled and scrapped, and never flown again.

      The problem isn't that the planes themselves are inherently unsafe, the problem is that Boeing have added a (faulty, as it turns out) system to make them fly like any other 737 so that pilots wouldn't need to recertify to fly them.

      There's no need to scrap the planes, just remove MCAS and require pilots to recertify before flying them.

      ... of course, the effect will be similar, because airlines want a plane that can be flown by their existing staff of 737 pilots, so they won't want the new plane, and it will end up being scrapped anyway.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the old change the name in the hope that people will forget and not notice ploy

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      one could just imagine the board meeting

      Baldrick "I have a cunning plan to allow us to return the planes to the sky"

      CEO Blackadder, visibly disgusted "Yes Baldrick, go on then, tell us your brilliant idea..."

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        The Blackadder Comany, Scene 2

        Baldrick; "My brilliant idea is this. We take out this Em-cars thing and put a turnip in."

        Blackadder; "A turnip?!"

        Baldrick; "Yes. The Em-cars makes the plane crash. Without the Emm-er-thing it wouldn't crash, would it? So if we put a turnip in there they can't put their whatsit box back in and it can't crash the plane!" [Look of triumph]

        Blackadder; "Even for you Balders, that is unbelievably stupid. Still, it might just work - h'mm...."

        Lord Flasheart of the Flasheart Aviation Administration; "Sound good to me, I'd rather have a turnip than a box of tricks in my pocket any day! Give me that one Baldrick and I'll take her for a spin -- Woof! [snatches turnip]. Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast!" [Exits].

        We now end the serious corporate announcement and return you to the comedy clownfest of the Boeing and Federal equivalents.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The Blackadder Comany, Scene 2

          Pretty certain the "Smoke me a kipper..." line was Ace Rimmer not Lord Flashheart?

          1. steelpillow Silver badge

            Re: The Blackadder Comany, Scene 2

            Flashheart used it in one episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. No idea who came up with it first but yes, Ace was the one who flogged it the harder.

      2. Steve K

        followed by..

        Foloed by:

        " the phrase 'Just rebrand it, my lord' heading in the direction of this conversation with ill-founded confidence?"

        1. hoopsa

          Re: followed by..

          <studies scroll for 3 minutes>

          "Yes, my lord."

      3. Stoneshop
        Black Helicopters

        "I have a cunning plan to allow us to return the planes to the sky"

        Which can lead to dropping 200 feet (or more) out of the air and scattering yourself over a wide area.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Welcome aboard the all-new Boeing Sellafield.

      1. Muscleguy

        Since Boeing is an American Co it should be the Boeing 3 Mile Island.

        1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          I don't expect to see a 737 Max go up to 3 miles without the new MCAS version initiating an emergency landing

          1. pavel.petrman

            Three miles? I'll land.

      2. Captain Badmouth

        Reply Icon

        Welcome aboard the all-new Boeing Windscale.

        Fixed, name changing not allowed.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Previously the Boeing Calder Hall...

          1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

            No, Calder Hall is a separate site. Calder Hall was (it's now decommissioned and partially dismantled) the civil nuclear power station and south of the river. Sellafield-which-used-to-be-called-Winscale is the experimental and fuel processing site north of the river.

            1. Rob Daglish

              Windscale was the name given to the original nuclear piles, one of which has almost completely disappeared now, the other (the one which had the fire) is still around the level of the Cockroft Folly.

              Calder Hall was the Magnox reactors and associated turbine halls and generation kit.

              In my experience, "Sellafield" tends to be used to refer to the entire site - north and south of the river.

              I'm still angling for someone to let me explore the AGR there, it's one of the bits I've not been to yet, and it always makes me think of Thunderbirds...

      3. Anonymous Coward

        Boing Sellafield

        I believe the official name of Sellafield, used by the BBC in news reports about radiation leaks etc, is Sellafield-formerly-known-as-Windscale.

  3. Julz


    Could they not make it so you could disable MCAS but leave the electrical trim actuators available for the pilots to use to trim the plane?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Why

      >>>Requiring both crew members to turn the trim wheel simultaneously<<<

      So neither pilot can be allowed to leave the front seats at any time during a flight on safety grounds.

      The obvious answer to this is have a third pilot in the cockpit, that'll put a hole in the improved running costs and make the cockpit a bit snug.

      1. TDog

        Re: Why

        You know, and this is just an off the cuff idea, why don't we call him a Flight Engineer and place his seat just behind the other two?

        1. TimMaher Silver badge

          Re: Why

          ... and then let them take off over Staines reservoir.

        2. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: Why

          The Flight Engineering certification would include a course in bodybuilding (and possibly steroids).

      2. jospanner

        Re: Why

        Well the idea was that the aircraft wouldn't need pilot recertification, which this definitely would.

      3. Screwed

        Re: Why

        Obvious answer, an inflatable pilot called "Otto".

    2. SkippyBing

      Re: Why

      They could, but that would have been a significant change to the training, i.e. you couldn't just do a quick iPad session and be signed off to fly the Max based on previous 737 experience. I'm not sure how that's changed now but I'd imagine adding an extra switch would require more certification work delaying re-entry to service further.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: Why

        "I'm not sure how that's changed now"

        The new proposals include proper pilot training on a pukka flight simulator, none of this "Here's a CD, find a PC old enough to run it" shite. Boeing are aware that they will have to pay back handsomely those airlines who wrote zero retraining into the contract.

        The big problem is finding somewhere to add more switches; there are already some extra ones and the hand wheel has been made smaller than the old 737s to make room for them. It needs 60 (sixty!) turns to readjust fully after an MCAS woopsie - and no, the pilots have to muscle it together, they can't take alternate turns. You couldn't make it up.

        1. Merrill

          Re: Why

          60 turns?

          They need Brodie knobs and upper-body strength training. No female pilots need apply.

          1. AndyMTB

            Re: Why

            Ahh, you answered my question! You watched those old films too?

          2. steelpillow Silver badge

            Re: Why

            "No female pilots need apply."

            That is one of the points explicitly made by the British Airline Pilots Association.

          3. Stoneshop

            Re: Why

            The knobs are in Boeing's board already; why would they go and put them in the MAX; cockpit?

        2. AndyMTB

          Re: Why

          Couldn't they fit one of those knobs onto the wheel, like you used to see cool dudes using in their cars on old American PI films? Those guys used to whip the steering wheel round in a frenzy when they were chasing the baddies.Were they called "dead man's hands" or am i getting mixed up with the kill-switch on trains?

          1. TaabuTheCat

            Re: Why

            Suicide knobs.

    3. Phones Sheridan Silver badge

      Re: Why

      The article is misleading. The issue being discussed in the NPRM at this point is not an MCAS fault, but a Runaway Stabiliser fault. Both the author and the Pilots group seem to have missed that.

      The NPRM report handles dealing with MCAS programming so that it cannot cause a Runaway Stabiliser fault as it did in the 2 crashes, however the risk of a Runaway Stabiliser still exists even with MCAS removed, so the recommendation is that it now has it's own checklist. A Runaway Stabiliser can occur on ANY aeroplane be it controlled by actuator, hydraulic or plain old fashioned wire, that is, the stabiliser can end up at it's max, either up or down, so now all aeroplanes should have a separate checklist as is suggested in the NPRM.

      There are several suggested steps in the checklist I will list 2 of them

      Early step) The pilot uses a switch on his stick to instruct the actuators to return. This answers Julz question above.

      Last step) If all else fails both pilots should manually attempt to bring the stabiliser back up. This is actually a good thing, because the 737 is one of the few planes left, that still have a backup that can be manually activated by people power. If you are in a plane that has no manual override once power to the actuators is cut then I'm afraid your only option is flapping your arms outside the window. If this happens I'm sure as you are flapping your arms wildly, you will be thinking "If only they had put a manual backup in the cockpit we could have tried".

      1. G Mac

        Re: Why

        "because the 737 is one of the few planes left, that still have a backup that can be manually activated by people power"

        Right, because that is how old it is.

        The questions would then be this:

        In the *original* 737, did *both* pilots have to move the trim wheels together and with the same effort as proposed now?

        1. Phones Sheridan Silver badge

          Re: Why

          “ In the *original* 737, did *both* pilots have to move the trim wheels together and with the same effort as proposed now?”

          The answer, is that at full stabiliser runaway, on all 737s and Airbus 320s, a single pilot will not be able to use the wheel to return the stabiliser in the event the actuators fail. The MCAS incident has brought stabiliser runaway to the attention of the aviation industry, it has not invented it. It has always been there lurking quietly.

          1. G Mac

            Re: Why

            You missed the 'with same effort' part...

            1. John Jennings

              Re: Why

              Didnt MCAS throw the trim to max now - something that wouldnt happen at full speed - making manual controls almost impossible for a single pilot?... Those trim controls wouldnt be at that position at that speed without MCAS, so its not a problem on Airbus or other Boeings with manual adjustments.....

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Why

                You've got a plane which is falling out of the sky, nose-down, in an apparently uncontrollable way.

                The procedure to recover requires you first to cut the engines and reduce airspeed.

                Balls of steel are required.

      2. ciaran

        Re: Why

        Airbus planes except the A350 and A380 do have a wheel for manual pitch trim. Check out this article..

        The Airbus software will give up and hand control to the pilot when it can't figure out what's happening. I'm honestly not sure if that's reassuring or scary.

      3. Olivier2553

        Re: Why

        But is seems MCAS had suddenly made stabilizer runaway much more probable than before while at same time removing the possibility of easy correction.

      4. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        "The article is misleading"

        No -- we've double checked and you're wrong. You've misread the article and the source material. If you think you've found something wrong in future, email and we'll take a look.


  4. MrBanana

    Fundamentally flawed

    This derivation of the 737 airframe is fundamentally flawed. No amount of software, or extended training for pilots will fix it. Boeing have to accept that fact. The FAA will have to accept that fact. Every other aviation authority should do the same - ban it from the sky before it causes another tragedy.

    1. PghMike

      Re: Fundamentally flawed

      I think you're right. The problems with this plane stem from the fact that the engines are too far forward, in front of the center of gravity. They did this because the fuel efficient engines Boeing wanted to use were too big to fit further back. Unfortunately, if the nose rises, wind hitting the front of the engine pushes the nose even higher, an example of positive feedback. Other planes don't have this problem, and so don't require an MCAS to be stable when the nose drifts upwards a bit.

      Fundamentally, this is a flawed design, and the MCAS is a complex bandaid designed to hide this fact. The only solution is to put smaller engines on the plane, and live with the worse fuel economy.

      As the pilots quoted here noted, once the MCAS fires and the plane dives, the pilots probably aren't strong enough to adjust the trim against the wind. It's pretty scary watching the FAA and Boeing make the same potentially fatal mistakes again, this time in public. Let's hope the BAA, CAA or European equivalent put a stop to this crap.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fundamentally flawed

        yes MCAS isn't a fix its just a workaround which doesn't actually work very well

      2. Lars Silver badge

        Re: Fundamentally flawed

        "The only solution is to put smaller engines on the plane, ".

        Probably true, but it's still all about the landing gears too short to allow for those fatter engines. Changing that would be difficult and expensive too.

        1. Peter X

          Re: Fundamentally flawed

          They should make the planes even longer and make all the passengers sit at the back to act as a counter-weight to the huge forward-mounted engines! (no, I don't work in engineering... fortunately)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Fundamentally flawed

            This will never work....

            You will need extra reinforcing in the centre of the plane to cope with the added stresses and likely large engines to cope with the additional weight.

            And MCASv2: the crashening

          2. FILE_ID.DIZ

            Re: Fundamentally flawed

            Maybe Boeing can integrate Airbus' new LH2 storage tank design?

          3. dajames

            Re: Fundamentally flawed

            They should make the planes even longer and make all the passengers sit at the back to act as a counter-weight to the huge forward-mounted engines! (no, I don't work in engineering... fortunately)

            The big engines make the nose lift ... you'd have to have all the passengers sit at the front (I can see why you don't work in engineering :-) )

          4. yoganmahew

            Re: Fundamentally flawed

            Ah, we're on to software engineers fixes!

            Have they thought about having another set of engines behind the first set of engines to balance? It wouldn't do much for the aerodynamics or the fuel efficiency, but it would make the QA tests pass.

            Hmmm, make the QA tests pass... that's what MCAS does...

        2. Dom 3

          Longer landing gear

          They already *have* the longer landing gear:

          So simply put max-10 gear on the shorter variants, and put the engines back where they ought to be.

        3. Stoneshop

          Re: Fundamentally flawed

          Probably true, but it's still all about the landing gears too short

          There are these things called stilts. One might find them useful in situations like these.

          to allow for those fatter engines.

          How about getting them off their Big Mac and coke diet?

      3. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: Fundamentally flawed

        "The problems with this plane stem from the fact that the engines are too far forward"

        I beg to differ. The aerodynamic issue caused by the engine placement is one of relaxed stability at high AoA. Such relaxed stability is common in modern airliners and there are good ways to deal with it.

        The fundamental problem is that Boeing chose a lousy way to deal with it and then tried to pretend it didn't exist. It's actually the FCS - the flight control system - that is out of the ark and really ought to be put back there.

        The FAA compounded the problem by allowing a "grandfather" mode of certification, treating the NG as a modified early generation and the Max as a modified NG. This allowed Boeing to pull the wool over their eyes and go waay beyond the original certification trail.

        Put that right; fit a clean-sheet FCS with third AoA sensor,re-certify as a new type, retrain the crew, and the Max airframe-engine combo would have been a howling success.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fundamentally flawed

          "The FAA compounded the problem by allowing a "grandfather" mode of certification, treating the NG as a modified early generation and the Max as a modified NG. "

          I would argue that the grandfathering drove Boeing's decisions rather than the FAA directly creating the issue.

          The FAA using ex-Boeing people to certify the MAX and allowing grandfathering of airframes that were only certified by "safe" flying hours versus requiring formal certification for existing airframes to allow known issues to be addressed was were the FAA was culpable.

          I lean towards blaming Boeing rather than the regulatory body that had been effectively made toothless by the airline industry to cut costs.

          1. steelpillow Silver badge
            Thumb Down

            Re: Fundamentally flawed

            "allowing grandfathering of airframes that were only certified by "safe" flying hours versus requiring formal certification for existing airframes to allow known issues to be addressed"

            I can't understand a word you are saying; you seem confused between type certification and individual aircraft Certificate of Airworthiness. There is no such thing as grandfathering of airframes.

        2. Screwed

          Re: Fundamentally flawed

          In the field of medicine, the grandfather approach was used for many years to allow levothyroxine to be supplied without ever going through the certification processes required of new medicines.

          Eventually, even the FDA got hacked off by the pharmaceutical companies failing to produce product that was of adequate standard and required new-medicine applications for all products. Which upset all the manufacturers. They were doing things like using overage - putting too much active ingredient in on the assumption that by the time the patient got it, the potency would be within range. And having no concept of bio-equivalence between different makes - so patients would have problems if the make was switched - a common thing for pharmacies to do.

          Grandfathering of important safety approvals is fundamentally unacceptable. That it is allowed, at least in some circumstances, by the very bodies that manage safety is nonsensical. There is no higher body to check the decision to allow grandfathering. Until it hits the courts.

  5. Chris G

    Who had the fish?

    "Requiring both crew members to operate the trim wheel"

    That would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

    How could anyone suggest that as a fix and expect to be taken seriously?

    Boeing created a flawed aircraft in the face of superior competition, so i an attempt to regain sales against a more economical aircraft tried a quick and obviously dange fix but are unwilling to face up to the fact they screwed up.

    As for Ryan Air, don't you just love that they just wanted a better explanation in the pilot's book while adding 20 more arses to the potential casualty list.

    But hey let's care about the profit firstthen worry about the arses.

    1. John Sturdy

      Re: Who had the fish?

      I'm imagining a traditional ship's wheel in an otherwise modern cockpit, to give the pilots enough grip and leverage.

      Even better, the Wikipedia article on ship's wheels says "Having two wheels connected by an axle allowed two people to take the helm in severe weather when one person alone might not have had enough strength to control the ship's movements. "

      1. Muscleguy

        Re: Who had the fish?

        I had visions of the captain in Wall-E holding the wheel as the ship accelerates FAST back towards Earth. Why they needed to go way out into the region of the nebula when they could have watched the Earth recover from orbit. Inside the magnetic field so somewhat shielded from cosmic radiation but, still, it allowed nice graphics.

      2. PC Paul

        Re: Who had the fish?

        I can picture the trim wheels having holes drilled round the edge and Boeing providing a 'trim leverage enhancement rod' (stick) to put into the holes for extra force.

        I wouldn't want to turn it 60 times though!

        1. Stoneshop

          Re: Who had the fish?

          We'll probably see cordless drills and some kind of adapter to fit the trim wheels appearing in a lot of MAX-certified pilots' personal kit. With the checklist mentally expanded to 'check battery charge, and all required adapter parts being present'.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it safe?

    (apologies for Marathon Man reference)

    I am worried that the BALPA objections are about what to do when the MCAS system goes rogue again. The trim wheel is too small, both pilots needed to turn it etc.

    Surely the whole point of the MAX fleet grounding and the year or more of changes was to stop MCAS going wrong. This seems to me to be an acceptance that it WILL go wrong and what to do when once again the pilots have to battle a rogue system.

    Maybe they should have got Microsoft to develop it. They know all about crashes. Just fit three new keys on the instrument panel (Ctrl-Alt-Del).

    In answer to my own question; no, it isn't safe.

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Is it safe?

      Aviation teaches you to be cynical, better to assume a system is going to go wrong and train for it, rather than assuming the designers are infallible.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        There's a slight difference between designers not being infallible and designers deliberately creating a death trap.

    2. eldakka

      Re: Is it safe?

      Surely the whole point of the MAX fleet grounding and the year or more of changes was to stop MCAS going wrong. This seems to me to be an acceptance that it WILL go wrong and what to do when once again the pilots have to battle a rogue system.

      The 737 has always had this manual trim adjustment wheel, even prior to MCAS. Therefore if you take just a moment to think about it, that indicates that there existed the possibility of runaway trim stabilizer situations prior to MCAS. Therefore there are other causes ot runaway trim stabilizer situations other than MCAS? Such as a short circuit in the electrical system controlling the electic motors?

      Therefore this is not an admission that something WILL go wrong with the newer version of MCAS (though I fully expect there will be other MCAS issues), it's an admission that there are multiple different failure modes that include, but are not limited to, MCAS, that results in runaway trim stabilizer issues.

      Also, there was more to the grounding than just MCAS. It was the trigger, sure, but other problems have been found and (hopefully) corrected, there has been an investigation into the original MAX certification process, and so on.

      Basically, the whole thing has been a 360-odd death shit-show.

    3. Craig100

      Re: Is it safe?

      "Maybe they should have got Microsoft to develop it. They know all about crashes. Just fit three new keys on the instrument panel (Ctrl-Alt-Del)"

      They're the last people you want interfering in critical systems. They'd try and be trendy and hide the controls rather than help you in an emergency. They can't design a UI (MMI) for toffee.

  7. Commswonk

    What might be harder to ignore...

    ... is the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (i.e. the Congressional Committee) report here:

    (Warning; there's a lot of it...)

    There was mention in the UK press about this last week, and I had been hoping that El Reg would draw it to our attention here. It must make uncomfortable reading for both Boeing and the FAA.

    1. MrBanana

      Re: What might be harder to ignore...

      Thanks for this link. I'm only on the executive summary, but Christ, what a shitshow for Boeing and the FAA.

    2. Blazde Silver badge

      Re: What might be harder to ignore...

      "By Majority Staff Of The Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure"

      "This report was produced by Democratic staff of the Committee"

      Oh god, like everything else in America it's polarised. I wonder what would happen if a Democrat and a Republican were required to turn the trim wheels in a plummeting 737 MAX at the same time.

      1. MrBanana

        Re: What might be harder to ignore...

        Polarised towards the truth? How uncomfortable for America.

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: What might be harder to ignore...

        Maybe not so much polarised as being dealt with by the half of the legislature that is attempting to maintain some semblance of a functional government.

    3. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: What might be harder to ignore...

      I have read most of the exec summary in the report. A large part of the problem was the watering down of the independence of ARs (Authorized Representatives) who are supposed to be the eyes & ears of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), but many were concerned about their job security if they made negative comments - many being paid by Boeing.

      So: governance put in as a result of learning from earlier problems - dismantled to reduce costs and, presumably, as those who understood why the governance was put in had retired.

      This reminds me of the watering down of banking regulation put in after the banks wrecking the global economy in the 1920/30s being watered down in 1980s - the "big bang". This allowed the meltdown of 2008 to happen.

      I suspect that unchecked corner cutting will be found to be one of the causes of the Grenfell fire.

      Search for bonfire of regulations to see that this is still happening.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What might be harder to ignore...

        "I suspect that unchecked corner cutting will be found to be one of the causes of the Grenfell fire."

        Already clear, just not necessarily in published abd publicised reports yet. Some of the more disgraceful details have been emerging in the uk press in the last few days.

      2. Man inna barrel

        Re: What might be harder to ignore...

        "I suspect that unchecked corner cutting will be found to be one of the causes of the Grenfell fire."

        The latest I heard on the flammable cladding is that there was a flame-proof version available, but the consultant was not told about it, or some such bollocks. The speed of buck passing here would put a top ice hockey team to shame.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What might be harder to ignore...

          There also seems to be a set of "family connections" between suppliers, project managers, etc.

          It truly doesn't bear thinking about.

          In sympathy with those affected.

    4. ExampleOne

      Re: What might be harder to ignore...

      Wow. Surely some of those findings, if provable in a court of law, are corporate manslaughter, and potentially in some of them, should allow individuals to be prosecuted as well?

    5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Oh. My. God.

      I've just read through the first 86 pages of this report and the one adjective that comes to mind is : damning.

      Boeing is 100% guilty of taking an airframe and putting engines on it that didn't fit, then designing faulty software around that for the sole purpose of having a plane that could respond to the latest Airbus threat.

      Security was never part of the equation. Speed of production and profitability were the only criteria. To the extent that engineering personnel bringing attention to possible issues were literally ignored or silenced.

      That smacks of manslaughter to me.

      The FAA is guilty of having a buddy relationship with Boeing that extends to Boeing representatives paid by Boeing working at the FAA and pushing the Boeing point of view on the regulator instead of being mediators between the two. Who is the fucking idiot that thought that was a good idea ?

      If I disregard the appalling cost in human lives that this entire marketing project has created, the entire report reads like a particularly macabre episode of Yes Minister, where Sir Humphry would be a perfect fit in orchestrating self-certification and FAA approval while quashing the irritating reality of issues.

      Shame. Shame.

      Shame all around.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh. My. God.

        "Boeing is 100% guilty of taking an airframe and putting engines on it that didn't fit, then designing faulty software around that for the sole purpose of having a plane that could respond to the latest Airbus threat."

        Here's an idea. On the basis that -

        - Boeing needed to put new engines on the 737 because they couldn't afford to design a new plane


        - the engines had to be placed in front of the wing because they were too big to fit under the wing as before

        why didn't they get better shaped engines. or get one of the engine designers to fix the problem. Or fit bigger landing legs to jack up the plane to make more space, or have a lower runway for the same reason. This looks like corner cutting overlaid on more corner cutting. I still don't think its safe. Workarounds do not fix a fundamental problem.

        1. whitepines
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Oh. My. God.

          or have a lower runway for the same reason


          Oh you mean 737 MAX Certified Runways. Two custom trenches for the engines to dangle down inside during takeoff and landing?

          In all seriousness none of those things would work. Engines are shaped the way they are because they are designed by proper engineers (not Boing) for efficiency. You can't just change the shape and keep the efficiency / power / etc., and even if you could the cost (including MX) would probably higher for the custom Boing engines than the more standard ones used by everyone else.

          Landing gear length is set very early on in the design and really can't be changed (much) afterward without redesigning half the aircraft. No more grandfathering in that case.

          Boeing needed to put new engines on the 737 because they couldn't afford to design a new plane

          This sounds about right. Boing lost in the market via the typical American story of greed leading to short sighted business decisions (who needs engineers or R&D?) and instead of quietly exiting stage left decided to kill 300+ people in the pursuit of even more dosh. How the board has not been brought up on charges at this point is quite beyond me.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They do not

    give a fuck about passengers lives do they.

    Time to kill Boeing

    Cheers… Ishy

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Time to kill Boeing

      The problem is that Boeing is a major arms equipment supplier to the US Military.

      The one thing that they (ther US Gov) is not going to do is cut off that supply.

      Then there is MAGA

      Then there is the belief that US Industry makes the best [insert widget name here] in the world. They don't. The rest of the world knows that only to well.

      Finally, killing Boeing would give Airbus free reign and Washington will never allow that in a million years.

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: Time to kill Boeing

        The problem is that Boeing is a major arms equipment supplier to the US Military

        The US military's remit, and by association the part of Boeing that supplies stuff to them, is killing people.

        It appears to have rubbed off on the civilian part.

      2. dajames

        Re: Time to kill Boeing

        The problem is that Boeing is a major arms equipment supplier to the US Military.

        The one thing that they (ther US Gov) is not going to do is cut off that supply.

        Why? Do they not want arms equipment that actually works?

        Boeing seem to be quite good at making aircraft that kill people, but the military are usually concerned about more than simple headcount and may want to specify which people are to be killed, and where, and when.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Time to kill Boeing

          "Boeing seem to be quite good at making aircraft that kill people"

          Now all they need are kamikaze pilots to fly the things. Job done.

  9. sanmigueelbeer

    Requiring both crew members to turn the trim wheel simultaneously

    Because the only time the manual trim wheel can be used by any member of the cockpit crew is when the plane is on the ground.

    When the plane is in the air, due to resistance of the air, it is impossible to turn the trim wheel.

    1. MrBanana

      Have you read ANY of the reports from the fatal crashes?

      1. sanmigueelbeer

        Yes, I have.

        Have a look at information on the "effort" required to trim the nose manually when the plane is flying.

        That is why Boeing is recommending BOTH pilots to use the trim wheel. The resistance to move the trim wheel is heavy.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Why not have some sort of ratchet mechanism where you crank a handle up and down to force that bugger to move? Expecting the pilot (or in this case both of them) to do the impossible in the middle of what may well be an emergency situation is taking the piss.

          1. Klimt's Beast Would

            Or maybe add a gear somewhere along the control cable to make it more effective?

            I'm calling it the Boeing Constrictor on account of being too terrfied to move once I find out I'll be flying in it.

            1. Klimt's Beast Would

              Oooh, how about this: 'Allow the trim wheel to go up to 11!'*

              * Is it bad form to reply to one's own post?

          2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Why not have a motor?

            In fact there is a motor. It's just that Boeing have put MCAS and the motor on the same breaker switches, so you can either have motor and computer-that-tries-to-kill-you or neither and have to do it by hand.

            I thought I'd read in El Reg that one of the solutions Boeing and the FAA were looking at was a change to the controls system to allow MCAS to be killed and still have electronic control of the trim. Which would have saved the Ethiopia plane - because as I recall they even re-enabled MCAS in order to try and get the trim motor to do some of the work before MCAS could push the trim all the way forward again. But couldn't manage to override it and had to switch it off again.

          3. sanmigueelbeer

            Before anyone down-votes my response, please take the time to read this: Simulator tests demonstrate 737 Max manual trim difficulties

            Why not have some sort of ratchet mechanism where you crank a handle up and down to force that bugger to move?

            Believe me when I say I'm searching for that report that gave a mind-numbing detail about the trim wheel. Information such as how many turns of the wheel does it take to adjust a single degree of the trim tabs and how much is a single degree translates to how many degrees the pitch or drop of the nose.

            Now try turning that wheel when the plane is flying through the air.

            1. eldakka

              Because the only time the manual trim wheel can be used by any member of the cockpit crew is when the plane is on the ground.
              Before anyone down-votes my response, please take the time to read this: Simulator tests demonstrate 737 Max manual trim difficulties

              I felt your original assertion was exaggerated if not outright wrong, as I understood that in 'normal' flight the trim wheels could function normally with just one pilot operating them.

              Therefore I decided to do a fact-check and read your link. After reading the link you posted, it did nothing to change my mind, and doesn't say what your assertion ("Because the only time the manual trim wheel can be used by any member of the cockpit crew is when the plane is on the ground.") says it says.

              Selected quotes from the report:

              The tests, completed as part of the investigation into the March 2019 crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, revealed that during certain “mis-trim” scenarios pilots might struggle to turn the manual trim wheel in a 737 Max’s cockpit at speeds of only 220kt.

              Such difficulties occur when another pilot is simultaneously hauling back on the control column – a scenario apparently experienced by pilots of the crashed Ethiopian 737 Max 8, according to the Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau’s interim report, released 9 March.


              At 220kt and the stabiliser set at 2.5° (slightly less nose-down trim than flight 302’s pilots faced) the simulator pilots found the trim wheel to be “barely moveable”, meaning they could not complete one turn. At 2.5° and 250kt airspeed, the wheel was “not movable”, says the report.

              “For all speeds higher than 220kt and trim set at a value of 2.5 units, the difficulty level of turning the manual trim wheel was… trim wheel not movable,” it says.

              The report only says that in certain (many) situations it is not manually operable. It did not say that in all situations it is not manually operable.

              Therefore at the very least your assertion is hyperbolic.

        2. I am the liquor

          If the resistance is too heavy, saying "well have two people turn it then" surely can't be the right answer. You might as well specify that the plane only be flown by pilots who can bench 200 lbs.

          The wheel should have more mechanical advantage.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Just make the economy passengers row/pedal faster. If that doesn't work, equip the cabin crew with whips.

            1. xehpuk

              I think you are on to something. But instead of a whip. How about tear gas to quickly move all passengers to the absolute rear. Instead of trying this underdimensioned hand crank.

              Also remember that this hand crank is the same on 737NG (it's not new to the Max, AKA 737-8). So all those pilots better be lining up for the gym now anyway.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The 737 Max will be known as the 737-7, 737-8 and 737-9. In Ryanair's case it will be known as the 737-8200, a reference to the base -8 Max model having been fettled to fit 200 seats rather than the stock -8's 180ish."

    Ah, the old tactics or renaming ! Of course, no sane person would ever approach ant plane called "737-MAX" again, given the scandal the 2 accidents revealed.

    So, let's rename the defective shit 737-1234 and call it a day.

    Lovely. Now, I know the MAX is going to fly soon. I'll fly airbus next time.

    1. David Lewis 2

      Why not 737-666?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think they should just extend the original name:

      737-MAX Impact

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Boing Maximus 737 Impact

        Like the Asus mobo I still have in my gaming rig, The VII Impact.

    3. MJI Silver badge

      So EasyJet then.

    4. Klimt's Beast Would

      They've missed a trick. The 737-9 won't be popular in german speaking countries.

  11. Elledan

    Making bricks fly

    The crux of the issue is basically that Boeing is doing something unspeakable (in an aerodynamic sense) to the 737 airframe and refuses to spend the time and money to properly deal with the consequences of these actions. MCAS is about the laziest, most brute-force way to overcome the fact that they ruined everything that made the 737 such an easy to fly plane to begin with.

    Fact of the matter remains that the 737 is among the lowest (in terms of ground-belly distance) airplanes, and that this by definition precludes it from fitting larger engines that can physically fit underneath the wings without hitting the ground. Boeing ignored this by hanging larger engines off the front of the wings instead, changed the entire aerodynamics (and center of gravity) of the airplane, slapped on a half-hearted fly-by-wire 'fix' that turned out to make things worse and called it a day until the reality of this horror show caused hundreds of people to needlessly lose their lives.

    When the US Air Force was flying the F-117 'Flying Piano', its aerodynamic profile was about the worst possible for something pretending to be an airplane, but fly it did, courtesy of a solid, well-designed and tested fly-by-wire computer system. The 737-MAX is roughly the opposite approach there, taking a solid airframe that even a beginner pilot could fly without fly-by-wire tricks, to then worsen its aerodynamic properties by adding a single-point-of-failure (one of the mechanical and fairly error-prone AoA sensors) and slinging overly heavy engines to the front of the wings so that the plane will want to dive either into the ground or towards the sky at the merest glance at the controls.

    For all the flak that Airbus receives (AF447 comes to mind), the fact of the matter remains that a solidly built system that is defeated by idiocy, a poorly trained crew, or both is something that is relatively easy to forgive. Building an airplane that's as intuitive to control as a Sopwith Camel backed up with avionics that will gladly stab you in the back when you least expect it is at best criminal.

    The 737-MAX, whatever name it is given, should never fly again. I know I'll endeavor to never fly in one, and I hope everyone from pilot associations to passengers will speak out against this abomination.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Making bricks fly

      "to passengers will speak out against this abomination."

      If I ever fly again, the booking request will be simple. Not a Boeing.

      1. alain williams Silver badge

        Re: Making bricks fly

        Not a Boeing

        You will never see that on a flight booking form.

        The airline might say "we fly Airbus" or similar but then change a flight due to one of a hundred reasons. What are you going to do when you realise as you board the air plane ? You won't be given a refund if you refuse to get on.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Making bricks fly

          actually I found, pre-Covid, that the flight i booked was invariably on the advertised type of aircraft. It's not like booking a hire car and expecting a Mustang and getting a Hyundai something. Usually route/aircraft combinations are pretty static, for lots of good reasons such as crew training, ground handling capability, drink trolley dimensions etc.

        2. MrBanana

          Re: Making bricks fly

          Try SeatGuru:, they have a pretty up to date list of which aircraft is used for most flights, weeks in advance.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Making bricks fly

            You've clearly never flown on Qatar. They regularly change the aircraft type on the day of travel and they have a huge range of aircraft. All of their short hauls are Airbus I think but they use A350s and B787s, A380s and B777s and will change them around with little notice.

            Some airlines have very few plane types; Emirates only have A380s and B777s for example, but others have a huge range. Swaps can and do happen.

            When the 737max comes back I'll just avoid airlines that have them in their fleet. I mostly fly BA anyway and they use A3xx for their short hauls.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Making bricks fly

              "You've clearly never flown on Qatar. They regularly change the aircraft type on the day of travel and they have a huge range of aircraft. All of their short hauls are Airbus I think but they use A350s and B787s, A380s and B777s and will change them around with little notice.

              Some airlines have very few plane types; Emirates only have A380s and B777s for example, but others have a huge range. Swaps can and do happen.

              When the 737max comes back I'll just avoid airlines that have them in their fleet. I mostly fly BA anyway and they use A3xx for their short hauls."

              I've flown a lot on Qatar, but it was always the same trip, using an A320, but I surely can't claim full knowledge.

              That's a very good point you're making, how in the nine hells can a traveller make sure he won't set foot on the darn brick ?

              Anyone has any idea ???

            2. Allonymous Coward

              Re: Making bricks fly

              When the 737max comes back I'll just avoid airlines that have them in their fleet. I mostly fly BA anyway and they use A3xx for their short hauls.

              This. I sometimes fly long haul on Boeings but they're not the ones with the problem. Would happily get on a 777 any day.

              Short haul, the airlines that operate 737s are mostly ones I'd rather not fly anyway for other reasons. Ryanair being the obvious example.

    2. jtaylor

      Re: Making bricks fly

      The crux of the issue is basically that Boeing is doing something unspeakable (in an aerodynamic sense) to the 737 airframe...worsen its aerodynamic properties by...slinging overly heavy engines to the front of the wings so that the plane will want to dive either into the ground or towards the sky at the merest glance at the controls.

      Of course the 737 MAX has excellent aerodynamics. If it didn't, it wouldn't be fuel efficient. Fuel efficiency is a big selling point over previous 737 models.

      It's not prone to flipping around as you describe. Again, this doesn't make sense. Big heavy jets don't just twirl like that. I haven't seen any reputable source that even claims the aircraft pitch is particularly hard to control (excluding faulty MCAS).

      The problem is that Boeing built an aircraft that behaves differently from its predecessor, sold it as not behaving differently, and then did a dreadful bodge (MCAS) to meet its promise. It's not even important how much differently it behaves, because it was certified and sold as being no different.

      So you don't need to invent apocalyptic aircraft behaviors to make your point. Just say "it's different and Boeing tried to cover that up because money, and people died."

      1. Elledan

        Re: Making bricks fly

        "[..] if the pilot for whatever reason manoeuvres the aircraft hard, generating an angle of attack close to the stall angle of around 14°, the previously neutral engine nacelle generates lift. A lift which is felt by the aircraft as a pitch up moment (as its ahead of the CG line), now stronger than on the 737NG. This destabilizes the MAX in pitch at higher Angles Of Attack (AOA). The most difficult situation is when the manoeuvre has a high pitch ratio. The aircraft’s inertia can then provoke an over-swing into stall AOA."


        This is why I mentioned the Sopwith Camel comparison, as it too had the tendency to fly its pilot into the ground when pushed towards certain points. Imagine a pilot pulling a bit more than usual on the yoke during take-off, causing the AoA to hit the pre-programmed limit, or turbulent weather destabilising the plane and causing lift or downdraft events on the nacelles. And that's all with MCAS working 'as designed'.

        I did not need to 'invent' anything here. We have all seen the two fatal cases and the dozens of near-misses. The 737-MAX has wildly different aerodynamics (the way the airplane behaves under different conditions), which disrupt the stable platform of the previous 737 generations.

    3. Citizen99

      Re: Making bricks fly

      Why the Sopwith Camel, was it designed to be unstable for combat agility reasons ?

      Just asking.

      1. heyrick Silver badge
      2. Stoneshop

        the Sopwith Camel

        It was a fighter, so it was supposed to be easily manoeuvrable. Which it was.

        It was also equipped with comparatively hefty rotary engine making for a tendency for the plane itself to rotate the other way (along its lengthwise axis), plus t had most of its mass (engine, fuel tank, guns and ammo, and the pilot) quite close together,making for low inertia regarding yaw and pitch. If you, as the pilot, could deal with those characteristics it was a formidable weapon.

        1. Citizen99

          Re: the Sopwith Camel

          @heyrick @Stoneshop Thanks for the link and info. Evidently a conscious design decision in the day. At least it didn't take civilians with it.

          1. Stoneshop

            Re: the Sopwith Camel

            Mind that this also was just a good dozen years after the first successful powered flight, and while aircraft design had progressed to the point that taking off, flying and landing with a conservatively designed craft could be achieved with a moderately low risk to life, limb and airframe, it's not what you gain (and hold) air superiority with. So Stuff was Tried, and that again meant that the better fighter aircraft were badly suited to rookies. It was said of the Camel that you could either end up with a wooden cross, the Red Cross or the Victoria Cross.

  12. Caver_Dave Silver badge

    Another work around...

    Make the plane out of rubber.

    Then if it crashes it will just bounce.

    Call it the Boing 737

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another work around...

      Or as someone suggested, make planes out of the same stuff as the black box, then it will almost always survive a crash

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Another work around...

        Of prepackage passengers in bright orange coffins made to the same structural standards as the flight recorders.

        1. KSM-AZ

          Re: Another work around...

          This would also solve the problem of having to wear a mask while flying!

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Another work around...

      Put wheels on the engines, then they can act as landing gear and wheelie castors.

  13. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    What a surprise

    And earlier I got a downvote for saying manglement would try to find a way to weasel out of the situation and cutting costs.

  14. Rol

    All's is not equal.

    Now imagine this the other way around, and it was an Airbus model that had suffered all these calamities. Do you think the American government would stand so idly by and let that model get back into the skies so easily. Hell no! Demands to have the model scrapped would be coming from Washington, backed up with a double decker bus full of lawyers ready to pummel Boeing's competitor into the ground.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All's is not equal.

      I don't think you understand Americans. There's no way those lawyers are getting on a bus with the commoners. Which is what any people on a bus in America are, ipso facto.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clean sheet design

    Around 2009, Boeing announced they were working on the Y1 clean sheet design for a twin engined narrow body airliner to replace the 737. Planned entry into service was around 2020. Instead, they went for the cheap option of the MAX which has nearly destroyed the company’s reputation, cost billions and killed several hundred people.

    1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

      Re: Clean sheet design

      They made quite some money though in the meantime with the 737 MAX.

      1. G Mac

        Re: Clean sheet design

        Made and then sent to investors for short term gain. If memory serves:

        $40B in share buybacks to juice the C-level shares so when it all goes pear-shaped they will already have cashed out nicely.

        $20B in share dividends to help the above and pour some oil on the water of investor distress that *maybe* management is taking a short term view for management gain and not investing in the future of the company for the long term.

  16. Binraider Silver badge

    FAA are obviously being pressured by US Govt and big bucks Boeing to recertify an inadequate solution. Rest of the world needs to unanimously tell them to get stuffed. It is an accident waiting to happen, again.

    As the underlying issue are the short landing gear and lack of clearance, there are plenty alternatives. Fit the engine above the wing? Extend the landing gear and fit the engine at the correct point relative to the CG? Both?

    Boeing can get lost with it's whinging about those being expensive changes. If the alternative is killing yet another planeload of customers and destroying Boeing's stock value completely seems like a bargain by comparison.

    The comet airliner's experience in the 50's should be remembered. The metal fatigue failures were the death of the company despite them figuring out the underlying problem and rectifying it. Boeing know the underlying problem and clearly have not rectified it.

    Either way I don't think there's any amount of persuasion that will get me on a Max or derivative thereof ever again. False economy. Could not pay me enough to get one of those deathtraps.

  17. s. pam Silver badge

    Deadly platform

    My father worked with a slide rule and protractor in the Skunk Works @ Lockheed. They knew how to properly design planes.

    The design of this plane is do bad its like it's held together with SW, bailing wire and snot.

    Damn sure we'll never fly one. How all involved haven't been sacked escapes me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Deadly platform

      "The design of this plane is do bad its like it's held together with SW, bailing wire and snot"

      Sounds like you've read about some of the goings-on in Boeing's manufacturing facilities too. 737 and others.

      See e.g.

      And/or search for "boeing bear strap manufacturing"

    2. AdrianMontagu

      Re: Deadly platform

      Lockhead StarFighter. I think it was the 101 but I may be wrong. It was known in Germany as the widow maker. Lockhead Martin are no angels. They lost the design of the F35 to the Chinese - That is really good management.

      1. Merrill

        Re: Deadly platform

        The Lockheed Starfighter was the F-104. The F-101 was the McDonnell Voodoo.

        1. Binraider Silver badge

          Re: Deadly platform

          The F104 mostly got the rep as a widow maker because it was being used in roles it wasn't meant to do. High-altitude, high speed intercepts it was good at. Using one as a marine strike or low level ground attack unit, effectively the same role that UK used the Buccaneer, was sheer madness. The Bucc was very explicitly designed for low level flight at high subsonic speed with heavy loads; and was chock full of high lift devices for low speed too - for example bleeding engine air over the leading edge to reduce it's stall speed.

          The 104G on the other hand had thin, tiny, stubby supercritical wings; and fuel tanks perched precariously on the end of them; then forcing it to operate in a role it really was not suited to in the slightest.

          No problem with the design of the plane, but the way it was employed was hideous.

  18. IGotOut Silver badge

    Simple answer.

    Make the Directors and Airlines that want to rush this through sign a contract that they will be liable for murder for any deaths caused by Aircraft malfunction due to design issues.

    25 years and $10million per death. 50% for injury only.

    Then we'll see how happily they will pass it off.

  19. Mike 137 Silver badge

    To sum up

    From pages 120-121 of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure report:

    "In short, MCAS was poorly designed, not adequately tested, and received flawed oversight by the FAA. Greg Travis, the software engineer and private pilot who wrote about MCAS in the IEEE’s Spectrum magazine last year put the Boeing design and development process in stark terms: Boeing produced a dynamically unstable airframe, the 737 Max. That is big strike No. 1. Boeing then tried to mask the 737’s dynamic instability with a software system. Big strike No. 2. Finally, the software relied on systems known for their propensity to fail (angle-of-attack indicators) and did not appear to include even rudimentary provisions to cross-check the outputs of the angle-of-attack sensor against other sensors, or even the other angle-of-attack sensor. Big strike No. 3. None of the above should have passed muster."

    There's little more to say other than that the conventional corporate closing of ranks took place where anything challenged revenue, and that yet another regulator viewed "compliance" merely as a paper game.

  20. Tempest

    So Many Lessons to be Learned in Aviation and Elsehwere

    The failure of Boeing in developing the 737 Max should become a classic reference on how NOT to execute a project and why engineers and not accountants should be in charge.

    The obscene conflicts of interest between Boeing and the FAA are criminal, products that don't endanger lives have more responsible Quality Control reporting structures. The increasingly poor Quality Control and Inspection in several recent Boeing Aircraft have been the subject of full length films shown in public fora (forums).

    More than one aircraft purchaser is refusing to accept product made at Boeing South Carolina.

    For myself AND MY STAFF - the instructions to our Travel Agent are IF IT'S BOEING, I AIN'T GOING. I infrequently fly on a DC-3 in Africa and I feel a damn more safer on those 80-year old aircraft than some of today's engineering 'wonders'.

    "Manual trim wheels" are discussed in Wickipedia and their size reduction, given their importance, further exemplifies the compromises Boeing is prepared to make with respect to passenger safety.

    A Pox on all the homes of Bean Counters.

  21. AdrianMontagu


    Pilots need to be able to fly the plane as individuals. If flying is dependant on computers all the time then when those computers fail - which they will - then the inevitable will happen UNLESS the pilots can take over. That's what Pilots do.

  22. I should coco

    No faith in FAA

    What other "fixes" have the FAA let slip in order to keep their corporate buddies $B's safe? This raises serious questions about the ability of the organisation to do its most basic role - making air travel safe.

    Lets hope that other international regulatory organisations take note and (if they are clever) sell their shares in Boeing and Airbus before coming clean and fix what is wrong with this aspect of the industry.

    This is the 21st century FFS, why should we, as consumers, be questioning the basic principles of "making a safe airplane"

  23. VulcanV5

    Like finding like

    Interesting to see something as grubby and sleazy as Boeing finding a ready customer in Ryanair for its loathsome Max.

    Will survival of a Ryanair flight aboard a Boeing Max be an optional extra which Michael O'Leary can now charge for?

    1. Alan1kiwi

      Re: Like finding like

      Ryanair are replacing one of the pilots with a dog, whose job is to bite the remaining pilot if he tries to touch any of the buttons.

      Passengers will be charged for dog food.

  24. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

    This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. The whole concept of the 737 MAX is flawed. They hung larger engines on an air-frame never meant for them. The standard 737 landing gear is too short for these engines so they increased the size of the front landing gear causing the plane to tilt nose up when on the tarmac. This results in a potential stall position on take off. A critical time when a nose down maneuver could be fatal. As an armature pilot, having software fly a plane scares the crap out of me. Let the pilots fly the plane and raise the rear gear to put the plane in the proper attitude during take off. The BALPA is correct, Boeing's instructions will get people killed!

    This reminds me of the infamous US F4U fighter plane in WWII. They put an over-sized propeller on it and then had to designed those distinctive "gull wings" to keep the propeller from hitting the ground. A very deadly aircraft in combat but one that had the dubious moniker of "Ensign Eliminator" due to the many young pilots who died in training trying to learn to fly this beast! The plane had a habit of violent unrecoverable stalls at low speeds and low altitudes.

  25. UncleZoot

    Why has nothing been brought up as to the root cause of these disastrous crashes, that the AOA indicators are failing at an alarming rate?

    Boeing offered a second AOA sensor which most airlines purchased, except that the low cost turd world airlines didn't opt for.

    The Boeing 737 NG also used a version of MCAS, thought not as "intelligent" as the system used on the Max version.

    There are other means to turn the crank handles for control surfaces. They could have installed a hydraulic system to operate the control surfaces

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, that's how Ryanair days

    will end.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BALPA vs AIrlines

    BALPA have their members lives to consider.

    Only if airlines CEOs lives are on the line if an air crash is traced to them will they have the same weight

  28. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    FAA Signoff...

    "FAA chief will personally fly Boeing 737 MAX test flight to allay safety fears

    Steve Dickson will not sign off plane’s return until he is ‘satisfied I would put my own family on it’"

  29. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    Bodging a bodged bodge

    So the way the new engines were fitted was a bodge to stop those huge cowls dragging on the runway when the plane was on the ground. Basically Boeing were trying to save money rather than doing the job right.

    They then came up with another bodge to work round the problems caused by mounting the engines higher up and further forward. Basically MCAS overrides the flight controls to try to make the plane fly like a normal 737 rather than redesigning the plane to sit the engines. Yet more money saving.

    They've had plenty of time to come up with a solution. Any reasonable engineer might expect that such a solution might involve making physical changes to some parts of the aircraft, but Boeing want to do the whole thing in software and basically by giving the pilots some new instructions. Once again the only reason for this is to save money.

    Right now it's not like airlines need all those planes back in the air. Most airlines have large parts of their fleets grounded and will have for some time. As such you'd expect the airlines to be pressing Boeing to do the job right. But they're not.

    They need to realise that if they allow Boeing to apply yet another bodged solution and there is another crash then they will have to accept at least some of the blame.

    They must also be aware that there will be a significant number of frequent flyers who won't go near a MAX even if it is rebranded. And as such the easy way to avoid this will be to choose an airline with none in their fleet.

    If I were an airline I would no longer trust anything that Boeing or the FAA have to say.

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