Recent reports have added more confusion, anger and disbelief about the two deadly Boeing 737 MAX accidents over the past 6 months.
The Federal Aviation Authority and Boeing has come under a lot of scrutiny for their training and certification procedures. Pilots from various unions around the United States have stated that nor Boeing nor the FAA have informed them properly about the dangers of MCAS.
Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System has been blamed for the Lion Air Flight JT610 fatal crash in October of 2018.
After the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 accident, Ethiopian authorities have found the black box of the Boeing 737 MAX. They delivered it to French aviation accident investigators. Subsequently, the Ethiopian Minister of Transport has said that initial data readings have indicated similarities between the two crashes.
So far, airlines and aviation authorities have grounded the Boeing 737 MAX 8s until further notice. People are questioning whether the jet will fly again.
No, the subheading is not a joke. According to some reports that have emerged over the past few days, Boeing trained pilots on iPads to fly the new MAX.
Aviation authorities were already criticizing Boeing and FAA for their negligence regarding the release and certification of the Boeing 737 MAX variant. But these reports have taken cherry on top of the cake.
Boeing marketed the new MAX to airlines that it will save them a lot of money on maintenance and fuel. In addition, the new aircraft variant will also reduce costs on training pilots who already were licensed to fly the Boeing 737 NG variant.
Boeing made a point that the controls of the MAX are almost identical to the NG, thus pilots required minimal training to fly the MAX.
So, a few pilots have come out and talked about the so-called cost-cutting training program for the Boeing 737 MAX. Evidently, the training session was a one-hour theoretical lecture with an iPad on how to fly the MAX. Pilots did not step into the simulator to try their hand at the controls.
And what’s even grimmer is the fact that the theoretical lecture did not include any information about the MCAS. Flight manuals also lacked any information about the system, which investigators are claiming to be responsible for the deadly accidents.
And recent data recovered from the cockpit voice recorders from the Lion Air crash has revealed that pilots were panicking and searching for a way to fix the aircraft’s nose of pitching down because of the faulty Angle Of Attack sensors.
After airlines and aviation authorities around the world grounded the MAX 8 due to safety concerns, the United States was one of the last countries to do so.
But the certification process of the Boeing 737 MAX is raising even more questions.
Boeing was in a rush. As we mentioned in the article about whether Boeing is canceling the MAX, Airbus made headlines in the U.S. when American Airlines agreed to order the newest Airbus A320neo to refresh its narrow-body fleet. Previous to this, Boeing wanted to design a new jet to replace the 737. But the news shocked Boeing and the company had to take swift action, else it would lose a lot of money to Airbus.
So, they came up with the 737 MAX. Boeing took a very simple route. Take the successful 737, redesign it a bit and sell it to airlines before Airbus can secure more orders.
Still, the Seattle based aircraft manufacturer was in a scramble. It needed to design, build and get approval from the FAA for the new jet.
And the last part is where it gets very questionable. So, that is why the United States Department of Transportation has opened up an investigation about how the FAA approved the Boeing 737 MAX.
As Boeing was in a rush, the FAA’s upper management pressured their safety engineers to let Boeing approve the new MAX themselves. To say the least, Boeing might be a little biased to approve Boeing aircraft.
But this was not something new, as FAA has complained about the lack of money and human resources over the years. So, in order not to strain themselves, the FAA increased Boeing’s authority to approve their aircraft.
According to the Seattle Times, the certification process of the Boeing 737 MAX was taken to the next level. FAA constantly questioned their engineers whether they have taken up too many pointers in the certification checklist. FAA’s management wanted to increase the portion of how much Boeing would certify the aircraft.
When certifying the MAX, safety was not a top priority. Time was. Airbus was miles ahead on the A320neo and Boeing were desperate to catch up. FAA’s managers seemed like they also understood that time was a number one priority and would not review documents thoroughly.
And proof that time was a number one priority is that the FAA approved MCAS in the first place.
Airbus definitely complicated things for Boeing. They had to improvise quickly.
So, they did. To improve the fuel efficiency of their new jet, they not only introduced new winglets but Boeing also introduced new engines on the 737.
The CFM Leap-1B promised to be more efficient than the older CFM56-7B, which was on the 737NG. And indeed it is more efficient. However, it is also much bigger. It weighs more and it is bigger in size.
Because of its bigger size, Boeing had to change the mounting point of the engine. In short, they put them further forward and much higher on the wings. But the different mounting point made the Boeing 737 MAX prone to a stall. The engine positions on the wings forced the nose of the aircraft to go up.
But the further mounted engines were not the flaw. Nor was the bigger size. Boeing had to one-up Airbus somehow.
MCAS was the problem. The same software, which supposedly had to prevent the aircraft from stalling.
We‘ve talked about how does the MCAS software work in this article, so we won‘t go into much detail. But to sum up, MCAS pushes down the nose automatically when the Angle Of Attack is too high.
But this is where the issues begin.
Boeing noted to the FAA that MCAS is limited to adjust the stabilizer by 0.6 degrees. However, after the Lion Air crash, Boeing distributed a manual on MCAS. The manual said that Boeing limited the adjustments of MCAS to 2.5 degrees.
The FAA engineers that worked to approve the Boeing 737 MAX were baffled. They hadn‘t seen such a number in the documents.
They were baffled once more when they realized that MCAS can trigger as many times as it sees fit, as the preliminary report of the Lion Air crash has showcased. So the pilots of the Lion Air Flight JT610 were essentially constantly fighting against the system to maintain proper airspeed and altitude. Unfortunately, as MCAS triggered 21 times, they could not keep up. As a result, they plunged into the sea with no survivors.
Yet this is not the end. The Boeing 737 MAX has 2 AoA sensors in the front of the aircraft, just below the pilot‘s windows. Even though it has 2, MCAS somehow relies on one sensor to determine the Angle Of Attack.
But if one of them fails and that sensor is the one which MCAS relies on, you‘re essentially doomed. It does not compare the readings to the other sensor. On the Lion Air Flight, the FDR showcased that the two AoA sensors showed a difference of 20 degrees.
Multiple sources have indicated that on a previous day than the Lion Air Flight JT610 crash, the same airliner encountered the same issue. Because of a broken AoA sensor, MCAS pitched the nose of the aircraft down.
However, on that flight, there was another pilot in the cockpit. The pilot was commuting to Jakarta on board. As the flight encountered issues, he helped the crew to disable the motors that were pitching the nose down.
But to be fair and to state every fact, the Indonesian Safety Committee has also indicated that the reported failures were not properly attended by the engineers on the ground.
As various reports surface, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is still grounded by aviation authorities around the world. Boeing has promised a quick software fix to the systems of the 737, which airlines are still waiting for.
According to an FAA released Continued Airworthiness Notification, Boeing will have to update the following on the MAX:
In addition, Boeing will also include a revised Flight manual and Crew Operations manual. Moreover, a new Quick Reference Handbook, Airplane Maintenance Manual and a new Interactive Fault Isolation Manual will be included.
The FAA has set the deadline for these changes. Boeing has to fix their systems by April of 2019. If not, the Boeing 737 MAX won’t have an airworthiness directive, meaning it cannot fly.
Airlines are cautiously optimistic though. For example, according to sources, Air Canada is grounding its fleet until July 1st, pending further development.
To sum up, a question remains: if the airlines begin to trust the Boeing 737 MAX again and start putting them on routes, will passengers follow suit? Passenger confidence can go a long way when speaking about the commercial success of an airliner.