Boeing executives provide a simple explanation of why the company's best-selling aircraft, the 737 MAX 8, crashed twice in recent months, leaving Jakarta, Indonesia in October and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in October. Executives claimed on Wednesday, March 27, the cause was a software issue – and a new software upgrade fixes the problem.
But this open and closed version of events is in conflict with what industrious aviation reporters have discovered in recent weeks since Asia, Europe, Canada, and the United States founded the planes.
The story begins nine years ago when Boeing faced a significant threat to the bottom line, causing the airline to rush a series of clicks through the certification process ̵
The peculiarities of the regulatory system are still in progress (and despite the assurances of the executives, we do not even know what happened on the flights, but the big picture emerges: a major employer was a big financial threat It's a scandal.
The rivalry between 737 and 320 explains
There are many different passenger aircraft on the market, but only two very similar congestion aircraft dominate domestic flight (or intra-European aviation), one of which is the 320 family of the European company Airbus, with the A318, A319, A320 or A321 depending on how long the aircraft is, these four variants have identical flying decks, so that pilots can be trained to fly them interchangeably.
D The 320 family joins a group of aircraft that Boeing calls the 737 – there's a 737-600, a 737-700, a 737-800 and a 737-900 – with higher numbers indicating larger levels. Some of them are extended range models with an ER attached to their name, and as you would probably expect, have longer ranges.
Although there are many different flavors of 737, they are all in a sense the same level, just as all the different 320 family levels are the same level. For example, Southwest Airlines simplifies overall flight operations by only flying different 737 variants.
Both the 737 and the 320 are available in many different flavors, giving airlines many options on what type of aircraft should fly on which route. However, as there are only two players in this market and their offerings are so fundamentally similar, competition for this segment of the aircraft market is both intense and strangely limited. If one company had a clear technical advantage over the other, it would be a minor disaster for the losing company.
And that's exactly what Boeing believed.
The A320neo was a problem for Boeing.
The aviation fuel is associated with considerable costs for the airlines. Since labor costs are largely dependent on collective agreements and regulations requiring minimum ratios of cabin crew per passenger, the cost center of airlines, which gives airlines the most capacity to do so, is to do something about it. As a result, improving fuel efficiency has proven to be one of the key drivers of competition between aerospace manufacturers.
If you roll back to 2010, it looks like Boeing has a real problem in that regard.
Airbus released an updated version of the A320 family known as the A320neo, with "Neo" standing for "new engine option". The new engines should have a more economical design with a larger diameter. Compared to previous A320 engines, this could still be mounted on a substantially same cell. This was a non-trivial engineering endeavor, both in developing the new engines and in identifying how they could work with the old cell, but although it cost a lot of money, it basically worked. And the question arose as to whether Boeing would answer.
The first word was that this would not be the case. As Brett Snyder of CBS Moneywatch wrote in December 2010, the fundamental problem was that you could not beat the new generation of more efficient, larger-diameter engines on the 737:
One of the problems for Boeing is to order new engines on the 737 It takes more work than for the A320. The 737 is lower than the A320 and the new engines have a larger diameter. So while both manufacturers would have to work, the Boeing guys would have more work to pimp the plane. This will cost more and reduce the commonality with the current fleet. As we know from last week, reduced commonality also means higher costs for airlines.
Under the circumstances, Boing was the best option to take the hit for a few years and to accept that 737 would have to be sold at a bargain price, and it took time to design a whole new plane. Of course, that would be time-consuming and expensive, and in the meantime, they would probably lose a number of bottlenecks to Airbus.
The original version of the 737 flew in 1967 for the first time, and a decade-old decision on how much height to remain between the wing and the runway was the engine technology of the 21st century – and there was nothing wrong with it
except it gave.
Boeing decided to use the over-sized engines anyway
As recently as February 2011, James McNerney, Boeing's CEO and CEO, pledged to design a completely new aircraft.
"We're not done yet to assess the whole situation," he said in a call from analysts, "but our current tendency is to choose a newer aircraft at the end of the decade, the beginning of the next decade, a completely new aircraft. We believe that our customers will be waiting for us. "
In August 2011, however, Boeing announced that it already had orders for 496 newly powered Boeing 737 aircraft from five different airlines.
It's not very clear what happened, but reading between the lines, Boeing seems to have come to the conclusion in his interview with his customers that the airlines would not wait for them. A critical mass of airlines (American Airlines seems to have been particularly influential) was credible enough to switch to Airbus equipment, and Boeing decided to offer a Boeing solution to 737 buyers sooner or later.
Trying to install a new engine that did not fit in the plane was the corporate version of the Fyre Festival, where we were supposed to make it simple and be legends, and it came as no surprise that a lot of engineering came along and regulatory issues.
New Engines in an Old Airplane
As explained in March in the journal Leeham News and Analysis, Boeing's engineers had been working on the concept, which in their day belonged to 737 MAX, as the company's plan it was not planned yet.
In an interview with Aircraft Technology in March 2011, Mike Bair, then head of product development at 737, said reengineering was possible.
"There was quite a lot of engineering work," he said. "We have found a way to get a sufficiently large engine under control."
The problem is that an airplane is a large, complicated network of interconnected parts. To bring the engine under the 737, engineers had to mount the landing gear higher and further forward in the aircraft. However, moving the landing gear changed the aerodynamics of the aircraft so that the aircraft did not handle properly at a high angle of attack. This in turn led to the creation of the maneuver feature extension system (MCAS). In most situations, the problem of the angle of attack has been resolved. In other situations, however, new problems were created when pilots made direct control of the aircraft difficult without being overruled by the MCAS.
On Wednesday, Boeing has released a software patch that fixes the problem, and hopes to persuade the FAA to agree.
Note, however, that the underlying problem is not really software, but the overhead associated with software is to work around a whole host of other problems.
1of x: BEST analysis of what really happened in the issue # Boeing737Max by my brother-in-law @davekammeyer who is a pilot, software engineer and deep thinker. Bottom line is not software that is the band aid for many other technical and economic forces.
– Trevor Sumner (@trevorsumner) March 16, 2019
Let us remember that the purpose of the 737 MAX project was to say that the new plane was the same as the one old plane. From a technical point of view, the preferred solution was actually to build a new aircraft. However, for business reasons, Boeing did not want a "new plane" that required a lengthy certification process and extensive (and expensive) training of new pilots for its customers. Demand was for a plane that was both new and not new.
However, since the new engines would not fit under the old wings, the new aircraft had other aerodynamic properties than the old aircraft. And because the aerodynamics were different, so did the flight control systems. But to consider the whole as a fundamentally different level would have undermined the whole point. The FAA and Boeing agreed to somehow fool it.
The new aircraft are quite different
As far as we can tell, the 737 MAX is a fully airworthy aircraft, as its error-free steering enables safe operation.
But pilots of aircraft that have not crashed repeatedly noticed the same basic behavior pattern that had been suspected behind the two crashes, as reported by a Dallas Morning News report from Volunteer Aircraft Incidents NASA database.
The information found in the news relates to problems with an autopilot system, all of which occurred during the ascent after launch. Many mentioned that the plane suddenly nailed. While records show that these flights took place in October and November, the airlines for which the pilots had flown were removed from the database.
These pilots have safely deactivated the MCAS and kept their aircraft in the air. However, one of the pilots reported to the database that it was "indisputable that a manufacturer, the FAA and airlines fly pilots without proper training or even provide available resources and documentation to understand the highly complex systems that differ this aircraft from previous models. "
The training piece is important because a key selling point of the 737 MAX was the idea that pilots did not necessarily have to be a new aircraft, but that they did not really need retraining for the new aircraft equipment The New York Times reported, "For many new aircraft models, pilots train for hours on huge, multi-million machines and on-site cockpits that mimic the flight experience and give them new features," while the experienced 737 MAX pilots were allowed light refresher courses on an iPad could perform.
Dam Boeing was able to get the aircraft into the hands of its customers quickly and cost-effectively, but obviously at the expense of the possibility that pilots do not really know how to handle the aircraft, which has serious consequences for everyone involved.
The FAA put a lot of trust in Boeing.
In a March 17 blockbuster report to the Seattle Times, aviation reporter Dominic Gates tells the newspaper how far the FAA has delegated crucial assessments of the 737's safety to Boeing itself. The delegation, explains Gates, is in part a story of a yearlong process in which the FAA "citing lack of funds and resources" over the years has delegated the increasing authority to Boeing to take over the work on Tunisia's safety certification aircraft. "
However, there are indications of failures that were specific to the 737 MAX timeline. Specifically, Gates reports that "the Certification Managers encouraged them to speed up the process" and "when the time for the FAA technicians was too short to complete a review, the managers either hand over the documents themselves or their audit delegated back. " to Boeing. "
The most important decisions were about what could not and could not be delegated by managers who took care of the schedule and not by the agency's technical experts.
At this point, it is not clear why the FAA was so determined to release the 737 quickly (further investigations), but if you remember the political circumstances of that time under Barack Obama's presidency, you can quickly get a general sense of problem.
Boeing is not only a large company with a significant lobbying presence in Washington, but also a major manufacturing company with a strong global export presence and a variety of well-paid union jobs. In short, it was precisely the kind of company that should be promoted by the powers-for example, the White House, for example, proud to call the Export-Import Bank the key to strengthening the American aerospace industry.
A story about regulators delaying the launch of an iconic American company and costing good jobs compared to European competition would have looked very bad. And the fact that the whole aim of the plane was to be more economical made it even more important to start the plane. But the incentives were actually reasonably geared up, and Boeing was just struggling with cutting corners.
Boeing is in a bad situation now.
An emblem of the whole situation is that the 737 MAX engineering team piled Kludge onto the board. One thing was that they had a cockpit warning light that would alert the pilots if the aircraft's two angle sensors did not match.
But then, as Jon Ostrower reported for the Air Current, the Boeing team decided to use the warning light as an optional add-on, much like the car companies charge you for a moon roof.
The light cost $ 80,000 more per aircraft, and neither Lion Air nor Ethiopian decided to buy it. Maybe Boeing was thinking that it would not sell a plane (which the FAA does not allow), which was not fundamentally safe. In the wake of the crashes, Boeing decided to rethink this decision and set the light standard for all aircraft.
Well, to put it bluntly, Boeing has lost about $ 40 billion in stock market valuations since the crash. So it's not like the hazard warning lights have picked out.
This is essentially one of the reasons why the FAA has worked so closely with Boeing on the safety regulations: the aviation industry is such that there is no real money to be made in selling aircraft whose safety success is poor. One could even imagine sketching a utopian-libertarian argument that there is no need for a governmental role in the certification of new aircraft, precisely because there is no reason to believe that it is profitable to be unsafe.
The real world, of course, differs a little from it, and different individuals and institutions are exposed to special pressures that may cause them not to take all sensible measures. In retrospect, Boeing probably hopes that the plan would have been "building a new plane" and enduring rough sales for a few years instead of ending up in the current situation. Right now, they're trying to improve things bit by bit-a software update here, a new warning light, etc., hoping to persuade global regulators to let their planes fly again.
But even when that's done, they're faced with the task of convincing the airlines to actually buy their planes. An informative David Ljunggren article for Reuters reminds us that a similar situation arose in 1965 when three then-new Boeing 727 jetliners crashed.
There was nothing unusual about the 727 aircraft, but many pilots did not understand how to operate the new flaps – a parallel to the MCAS situation with the 737 MAX – which led to additional training and changes in the manual. The passengers avoided the aircraft for months, but eventually came back, as there were no more crashes, and the 727 flew safely for decades. Boeing hopes this saga will end in a similar happy ending, but so far there still seems to be a long way to go. And their immediate future probably involves more difficult questions.
A Political Scandal Against Slow Combustion
The 737 MAX was briefly a subject of political controversy in the United States when foreign regulators founded the aircraft, but President Donald Trump, who had personally spoken with Boeing's CEO, declined to to follow him. Many members of the congress (by both parties) asked him to rethink this, which he did rather quickly and ripped the whole issue out of the forefront of Washington.
But Trump is generally friendly with Boeing (he even has a Boeing executive secretary, despite the fact that, despite ongoing ethics investigations, he has been falsely accused of favoring his former employer) and Republicans are generally abhorrent to strict regulations. The most important decisions in the mix seem to have been made during the Obama administration, making it difficult even for Democrats to pursue this issue. Meanwhile, Washington is involved in a dispute over the investigation of the special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and a new battlefield in the health sector has been opened.
On March 27, FAA officials stood in a hearing convened by the Subcommittee Ted Cruz (R-TX) Subcommittee before the Aerospace Sub-Committee of the Senate Commerce Committee. Cruz expects to hold a second hearing with Boeing executives and pilots and other industry players. Cruz took the lead on the anti-Boeing side of the export-import-bank battle years ago, so perhaps it's more comfortable than others in Congress to accept.
However, when the political system begins to engage with the issue, it is unlikely to stop with just one subcommittee of Congress. Billions of dollars are at stake for Boeing, the airlines that fly 737, and the workers who build the planes. And since a key element of this story is the credibility of FAA's own process – both in the eyes of the American people and in the eyes of overseas regulators – it certainly will not happen without further involvement by the actual leaders in the US administration.