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Another 737 MAX down.

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6 hours ago, Tango Niner said:

The cutout switches have been on every 737 since the first -100 took to the air in 1967. The location of the switches hasn't moved either.

Lots of other 737 switches and equipment haven’t changed since 1967 either..... 

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With the NEO having very few teething problems and the addition of the c-series A220 to the product lineup, Airbus are starting to look like geniuses and Boeing are looking like morons for clinging to a 50 year old NB platform.

Imagine how much better off AC would have been if it had stuck with the 320 NEO fleet? WJ was screwed no matter what acting like the Alaska Airlines of Canada (Proudly All Boeing).

 

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So how does the AOA indication help me here?  And Why would I be looking at it?

aoa.jpg

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If you were in a normal flight regimen (pitch/thrust/speed) and the stick shaker was activated, you could look at the 2 AOA displays to see if there was a gross disparity which would indicate a fault and a false stick shaker activation.

If you were not in a normal flight regimen (unusual attitude as demonstrated in the picture) the AOA indication would confirm what was actually happening. You are headed for an impending stall.

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boestar...learned "instinct" tells me I'd roll wings level, reduce pitch, when pitch is below say, 15deg, increase thrust, recover gently if at high altitude or going down fast to avoid a secondary stall, (actually who knows what I would do - never been there).

I think I would not be looking at AoA under those circumstances depicted. I know it says "13.0deg", but wouldn't know how to interpret the reading so I wouldn't use it to help the airplane out, I would be pushing on the stick/column as hard as I could. If AoA was "45", and the VSI was 13,000fpm, I would know something and I would point the nose down as far as the controls could get it, (which in the A330 is about 12, maybe 15deg) at FL300). If we are high enough, we all know that the wing "stalls" at the same AoA for low or high speed/Mach. On approach, any airspeed approaching say, 115kts in a transport aircraft has its own "AoA" indicator called "pucker".

I think that there is no time to be looking at, then interpreting AoA information and then decision-making regarding AoA correctness. The display is too tiny. Muscle memory and trained responses in unusual attitudes that show loss-of-control, are not driven by intellectualizing the meaning of AoA by itself. We are trained to "obey" airspeed and keep it "healthy" above all, using all the familiar ways mentioned above.

Preliminary Report on Boeing 737 Max Crash to Be Released This Week, Ethiopian Official Says

http://time.com/5558764/ethipoian-airlines-crash-preliminary-report/

I guess they have Friday and Saturday.

Edited by Don Hudson
typos

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1 hour ago, Don Hudson said:

boestar...learned "instinct" tells me I'd roll wings level, reduce pitch, when pitch is below say, 15deg, increase thrust, recover gently if at high altitude or going down fast to avoid a secondary stall, (actually who knows what I would do - never been there).

.....continue the banked turn until inverted, power to idle, pull cc gently until nose is 10 degrees above horizon and roll to upright and gently increase power as aircraft levels...........ohhhh sorry, you were recovering a "transport" not a 'whiz-bang"..........5272.gif

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This Reuters article references an EASA document, (Explanatory Note to TCDS IM.A.120 Boeing 737 Issue 10), here. The referenced paragraph is on page 15.

For those interested in the entire EASA CS 25 document, it is here.

I think this article has to be read quite carefully, and the reference to the paragraph in the EASA document, equally carefully.

 

Regulators knew before crashes that 737 MAX trim control was confusing in some conditions: document

 
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - U.S. and European regulators knew at least two years before a Lion Air crash that the usual method for controlling the Boeing 737 MAX’s nose angle might not work in conditions similar to those in two recent disasters, a document shows.
 

The European Aviation and Space Agency (EASA) certified the plane as safe in part because it said additional procedures and training would “clearly explain” to pilots the “unusual” situations in which they would need to manipulate a rarely used manual wheel to control, or “trim,” the plane’s angle.

Those situations, however, were not listed in the flight manual, according to a copy from American Airlines seen by Reuters.

The undated EASA certification document, available online, was issued in February 2016, an agency spokesman said.

It specifically noted that at speeds greater than 230 knots (265mph, 425kph) with flaps retracted, pilots might have to use the wheel in the cockpit’s center console rather than an electric thumb switch on the control yoke.

EASA and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ultimately determined that set-up was safe enough for the plane to be certified, with the European agency citing training plans and the relative rarity of conditions requiring the trim wheel.

In the deadly Lion Air crash in October, the pilots lost control after initially countering the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a new automated anti-stall feature that was pushing the nose down based on data from a faulty sensor, according to a preliminary report from Indonesian investigators released in November.

 

The flight conditions were similar to those described in the EASA document, a source at Lion Air said. The source said that training materials before the crash did not say the wheel could be required under those conditions but that Boeing advised the airline about it after the crash.

Boeing declined to comment on the EASA document or its advice to Lion Air, citing the ongoing investigation into the crash.

Ethiopia’s Transport Ministry, France’s BEA air accident authority and the FAA have all pointed to similarities between the Lion Air crash and an Ethiopian Airlines disaster this month. But safety officials stress that the Ethiopian investigation is at an early stage.

‘NOT PHYSICALLY EASY’

The crashes have also heightened scrutiny of the certification and pilot training for the latest model of Boeing Co’s best-selling workhorse narrowbody, now grounded globally.

In the EASA document, the regulator said simulations showed the electric thumb switches could not keep the 737 MAX properly trimmed under certain conditions, including those of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, according to the Indonesian preliminary report and a source with knowledge of the Ethiopian air traffic control recordings.

The trim system adjusts the angle of the nose. If the nose is too far up, the jet risks entering a stall.

 

Additional procedures and training needed to “clearly explain” when the manual wheel might be needed, according to the document. The EASA spokesman said that was a reference to the Boeing flight crew operations manual.

An American Airlines Group Inc flight manual for 737 MAX pilots dated October 2017 said the thumb switches had less ability to move the nose than the manual wheel.

The manual, which is 1,400 pages long, did not specify the flight conditions in which the wheel might be needed.

The trim wheel is a relic of the Boeing 737’s 1960s origins and does not appear in more modern planes like the 787 and Airbus SE A350. It is not often used, several current and former 737 pilots told Reuters.

“It would be very unusual to use the trim wheel in flight. I have only used manual trim once in the simulator,” said a 737 pilot. “It is not physically easy to make large trim changes to correct, say, an MCAS input. You - or more than likely the other pilot - have to flip out a little handle and wind, much like a boat winch.”

The EASA document said that after flight testing, the FAA’s Transport Airplane Directorate, which oversees design approvals and modifications, was concerned about whether the 737 MAX system complied with regulations because the thumb switches could not control trim on their own in all conditions.

FAA declined to comment on the European document. A trim-related “equivalent level of safety” (ELOS) memorandum listed in its 737 MAX certification document is not available on the FAA website. The agency declined to provide it to Reuters.

CONFUSING SIGNALS

The night before the Lion Air crash, different pilots on the same plane faced a similar problem with MCAS and tried to use electric trim to counteract it, according to the preliminary report from Indonesian investigators.

After the third time MCAS forced the nose down, the first officer commented that the control column was “too heavy to hold back” to counter the automated movements, the preliminary report said.

Former FAA accident investigator Mike Daniel said that to prevent stalls, the control column was designed to require more force for a pilot to pull back than to push forward.

Boeing on Wednesday said software changes to MCAS would provide additional layers of protection, including making it impossible for the system to keep the flight crew from counteracting it.

On the 737 MAX, Boeing removed the “yoke jerk” function that enabled pilots to disable the automated trim system with a hard pull on the control column rather than hitting two cut-out switches on the center console.

In a blog post on his personal website, former Boeing engineer Peter Lemme said that could make things harder for a pilot in a crisis.

“In the scenario where the stabilizer is running away nose down, the pilot may only fixate on pulling the column back in response,” he said. “They may not be mentally capable to trim back or cutout the trim - instead they just keep pulling.”

Ultimately the crew the evening before the Lion Air crash stopped the automated nose-down movement with the cut-out switches and used the wheel to control trim for the remainder of the flight, the preliminary report said.

 

That was the proper procedure to deal with a runaway stabilizer, according to Boeing.

However, current and former pilots told Reuters that the way the trim wheel and other controls behaved in practice compared with in training may have confused the Lion Air crews, who were also dealing with warnings about unreliable airspeed and altitude.

“MCAS activation produces conditions similar to a runaway trim, but the training is not done with a stick shaker active and multiple other failures, which make the diagnosis much more difficult,” said John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and former commercial pilot. The stick shaker alerts pilots to a potential stall by vibrating the control column.

Reuters this month reported that an off-duty pilot in the cockpit on the night before the Lion Air crash spotted the runaway stabilizer problem, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Boeing on Wednesday said changes to the MCAS software would help “reduce the crew’s workload in non-normal flight situations.”

https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-airplane-regulator-insight/regulators-knew-before-crashes-that-737-max-trim-control-was-confusing-in-some-conditions-document-idUKKCN1RA0DP

Reporting by Jamie Freed in Singapore; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal, Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, David Shepardson in Washington, Marcelo Rochabrun in Sao Paolo, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Tim Hepher in Paris, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Editing by Gerry Doyle

Edited by Don Hudson

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On 3/28/2019 at 10:16 PM, Don Hudson said:

boestar...learned "instinct" tells me I'd roll wings level, reduce pitch, when pitch is below say, 15deg, increase thrust, recover gently if at high altitude or going down fast to avoid a secondary stall, (actually who knows what I would do - never been there).

I think I would not be looking at AoA under those circumstances depicted. I know it says "13.0deg", but wouldn't know how to interpret the reading so I wouldn't use it to help the airplane out, I would be pushing on the stick/column as hard as I could. If AoA was "45", and the VSI was 13,000fpm, I would know something and I would point the nose down as far as the controls could get it, (which in the A330 is about 12, maybe 15deg) at FL300). If we are high enough, we all know that the wing "stalls" at the same AoA for low or high speed/Mach. On approach, any airspeed approaching say, 115kts in a transport aircraft has its own "AoA" indicator called "pucker".

I think that there is no time to be looking at, then interpreting AoA information and then decision-making regarding AoA correctness. The display is too tiny. Muscle memory and trained responses in unusual attitudes that show loss-of-control, are not driven by intellectualizing the meaning of AoA by itself. We are trained to "obey" airspeed and keep it "healthy" above all, using all the familiar ways mentioned above.

Preliminary Report on Boeing 737 Max Crash to Be Released This Week, Ethiopian Official Says

http://time.com/5558764/ethipoian-airlines-crash-preliminary-report/

I guess they have Friday and Saturday.

unfortunately I could not post the video.  

With or without the AOA indication a pilot can recognize the situation from looking at the PFD alone.  This is an extreme situation of course but leveling the wings and pointing the nose down and accelerating to normal speed corrects the issue.

This of course was an initiated high speed stall with a full aft stick until the shaker went off.  A quick glance to the co-pilot display shows the same information and no miscompare of any instrument.  Again the AOA has no impact here.  This is basic airmanship.  

I am sorry I have a hard time wrapping my head around this and why it would actually help.  if all of the other queues are there why do we need another?

If the plane is not controllable in pitch then there are two causes (Barring other catastrophic failures)  The Stab Trim is causing the issue or elevator control is causing the issue.  Removing either one from the scenario will give you the cause.  Kill the trim and the plane becomes controllable then manually trim the aircraft and carry on.  if the plane remains uncontrollable then you have a relatively big issue at hand as you have a primary flight control failure. 

I dont fly big Jets but I do work on em.  I fly small aircraft.

I may be off base so feel free to explain why the information has become necessary.

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boestar, there are other pitching moments in play when the engines are mounted either underwing or above the fuselage. 

In high pitch, low speed events, firewalling the thrust on aircraft like the MAX will induce a pretty strong upward pitching moment that can worsen the situation.  I believe this was one of the guiding forces behind MCAS to begin with. 

Then there are the swept wing characteristics at mach.  There are low and high speed buffet boundaries and a high altitude, unusual attitude event in any direction can lead you to a jet upset in pitch, roll or both, where the forces in recovery can be close to structural limits.   While most modern designs should avoid control surface 'blanking' from deep stall, I wonder now how carefully that lesson is applied in modern designs where digital override is seen as an artificial substitute for good aerodynamics.  If the stab loses any authority during a deep, very high AOA stall, then recovery can involve roll as well as pitch input.  This was spoken to during the ancient (and now discredited) American Airlines Advanced  Aircraft Manoeuvring course.

Stall avoidance systems for these aircraft tend to incorporate predictive logic, 'phase advance' to start recovery ahead of the onset of anticipated pitch or roll forces that might deepen the stall.  The AOA plays an important roll there, not during recovery, but in establishing situational awareness ahead of an event so the crew is not trying to catch up to the aircraft in a deteriorating situation.

All IMO.

Vs

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'But then Boeing’s team decided to make the warning light an optional add-on, like how car companies will upcharge you for a moon roof.

The light cost $80,000 extra per plane and neither Lion Air nor Ethiopian chose to buy it, perhaps figuring that Boeing would not sell a plane (nor would the FAA allow it to) that was not basically safe to fly. In the wake of the crashes, Boeing has decided to revisit this decision and make the light standard on all aircraft.

Now to be clear,  Boeing has lost about $40 billion in stock market valuation since the crash, so it’s not like cheating out on the warning light turned out to have been a brilliant business decision or anything.'

“let’s just do it and be legends, man”

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Hi Vs...

If I might add for boestar; with the B737MAX engine-arrangement, there is the thrust component (that causes a pitch-up force) that Vs mentions but actually the greatest contributor is the size of the nacelles which, as pitch angles increase, adds a lift component that, as the aircraft approaches the stall, alters the ordinary (B737 type-certified) stall characteristics such that the airplane's response is no longer linear but increasing.

To retain the type-rating, something had to be installed to bring the curve down to match the stall characteristics of the other three iterations of the B737 type. Boeing wrote software that uses the STS, Speed Trim System that begins to counter pitch-up at thresholds set in the software.

With millions of hours of event-free flight, it appeared as though the system was benign, until incorrect AoA data was fed into the MCAS. Boeing assumed pilots would respond as-trained to a "runaway" stabilizer system, the characteristics of which are, in the Boeing product, obvious with the large, continuously-rotating stabilizer trim wheel on the pedestal.

The behaviour of the MCAS, as we now know, is different, giving little, short bursts of nose-down trim, which the B727/B737 does all the time. So the symptoms of trouble were masked by "normal behaviour" of the trim wheel until the airplane began to pitch down. Couple this with an unreliable airspeed on the left side and constant stall warning, and the crew is faced with a mammoth diagnostic problem and "no checklist or drill" that fits what they're seeing/experiencing and the control column just gets heavier. It is plainly obvious now because we all know more, and at least one pilot did on the Lion Air aircraft.

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2 hours ago, Vsplat said:

boestar, there are other pitching moments in play when the engines are mounted either underwing or above the fuselage. 

In high pitch, low speed events, firewalling the thrust on aircraft like the MAX will induce a pretty strong upward pitching moment that can worsen the situation.  I believe this was one of the guiding forces behind MCAS to begin with. 

Then there are the swept wing characteristics at mach.  There are low and high speed buffet boundaries and a high altitude, unusual attitude event in any direction can lead you to a jet upset in pitch, roll or both, where the forces in recovery can be close to structural limits.   While most modern designs should avoid control surface 'blanking' from deep stall, I wonder now how carefully that lesson is applied in modern designs where digital override is seen as an artificial substitute for good aerodynamics.  If the stab loses any authority during a deep, very high AOA stall, then recovery can involve roll as well as pitch input.  This was spoken to during the ancient (and now discredited) American Airlines Advanced  Aircraft Manoeuvring course.

Stall avoidance systems for these aircraft tend to incorporate predictive logic, 'phase advance' to start recovery ahead of the onset of anticipated pitch or roll forces that might deepen the stall.  The AOA plays an important roll there, not during recovery, but in establishing situational awareness ahead of an event so the crew is not trying to catch up to the aircraft in a deteriorating situation.

All IMO.

Vs

I get that but those pitching moments remain constant with constant thrust. and are not particularily rapid in onset.

I understand the operation and methodology of the system I am questioning the belief that actually seeing a visual representation of the AOA is a valid countermeasure.

 

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boestar,

I don't think the additional information is needed and is not, in the context of flying airliners, a suitable countermeasure.

For airline pilots, particularly non-military-fighter types, AoA is a secondary piece of information. If AoA is to be implemented, then mental habits have to change to accomodate a new way of viewing the wing. One cannot make both airspeed and AoA equal in the pilot's mind due to the obvious potential for confusion. Airline pilots fly by speed not AoA, and introducing data on the PFD in an abnormal situation could be confusing in terms of a quick intellectual apprehension, (mental modelling), necessary for timely and correct decision-making. We are accustomed to "obeying" airspeed, not AoA and when the priority suddenly becomes "AoA over speed or pitch", even though perfectly correct, may in a rapidly unfolding situation which is becoming more confusing by the second, render AoA of dubious value.

This is not to dismiss AoA itself as valuable; out of interest, I used to watch it using the ACMS section of the rear MCDU on the A330/A340 when in cruise. But the modelling of behaviours necessary to make it become "primary" in pilot awareness when we've used airspeed as primary forever, is a signifcant change which may not be necessary, for as I have mentioned before, recognizing and using AoA still doesn't have any "saves" to its credit in airline work. It may have such a potential, but planning for or requiring its use is by no means straightforward, as just displaying AoA on the PFD or even installing a comparator does not resolve the question of which parameter to prioritize when AoA's don't match by a set value and set off yet another attention-getting device to which the pilots must intutively react, possibly swiftly.

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I get that but those pitching moments remain constant with constant thrust. and are not particularily rapid in onset.

I understand the operation and methodology of the system I am questioning the belief that actually seeing a visual representation of the AOA is a valid countermeasure

I think there are two discussions being woven here and that is causing conclusions from one discussion to apply to both.  Permit me an attempt to separate the discussions for a bit.

First off.  I agree with Don that, once the unusual attitude has been reached, the useful time for AoA as a reference in a civilian transport has passed.  The purpose of the AoA, if any (and that is the subject of some debate here), is predictive and intended to refine situational awareness in order to avoid an undesired aircraft state.  As we have seen, the transition to that state can be rapid and confusing.  The AoA provides information directly that must be inferred from other instruments such as airspeed, pitch, etc.   That is valuable at times.  In the case of MCAS, we have a unique threat, in that an aggressive intervenor may create an unsafe state from safe one.  In this case, the first sign of trouble would have been that AoA indication and the associated DISAGREE message. 

While we will never know for sure, in my opinion a crew faced with that warning ahead of entering the MCAS active zone would have had a leg up. So yes, AoA is a valid countermeasure, but in a proactive, vice reactive sense.

WRT the input of thrust couple at high pitch angles, I have to disagree with your assertion that the moment would be constant or not rapid in onset.  When airspeed is low, control surface authority is diminished.  Higher pitch, decaying speed would lead to lower authority.  So the countering effect to a thrust couple would reduce commensurately.  Apart from the couple, where the vector below the C of G rotates the aircraft up, the thrust vector becomes more vertical as pitch angle increases, adding an increasing vertical acceleration component.

All this adds up to:  Apply firewall thrust at a high pitch angle and the effect can be very dramatic and the response would not feel at all linear. On a twin, with all of the excess thrust normally available, this is not going to be a gentle thing.

To Don's point, this would be even more evident on the MAX.

Vs

Edited by Vsplat
expanded discussion on high pitch control authority

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I will defer back to Don's post because it looks as though I am in agreement with him on the issue.

 

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Fix for 737 MAX will take additional weeks
 

(CNN)Boeing's 737 MAX jets will remain grounded for weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday afternoon that the plane maker continues to work on a software fix.

Boeing had said it would submit the fix to the FAA last week, and it had gathered hundreds of industry representatives at its Seattle-area facilities last Wednesday to demonstrate the software changes.
But the FAA said Monday that the company concluded "additional work" is needed.
"The FAA expects to receive Boeing's final package of its software enhancement over the coming weeks for FAA approval," the agency said in a statement. "Time is needed for additional work by Boeing as the result of an ongoing review of the 737 MAX Flight Control System to ensure that Boeing has identified and appropriately addressed all pertinent issues."
Boeing acknowledged the new timeline, saying in a statement that the software change would be "completed in the coming weeks." It did not say why the timeline had changed.
"Safety is our first priority, and we will take a thorough and methodical approach to the development and testing of the update to ensure we take the time to get it right," the company said.
American Airlines said Monday afternoon that it was aware the MAX "may be further delayed" in returning to service. It has been forced to cancel dozens of flights daily while the planes await a fix.
American operates 24 MAX 8 airplanes and Southwest operates 34. United Airlines operates 14 of the larger 737 MAX 9 jets.
Capt. Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots, said the group was encouraged by Boeing's recent "sense of energy" to produce a fix but also realized the timeline was ambitious.
"We were disregarding that because having the pilots fully engaged, as they are, and all the information, and knowing what the training will be all put this out as more of a distant timeline for getting the aircraft flying," Tajer told CNN.
The FAA followed other countries' aviation authorities in grounding the MAX on March 13 following the second crash in less than five months. The agency said it had reviewed satellite data and physical evidence that showed similarities between the Lion Air flight that crashed in October and the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed days earlier in March.
A preliminary report on the Ethiopian accident is expected in the coming days.
Software designers, Boeing engineers and test pilots had worked out a set of changes to a stabilization system known as MCAS that has been under scrutiny from investigators piecing together the Lion Air crash, according to a company official. The fix brings in multiple layers of protection and is accompanied by a training regimen.
Tajer, of the Allied Pilots Association, said the software changes Boeing demonstrated last week "directly addressed the concerns that we voiced to Boeing" following the October crash.
The FAA statement said the software changes would require a "rigorous safety review."
"The FAA will not approve the software for installation until the FAA is satisfied with the submission," the agency said.

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How much is this going to cost Boeing when the dust settles?

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1130432215.jpg.0.jpg An employee walks down a stairway leading to a Boeing 737 MAX airplane on March 14, 2019, in Renton, Washington.  Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Boeing executives are offering a simple explanation for why the company’s best-selling plane in the world, the 737 Max 8, crashed twice in the past several months, leaving Jakarta, Indonesia, in October and then Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March. Executives claimed on March 27 that the cause was a software problem — and that a new software upgrade fixes it. 

But this open-and-shut version of events conflicts with what diligent reporters in the aviation press have uncovered in the weeks since Asia, Europe, Canada, and then the United States grounded the planes. 

The story begins nine years ago when Boeing was faced with a major threat to its bottom line, spurring the airline to rush a series of kludges through the certification process — with an underresourced Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seemingly all too eager to help an American company threatened by a foreign competitor, rather than to ask tough questions about the project. 

The specifics of what happened in the regulatory system are still emerging (and despite executives’ assurances, we don’t even really know what happened on the flights yet). But the big picture is coming into view: A major employer faced a major financial threat, and short-term politics and greed won out over the integrity of the regulatory system. It’s a scandal. 

The 737 versus 320 rivalry, explained

There are lots of different passenger airplanes on the market, but just two very similar narrow-body planes dominate domestic (or intra-European) travel. One is the European company Airbus’s 320 family, with models called A318, A319, A320, or A321 depending on how long the plane is. These four variants, by design, have identical flight decks, so pilots can be trained to fly them interchangeably.

The 320 family competes with a group of planes 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 planes. Some of them are also extended-range models that have an ER appended to the name, and, as you would probably guess, they have longer ranges. 

Importantly, even though there are many different flavors of 737, they are all in some sense the same plane, just as all the 320 family planes are the same plane. Southwest Airlines, for example, simplifies its overall operations by exclusively flying different 737 variants.

Both the 737 and the 320 come in lots of different flavors, so airlines have plenty of options in terms of what kind of aircraft should fly exactly which route. But because there are only two players in this market, and because their offerings are so fundamentally similar, the competition for this slice of the plane market is both intense and weirdly limited. If one company were to gain a clear technical advantage over the other, it would be a minor catastrophe for the losing company.

And that’s what Boeing thought it was facing.

The A320neo was trouble for Boeing

Jet fuel is a major cost for airlines. With labor costs largely driven by collective bargaining agreements and regulations that require minimum ratios of flight attendants per passenger, fuel is the cost center airlines have the most capacity to do something about. Consequently, improving fuel efficiency has emerged as one of the major bases of competition between airline manufacturers. 

If you roll back to 2010, it began to look like Boeing had a real problem in this regard. 

Airbus was coming out with an updated version of the A320 family that it called the A320neo, with “neo” meaning “new engine option.” The new engines were going to be more fuel-efficient, with a larger diameter than previous A320 engines, that could nonetheless be mounted on what was basically the same airframe. This was a nontrivial engineering undertaking both in designing the new engines and in figuring out how to make them work with the old airframe, but even though it cost a bunch of money, it basically worked. And it raised the question of whether Boeing would respond. 

Initial word was that it wouldn’t. As CBS Moneywatch’s Brett Snyder wrote in December 2010, the basic problem was that you couldn’t slap the new generation of more efficient, larger-diameter engines onto the 737:

Under the circumstances, Boeing’s best option was to just take the hit for a few years and accept that it was going to have to start selling 737s at a discount price while it designed a whole new airplane. That would, of course, be time-consuming and expensive, and during the interim, it would probably lose a bunch of narrow-body sales to Airbus. 

The original version of the 737 first flew in 1967, and a decades-old decision about how much height to leave between the wing and the runway left them boxed out of 21st-century engine technology — and there was simply nothing to be done about it. 

Unless there was. 

Boeing decided to put on the too-big engines anyway

As late as February 2011, Boeing chair and CEO James McNerney was sticking to the plan to design a totally new aircraft.

“We’re not done evaluating this whole situation yet,” he said on an analyst call, “but our current bias is to move to a newer airplane, an all-new airplane, at the end of the decade, beginning of the next decade. It’s our judgment that our customers will wait for us.”

But in August 2011, Boeing announced that it had lined up orders for 496 re-engined Boeing 737 aircraft from five different airlines

It’s not entirely clear what happened, but, reading between the lines, it seems that in talking to its customers Boeing reached the conclusion that airlines would not wait for them. Some critical mass of carriers (American Airlines seems to have been particularly influential) was credible enough in its threat to switch to Airbus equipment that Boeing decided it needed to offer 737 buyers a Boeing solution sooner rather than later.

Committing to putting a new engine that didn’t fit on the plane was the corporate version of the Fyre Festival’s “let’s just do it and be legends, man” moment, and it unsurprisingly wound up leading to a slew of engineering and regulatory problems. 

New engines on an old plane

As the industry trade publication Leeham News and Analysis explained earlier in March, Boeing engineers had been working on the concept that became the 737 Max even back when the company’s plan was still not to build it. 

In a March 2011 interview with Aircraft Technology, Mike Bair, then the head of 737 product development, said that reengineering was possible.

“There’s been fairly extensive engineering work on it,” he said. “We figured out a way to get a big enough engine under the wing.” 

The problem is that an airplane is a big, complicated network of interconnected parts. To get the engine under the 737 wing, engineers had to mount the engine nacelle higher and more forward on the plane. But moving the engine nacelle (and a related change to the nose of the plane) changed the aerodynamics of the plane, such that the plane did not handle properly at a high angle of attack. That, in turn, led to the creation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). It fixed the angle-of-attack problem in most situations, but it created new problems in other situations when it made it difficult for pilots to directly control the plane without being overridden by the MCAS. 

On Wednesday, Boeing rolled out a software patch that it says corrects the problem, and it hopes to persuade the FAA to agree.

But note that the underlying problem isn’t really software; it’s with the effort to use software to get around a whole host of other problems.

 

Recall, after all, that the whole point of the 737 Max project was to be able to say that the new plane was the same as the old plane. From an engineering perspective, the preferred solution was to actually build a new plane. But for business reasons, Boeing didn’t want a “new plane” that would require a lengthy certification process and extensive (and expensive) new pilot training for its customers. The demand was for a plane that was simultaneously new and not new.

But because the new engines wouldn’t fit under the old wings, the new plane wound up having different aerodynamic properties than the old plane. And because the aerodynamics were different, the flight control systems were also different. But treating the whole thing as a fundamentally different plane would have undermined the whole point. So the FAA and Boeing agreed to sort of fudge it.

The new planes are pretty different

As far as we can tell, the 737 Max is a perfectly airworthy plane in the sense that error-free piloting allows it to be operated safely.

But pilots of planes that didn’t crash kept noticing the same basic pattern of behavior that is suspected to have been behind the two crashes, according to a Dallas Morning News review of voluntary aircraft incident reports to a NASA database:

These pilots all safely disabled the MCAS and kept their planes in the air. But one of the pilots reported to the database that it was “unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA, and the airlines would have pilots flying an airplane without adequately training, or even providing available resources and sufficient documentation to understand the highly complex systems that differentiate this aircraft from prior models.”

The training piece is important because a key selling feature of the 737 Max was the idea that since it wasn’t really a new plane, pilots didn’t really need to be retrained for the new equipment. As the New York Times reported, “For many new airplane models, pilots train for hours on giant, multimillion-dollar machines, on-the-ground versions of cockpits that mimic the flying experience and teach them new features” while the experienced 737 Max pilots were allowed light refresher courses that you could do on an iPad.

That let Boeing get the planes into customers’ hands quickly and cheaply, but evidently at the cost of increasing the possibility of pilots not really knowing how to handle the planes, with dire consequences for everyone involved.

The FAA put a lot of faith in Boeing

In a blockbuster March 17 report for the Seattle Times, the newspaper’s aerospace reporter Dominic Gates details the extent to which the FAA delegated crucial evaluations of the 737’s safety to Boeing itself. The delegation, Gates explains, is in part a story of a years-long process during which the FAA, “citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.”

But there are indications of failures that were specific to the 737 Max timeline. In particular, Gates reports that “as certification proceeded, managers prodded them to speed the process” and that “when time was too short for FAA technical staff to complete a review, sometimes managers either signed off on the documents themselves or delegated their review back to Boeing.”

Most of all, decisions about what could and could not be delegated were being made by managers concerned about the timeline, rather than by the agency’s technical experts.

It’s not entirely clear at this point why the FAA was so determined to get the 737 cleared quickly (there will be more investigations), but if you recall the political circumstances of this period in Barack Obama’s presidency, you can quickly get a general sense of the issue.

Boeing is not just a big company with a significant lobbying presence in Washington; it’s a major manufacturing company with a strong global export presence and a source of many good-paying union jobs. In short, it was exactly the kind of company the powers that be were eager to promote — with the Obama White House, for example, proudly going to bat for the Export-Import Bank as a key way to sustain America’s aerospace industry.

A story about overweening regulators delaying an iconic American company’s product launch and costing good jobs compared to the European competition would have looked very bad. And the fact that the whole purpose of the plane was to be more fuel-efficient only made getting it off the ground a bigger priority. But the incentives really were reasonably aligned, and Boeing has only caused problems for itself by cutting corners.

Boeing is now in a bad situation

One emblem of the whole situation is that as the 737 Max engineering team piled kludge on top of kludge, they came up with a cockpit warning light that would alert the pilots if the plane’s two angle-of-attack sensors disagreed. 

But then, as Jon Ostrower reported for the Air Current, Boeing’s team decided to make the warning light an optional add-on, like how car companies will upcharge you for a moon roof. 

The light cost $80,000 extra per plane and neither Lion Air nor Ethiopian chose to buy it, perhaps figuring that Boeing would not sell a plane (nor would the FAA allow it to) that was not basically safe to fly. In the wake of the crashes, Boeing has decided to revisit this decision and make the light standard on all aircraft. 

Now, to be clear, Boeing has lost about $40 billion in stock market valuation since the crash, so it’s not like cheating out on the warning light turned out to have been a brilliant business decision or anything. 

This, fundamentally, is one reason the FAA has become comfortable working so closely with Boeing on safety regulations: The nature of the airline industry is such that there’s no real money to be made selling airplanes that have a poor safety track record. One could even imagine sketching out a utopian libertarian argument to the effect that there’s no real need for a government role in certifying new airplanes at all, precisely because there’s no reason to think it’s profitable to make unsafe ones.

The real world, of course, is quite a bit different from that, and different individuals and institutions face particular pressures that can lead them to take actions that don’t collectively make sense. Looking back, Boeing probably wishes it had just stuck with the “build a new plane” plan and toughed out a few years of rough sales, rather than ending up in the current situation. Right now the company is, in effect, trying to patch things up piecemeal — a software update here, a new warning light there, etc. — in hopes of persuading global regulatory agencies to let its planes fly again. 

But even once that’s done, Boeing faces the task of convincing airlines to actually go buy its planes. An informative David Ljunggren article for Reuters reminds us that a somewhat comparable situation arose in 1965 when three then-new Boeing 727 jetliners crashed. 

There wasn’t really anything unsound about the 727 planes, but many pilots didn’t fully understand how to operate the new flaps — arguably a parallel to the MCAS situation with the 737 Max — which spurred some additional training and changes to the operation manual. Passengers avoided the planes for months, but eventually came back as there were no more crashes, and the 727 went on to fly safely for decades. Boeing hopes to have a similar happy ending to this saga, but so far it seems to be a long way from that point. And the immediate future likely involves more tough questions. 

A political scandal on slow burn

The 737 Max was briefly a topic of political controversy in the United States as foreign regulators grounded the planes, but President Donald Trump — after speaking personally to Boeing’s CEO — declined to follow. Many members of Congress (from both parties) called on him to reconsider, which he rather quickly did, pushing the whole topic off Washington’s front burner.

But Trump is generally friendly to Boeing (he even has a Boeing executive serving as acting defense secretary, despite an ongoing ethics inquiry into charges that he unfairly favors his former employer), and Republicans are generally averse to harsh regulatory crackdowns. The most important decisions in the mix appear to have been made back during the Obama administration, so it’s also difficult for Democrats to go after this issue. Meanwhile, Washington has been embroiled in wrangling over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and a new health care battlefield opened up as well. 

That said, on March 27, FAA officials faced the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation and Space at a hearing called by subcommittee Chair Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz says he expects to call a second hearing featuring Boeing executives, as well as pilots and other industry players. Cruz was a leader on the anti-Boeing side of the Export-Import Bank fight years ago, so perhaps he’s more comfortable than others in Congress to take this on. 

When the political system does begin to engage on the issue, however, it’s unlikely to stop with just one congressional subcommittee. Billions of dollars are at stake for Boeing, the airlines that fly 737s, and the workers who build the planes. And since a central element of this story is the credibility of the FAA’s process — in the eyes of the American people and in the eyes of foreign regulatory agencies — it almost certainly isn’t going to get sorted out without more involvement from the actual decision-makers in the US government.

Edited by Don Hudson
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/ethiopian-airlines-pilots-initially-followed-boeings-required-emergency-steps-to-disable-737-max-system-11554263276?mod=hp_lead_pos1

Ethiopian Airlines Pilots Initially Followed Boeing’s Required Emergency Steps to Disable 737 MAX System

Details of Ethiopian crew’s actions gleaned from preliminary black-box data

S1-CF765_BOEING_OR_20190402225203.jpg
 
People from various hamlets and villages pay respects to the 157 victims who perished in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images
 
By Andy Pasztor and Andrew Tangel
April 2, 2019 11:47 p.m. ET

Pilots at the controls of the Boeing Co. 737 MAX that crashed in March in Ethiopia initially followed emergency procedures laid out by the plane maker but still failed to recover control of the jet, according to people briefed on the probe’s preliminary findings.

After turning off a flight-control system that was automatically pushing down the plane’s nose shortly after takeoff March 10, these people said, the crew couldn’t get the aircraft to climb and ended up turning it back on and relying on other steps before the final plunge killed all 157 people on board.

The sequence of events, still subject to further evaluation by investigators, calls into question assertions by Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration over the past five months that by simply following established procedures to turn off the suspect stall-prevention feature, called MCAS, pilots could overcome a misfire of the system and avoid ending in a crash.

The pilots on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 initially reacted to the emergency by shutting off power to electric motors driven by the automated system, these people said, but then appear to have re-engaged the system to cope with a persistent steep nose-down angle. It wasn’t immediately clear why the pilots turned the automated system back on instead of continuing to follow Boeing’s standard emergency checklist, but government and industry officials said the likely reason would have been because manual controls to raise the nose didn’t achieve the desired results.

After first cranking a manual wheel in the cockpit that controls the same movable surfaces on the plane’s tail that MCAS had affected, the pilots turned electric power back on, one of these people said. They began to use electric switches to try to raise the plane’s nose, according to these people. But the electric power also reactivated MCAS, allowing it to continue its strong downward commands, the people said.

The same automated system, also implicated in a 737 MAX crash in Indonesia in late October, has become the focus of various congressional and federal investigations, including a Justice Department criminal probe.Boeing announced it is making changes to how a new a stall-prevention system works on its new 737 MAX aircraft — the same model jet involved in the Ethiopian Airline s crash. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports.

The latest details are based on data downloaded from the plane’s black-box recorders, these people said. They come as Ethiopian investigators prepare to release their report about their preliminary conclusions from the accident, anticipated in the coming days.

Investigators probing the Oct. 29 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 believe erroneous data from a single sensor caused the MCAS system to misfire, ultimately sending the plane into a fatal nose-dive and killing all 189 people on board. Some of the same key factors were at play in the Ethiopian crash, according to people briefed on the details of both crashes.

After the Lion Air accident, Boeing and the FAA issued bulletins to 737 MAX operators around the world reminding them of the existing procedure pilots are trained to follow should the plane’s flight-control system go haywire and mistakenly push down the nose. Those are the steps the Ethiopian pilots initially took months later, these people said.

That procedure works to disable the new MCAS, much like another flight-control feature on earlier 737 models, by cutting power. The plane maker and FAA’s bulletins highlighting that safeguard were often mentioned after the Lion Air accident when U.S. aviation industry officials vouched for the aircraft’s safety.

im-63660?width=620&aspect_ratio=1.5U.S. Investigators looked at debris from the crash in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, on March 12. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg noted the procedure in a Nov. 13 television interview when asked about information given to pilots.

“In fact, that’s part of the training manual,” Mr. Muilenburg said on Fox Business Network, adding the manufacturer was confident in the plane’s safety. “It’s an existing procedure so the bulletin we put out…pointed to that existing flight procedure.”

At a briefing for reporters last week, a Boeing official noted investigations of both crashes were continuing but didn’t comment about specifics when he outlined a coming software fix for the MCAS system and related training changes.

The revised system will rely on two sensors, instead of one as originally designed, to prevent erroneous data triggering it. The system will now be designed to make it less aggressive and allow pilots more control over it, according to previous Boeing and FAA statements.

Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vice president of product strategy, said last week the plane maker had “complete confidence that the changes we’re making would address any of these accidents.”

The software fix could come as soon as mid-April, according to a person briefed on that issue, but further tests are needed before regulators can approve and mandate it so the grounded fleet can return to service. Another person close to the process, however, said final FAA reviews and tests could take up to six weeks. After that, it could take months longer for some overseas regulators to review and certify the fix for aircraft they oversee.

Activation of MCAS and a related pilot alert, which warns pilots of an impending aerodynamic stall, had been reported previously regarding the Ethiopian crash. But in the wake of the tragedy, Boeing, the FAA and Ethiopian authorities leading the probe have refrained from making any comments about whether the crew followed Boeing-sanctioned procedures to cope with the emergency.

Going forward, aviation experts, regulators and pilots debating the relevant safety issues will have to consider the implications that while the pilots did take such steps in the beginning, those apparently didn’t work as expected likely due to the plane’s speed, altitude and other factors. Eventually, the crew veered to other, nonstandard procedures that made their predicament even worse.

Another issue likely to be raised by the preliminary Ethiopian report is why a single sensor malfunctioned or somehow may have been damaged shortly after takeoff—touching off the deadly chain of events.

Write to Andy Pasztor at andy.pasztor@wsj.com and Andrew Tangel at Andrew.Tangel@wsj.com

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Ethiopian Airlines Pilots Initially Followed Boeing’s Required Emergency Steps to Disable 737 MAX System

I find that a very misleading headline.....considering what they actually did (switches back on).

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