Nel's New Day

March 28, 2019

Boeing Crashes, Tries to Recover

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 12:26 AM
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The problems that Boeing has consistently had with its new 737 MAX 8 since it came on the market flew mostly under the radar because of media obsession with the shutdown and the impending release of the Mueller investigation report. But public notice has grown exponentially since the plane model killed 189 people in the Java Sea and seemed to come to a head with the 157 dead in Ethiopia just weeks ago.  The last country to ground that model, the U.S., waited three days until public pressure caused Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) claimed that he was personally taking that action for “psychological” reasons.

The danger of the model is more than psychological as two Southwest pilots made an emergency landing soon after takeoff from Orlando International Airport while moving one of the grounded fleet to Victorville (CA). No passengers were aboard. Pilots reported “a performance issue with one of the engines.” Previous concerns about the plane had been with the automated anti-stall system, not the engine. The “safety” feature forces the nose of the plane lower if automation predicts the plan may stall. This experience supports early warnings from pilots before the crashes who expressed concerns about the plane model’s flaws.

Recently, pilots simulating problems with the first deadly flight discovered they had less than 40 seconds to override the Boeing’s automated system after one sensor failed and triggered the software to prevent a stall. Without the override, the system couldn’t be disengaged to stop the unrecoverable nose dive. The pilots doing the simulation, however, had been given training and background of the software problems, which made the issues expected.With limited training before the actual flights, pilots lacked the time; the Lion Air flight captain searched a technical manual to find the cause of the dive.  No one at a meeting discussing upgrades to the software addressed when the plane was equipped with such flaws.

Boeing does have two safety features for the cockpit, but they charged extra for them. Because they weren’t required, many airlines chose not to buy them. The FAA required neither of these features. Boeing will make one of them standard, but not the option of angle of attack indicator. The FAA also does not mandate other “optional” safety features such as backup fire extinguishers in the cargo hold. Boeing does not provide the complete list of optional safety features for the MAX or their cost. One of these, however, was $6,700 additional for the crew’s oxygen masks.

Last fall, Dominic Gates, aerospace reporter for the Seattle Times, wrote about the problems with the MAX 8 until he sent requests for comment to Boeing and the FAA about the flawed safety assessment on March 6. Boeing said it would work on getting answers, and four days later, 157 people were killed when the same model of plane crashed in Ethiopia. Boeing minimized the control of the system in flight and didn’t explain the influence on the system’s behavior by the pilot’s actions. The FAA permitted Boeing to make the decision that pilots didn’t need training on the new flight control system or mention that information in flight manuals.

Both congressional chambers have begun hearings into the plane crashes—the Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee led by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the House Transportation and Infrastructure chaired by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). One issue examined is a 2003 law allowing the FAA to give companies authority to issue certification in lieu of the FAA. Boeing has this permission, and DeFazio said he wants the FAA to have opinions from outside experts before allowing the 737 MAX planes to again take to the skies. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) plans to introduce legislation reforming the delegation system which “is so fatally riddled with flaws.” The company spent more than $70 million on lobbying legislators since 2015, and Cruz is the #1 recipient.

FAA justified their relinquishment by claiming it would save the aviation industry approximately $25 billion from 2006 to 2015. Airworthiness representatives, perhaps working for the manufacturer, were responsible for deciding whether to ground an aircraft for safety concerns. The situation became worse after the 2016 presidential election with the close friendship between DDT and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg. The FAA should have made the decision to ground the planes, but DDT took the lead to sound important. He only backed off after criticism of waiting too long. On the day that the U.S. grounded the Max 8, acting FAA director Dan Elwell said that the FAA’s decisions on the Boeing was made “in constant consultation” with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who is up for re-election next year.

The DOJ have issued several subpoenas in an investigation into Boeing’s FAA certification and marketing of the MAX, seeking information on safety and certification procedures, training manuals for pilots, and aircraft marketing. Although the Air Force doesn’t fly the MAX, its chief of staff ordered a review of training procedures for military pilots of large cargo and transport planes, including Air Force One, to ensure that military pilots are trained in handling emergency procedures and automated pilot systems.

The creation of the MAX came in 2011 from competitive pressure by Airbus, the world’s other major aircraft manufacturer, in bidding for American Airlines. Boeing’s frenetic pace to build the plan resulted in sloppy blueprints, and internal assembly designs for the MAX still have omissions such as no information about which tools to install specific tires leading to faulty connections. A requirement for engineers was to limit changes for an earlier plane model so that pilots won’t have to be trained in a flight simulator to fly the MAX. A team wanted to redesign the information layout giving pilots more data easier to read, the they couldn’t because of the no new pilot training requirement. The alternative was decades-old gauges to avoid costs.

The need to refit the older model with larger engines in competition with Airbus altered the plane’s aerodynamics, causing it to sometimes pitch up. That change led to software that forced the nose down, a change that Boeing didn’t bother explain to pilots who weren’t required to train in simulators. Boeing was also not accustomed to the new push for automation because pilots had been more in control of the plane in the past.

Boeing engineers who worked on the MAX are devastated by the crashes, and the company has offered them trauma counseling. At the same time, airlines are reconsidering their orders and asking for compensation.

In the past 20 years, Boeing donations have concentrated on members of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees responsible for the allocation of federal defense money and more recently on Republicans because they controlled Congress. Other major Boeing focuses were their tax cuts and weakening the Clean Air Act. The company got $1.1 billion from the tax cuts, putting much of into buying its stock. Boeing represents 11 percent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Recent years have seen much greater Boeing donations to PACs, including the “Senate Leadership Fund.”

In the last decade, Boeing has hired 19 officials from the Department of Defense as well as former congressional aides and executive branch officials while DDT took Elwell and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan from Boeing. Shanahan has disparaged Boeing’s competitors, such as Lockheed Martin, and promoted his former employer. After an ethics complaint, the Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating Shanahan’s actions.

Desperate because of its losses, Boeing has just announced that the fixes—that it said could take until the end of April—are finished. The originally optional warning system at an extra charge will be standard, but Boeing claims that this is not an admission of responsibility for crashes. It will also upgrade the software that made the plane nose dive by disabling the feature if sensors get conflicting information. The new plans also include training pilots instead of asking them to watch a video.

Ten Boeing blunders resulting in a nose dive: inadequate of pilots’ training; incomprehensive flying manual; excessive automation; regulatory laxity and incompetence; flawed safety analysis; design flaw; delays in issuing a software update; putting profits before lives; assumptions; and turning standard safety features into extras. The company recovered from four crashes of its 727 in the 1960s, but that was before the rapid communication on the internet. And the FAA has a long way to go to regain its reputation of supporting safety.

When the Ethiopian plane crashed, over 300 MAX airplanes were in operation with 5,000 more on order. The president is quick to say he is acting first on behalf of the safety of the American people. That is unless it interferes with American business.

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