Boeing Wants You to Trust the 737 Max: Here’s One Expert’s View

By Anna Breuer on 10 May 2019
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Boeing, after bungling its response to two deadly crashes of its new 737 Max aircraft and admitting that the company knew of issues with new technology that wasn’t ready for prime time in the aircraft, has a credibility gap.

The Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer is working to restore the faith of airlines, airline employees, and travelers in the aircraft while it tries to get its proposed software fix for the aircraft certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In its defense, Boeing says that the angle of attack indicator and the AOA Disagree alert have “never been considered safety features on commercial jet transport airplanes.” But the 737 Max is no ordinary commercial jet airplane.

The 737 Max is based on a design more than half a century old, and decades-old systems that in many cases date back to the aircraft’s original design. Its patchwork nature means that it has many workarounds that newer planes don’t.

One such workaround, the anti-stall system designed to compensate for the aircraft’s larger engines, has been tied to the 737 Max’ two fatal accidents, one in March and one last October.

José Kirchner comes from more of an aviation family than most: His father owned and operated an airline. He’s currently a moderator at FlyerTalk.com, the world’s largest online travel community and a very frequent flyer. A pilot and former ATC global troubleshooter himself, he spent many hours in unpressurized DC-3s, early turbine powered aircraft, and has flown on the Concorde, Airbus A380, Boeing Dreamliner and Airbus A350.

His perspective on the Boeing 737 Max is colored by having been an interested observer when the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jetliner, took to the skies – and when it was grounded due to its tendency to come apart at the seams at altitude.

In a discussion with Frequent Business Traveler, here’s what Kirchner had to say about the current situation, no punches pulled.

“Boeing was wrong to include a less than mature Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, that relied on a single angle-of-attack sensor instead of sampling both and warning of discrepancies. The company was wrong to not highlight MCAS and how to fully disengage MCAS, and it was wrong to sell the angle-of-attack display and disagree warning as optional extras, given the current state of the art.

“Further, airlines were wrong not to buy both safety ‘options.’ Neither Lion Air nor Ethiopian Airlines did. Nor did United Airlines. Southwest Airlines bought one, American Airlines bought both – I have to give American credit for that.

“We’re watching the blood sacrifice being paid for flawed aircraft development, as we did with the De Havilland Comet I, the Lockheed Electra, and the DC-10. They all had major flaws and lost hulls and many souls before the issues were rectified and they went on to have long, productive lives.

“I frankly avoid flying on drastically new aircraft; I first flew in the Dreamliner last year. I did fly a lot on the Comet 4C, the Electra post whirl mode and various DC-10s, and I suspect that, once this mess is rectified I’ll fly in a 737 MAX as well.

“The crux of the tragic crashes is the loss of life. Humans like to believe we’re masters of what we do, but it’s really hubris. Engineering hubris designed the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic with inadequate watertight compartments that didn’t take into consideration the possibility of a horizontal slice that would breach more than one compartment. This hubris, much like Boeing’s, sent the ship to sea with fewer lifeboats than were required to accommodate all passengers and crew.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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