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Boeing whistleblower’s complaint says 737 MAX safety upgrades were rejected over cost

Oct. 2, 2019 at 6:00 am

1 of 2 | (Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times)


Dominic Gates


Steve Miletich


Lewis Kamb

Seattle Times staff reporters

Seven weeks after the second fatal crash of a 737 MAX in March, a Boeing engineer submitted a scathing internal ethics complaint alleging that management — determined to keep down costs for airline customers — had blocked significant safety improvements during the jet’s development.

The ethics charge, filed by 33-year-old engineer Curtis Ewbank, whose job involved studying past crashes and using that information to make new planes safer, describes how around 2014 his group presented to managers and senior executives a proposal to add various safety upgrades to the MAX.

The complaint, a copy of which was reviewed by The Seattle Times, suggests that one of the proposed systems could have potentially prevented the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people. Three of Ewbank’s former colleagues interviewed for this story concurred.

The details revealed in the ethics complaint raise new questions about the culture at Boeing and whether the long-held imperative that safety must be the overarching priority was compromised on the MAX by business considerations and management’s focus on schedule and cost.

Managers twice rejected adding the new system on the basis of “cost and potential (pilot) training impact,” the complaint states. It was then raised a third time in a meeting with 737 MAX chief project engineer, Michael Teal, who cited the same objections as he killed the proposal.

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A version of the proposed system, called synthetic airspeed, was already installed on the 787 Dreamliner.

It was not directly related to the flight-control system — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — that contributed to both crashes. But it would have detected the false angle of attack signal that initiated events in both accidents, and so potentially could have stopped MCAS from activating and repeatedly pushing down the nose of each jet.

But installing it in the MAX would likely have meant 737 pilots needed extra training in flight simulators. Running thousands of pilots through simulator sessions would have delayed the jet’s entry into service and added substantial costs for Boeing’s airline customers, damaging the MAX’s competitive edge against the rival Airbus A320neo.

Ewbank’s complaint goes further than the decision not to install this one new system. He describes management as “more concerned with cost and schedule than safety and quality.” And he alleges that in one instance Boeing hid inflight safety incident data from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

As first reported in The Seattle Times, Boeing did an inadequate system safety assessment that missed flaws in the design of MCAS that were central to the two MAX disasters. And Boeing engineers were under pressure to limit safety testing to certify the MAX. These fresh allegations from inside Boeing indicate that the problems with jetmaker’s safety culture may go deeper than MCAS.

Submitted via Boeing’s internal whistleblower system, Ewbank’s complaint alleges that MAX program managers, concerned with avoiding higher costs and more pilot training, were intent on “shutting down trade studies that attempted to modernize the airplane and avoiding awareness of known issues encountered in historical 737 operation.”

Federal investigators

The FBI has interviewed at least two Boeing employees about the complaint. It’s unclear how the Boeing document reached the agency, but federal investigators are known to have issued subpoenas to the company.

Department of Justice prosecutors, Department of Transportation inspectors and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials are all involved in a wide-ranging federal investigation into possible wrongdoing at Boeing during certification of the MAX that was already under way before the engineer filed his internal complaint in April.

Boeing declined to comment on the details of the ethics complaint. Teal, 737 MAX chief project engineer, could not be reached for comment. The Department of Justice also declined to comment. The Seattle Times is not naming the employees who have been questioned by the FBI to protect the identity of the source of that information.

Ewbanks declined to be interviewed. The Seattle Times is naming him because he identified himself in his complaint to Boeing.

The MAX has been grounded worldwide for almost seven months as Boeing works on a comprehensive fix to its flight-control systems that will satisfy air safety regulators around the globe. The final updates to the systems are expected to be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this month, and Boeing anticipates clearance to return the jet to the sky in November.

Meanwhile, multiple investigations and reviews, internal and external, are examining what caused the deadly crashes. Last week, Boeing’s board announced a revamp of the company’s reporting structures aimed at producing better internal safety oversight. On Monday, Boeing chairman and chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said he’s “taking immediate steps” to implement those recommendations.

The engineer

Ewbank’s ethics complaint expressed concern about the possible personal consequences of stepping forward inside the company.

“Given the nature of this complaint, the fear of retaliation is high, despite all official assurances that this should not be the case,” he wrote. “There is a suppressive cultural attitude towards criticism of corporate policy — especially if that criticism comes as a result of fatal accidents.”

Ewbank wrote that co-workers told him in private they are afraid to speak up about similar safety concerns out of “fear for their jobs.”

In a statement responding to requests for comment this week, Boeing said it “has rigorous processes in place, both to ensure that such complaints receive thorough consideration and to protect the confidentiality of employees who make them.”

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“Accordingly, Boeing does not comment on the substance or existence of such internal complaints,” the statement added.

Ewbank’s LinkedIn profile shows he graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2008 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, then got a master’s at Purdue. After college, he took a job as rocket scientist, doing launch site design engineering at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with United Space Alliance, the joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

He was hired by Boeing in 2010 to work on designing commercial airplane flight deck systems, including the MAX. He now works on airplane systems integration for the 777X program.

However, dissatisfied with his experience on the MAX program, he took a break from Boeing. LinkedIn shows he left the company in April 2015 and returned to work on the 777X only last November.  The reason for the career break is cited in the ethics complaint: his feeling that Boeing management was “squeezing the engineering budget for new programs  …  more concerned with cost and schedule than safety and quality.”

In his first stint at Boeing, he worked on the safety of flight deck systems across multiple jet programs. It put him at the center of what has become one focus of the investigations into the crashes: The systems that tell pilots how their plane is performing in flight and alert them to anything going wrong.

Ewbank’s complaint says his job included “designing appropriate crew alerting and crew procedures based on expected (system) failures.”

Last week, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report called for improvements to such systems and criticized Boeing’s testing of the MAX for failing to simulate the possible barrage of system failures and warnings the pilots on the crashed flights faced.

The memo

The proposal for system upgrades that Ewbank discusses in his complaint emerged from work he did alongside several veteran employees in Boeing’s Aviation Safety department “to analyze Loss of Control inflight accidents and design flight deck features that would work to break the accident chain of events.”

One was Associate Technical Fellow Randy Mumaw, a cognitive psychologist and “human factors” expert in how pilots react to an airplane’s instruments. Mumaw, who left Boeing in 2015, said that as a non-engineer he can’t assess the technicalities of the synthetic airspeed system. But he said he knew Ewbank as “highly respected and bright.”

The Seattle Times interviewed four former Boeing employees who were involved in the work of assessing the proposed safety upgrades.

Rick Ludtke, a former flight deck integration engineer, worked alongside Ewbank and was a key participant in the proposal, which was presented in an engineering memo titled “Boeing Commercial Airplanes Strategy for Reducing the Risk of Loss of Control Events.”

Ludtke said the purpose of the memo, which Ewbank cites in his complaint, was to “capture the approval” of executives and to try to get a list of six system improvements accepted across Boeing’s airplane programs, including the MAX, which was then in early development.

The memo, which was signed off by Todd Zarfos, the Boeing vice president who heads the company’s engineering design centers, recommended that synthetic airspeed be installed on the MAX “with the next appropriate software update.”

Another veteran Boeing engineer and associate technical fellow, Carlo Ruelos, was the early champion of synthetic airspeed at Boeing.

A pilot flying any airplane needs to know the current airspeed — the plane’s speed relative to the air. Depending on the direction of the wind, that can be faster or slower than the groundspeed, the plane’s speed relative to the earth. Too high an airspeed could stress the airframe. Too low an airspeed could stall the plane.

This key piece of data is measured by pitot-static air pressure sensors, little tubes that stick out of the fuselage on both sides under the cockpit. It’s entered into multiple calculations performed by the flight control computer, so an accurate value is important.

Synthetic airspeed is a new system that provides an additional, indirect calculation of airspeed using different sensors, including the plane’s angle-of-attack sensors. The system enters the airplane’s angle of attack, its weight, the position of its control surfaces and other parameters into a proprietary Boeing algorithm to come up with an independently measured airspeed reading.

The independence of the synthetic reading means that if it matches the direct airspeed readings, it verifies the data as highly reliable. If there’s a discrepancy, the air data is rejected and the plane’s automated systems won’t use it.

Ewbank’s complaint cites a study that found air data reliability, and airspeed awareness in particular, as a “dominant theme” in airplane accidents where the pilots lost control.

The only Boeing airplane using synthetic airspeed today is its latest all-new jet, the 787 Dreamliner.

On the MAX, Ruelos saw an opportunity because the jet had a new integrated air data system box installed that had more computational power than that on the previous 737 NG model. That extra capability, Ruelos decided, would make it possible to add a variant of the 787 synthetic airspeed system to the MAX. And if it could be added, he felt it should be — because it would broadly enhance the reliability of the 737’s air data systems.

Ruelos, now 75 and retired, said in an interview that the pitot and static probes used for standard airspeed measurement“stick out of the airplane and can be damaged by a bird strike. Or something can plug the very small hole.”

So, he said, “I firmly believe that as another means of verifying the air data, (synthetic airspeed) is a key element in maintaining the safety of the airplane.”

“We pushed very hard for it, because safety is always the No.1 priority,” he added. With the new air data avionics box on the MAX, he believed the system was “ready to go” on the new jet.

The crashes

At the time of this proposal, no one had identified MCAS as a concern. Back then, the original design of MCAS was more benign than the final version that went haywire on the two crash flights. It required two sensors to activate — a high angle of attack and and a high G-force —and was less extensive in its ability to push the nose down.

It wasn’t until March 2016 that the MCAS design was changed to depend solely on a single angle-of-attack sensor.

Synthetic airspeed gains significance in the aftermath of the accidents because the system’s cross-check of the independent airspeed readings would raise a red flag if there’s any angle-of-attack sensor fault. If the readings disagree, Ewbank wrote in his complaint, the system as implemented on the 787 is designed to “monitor and detect erroneous angle-of-attack data, and then work to prevent the use of erroneous data by downstream systems.”

While Ewbank prefaces this statement with a careful qualifier —  “It is not possible to say for certain that any actual implementation of synthetic airspeed on the 737 MAX would have prevented the accidents” — his implication is clear: Synthetic airspeed might have stopped MCAS from activating in the circumstances of the two crashed flights.

Ludtke and Ruelos agreed.

There’s “a very good chance” that if Boeing had implemented synthetic airspeed on the MAX, it would have prevented the crashes, Ludtke said.

“In our department, we never designed anything without comparators,” meaning monitors that compare independent sensor readings and de-activate the system if they disagree, he said. “Curtis, I know, had several types of comparators in that synthetic airspeed system.”

Asked separately if synthetic airspeed might have prevented the crashes, Ruelos responded: “I think so. The left and right systems do cross checks, and if there is a discrepancy, it won’t let the automatic system take control of the airplane. … It would disengage and the downstream systems wouldn’t use the data.”

The cost concerns

Of course, Boeing could have achieved the same result in simpler ways, for example if MCAS had been designed from the start to compare readings from the two angle-of-attack sensors instead of only one. Still, in hindsight the rejection of synthetic airspeed seems fateful.

In his complaint, Ewbank puts it down to “a corporate culture … of expediency of design-to-market and cost-cutting.”

“The 737 MAX was designed via piecemeal updates to prevent triggering expensive certification and (pilot) training,” his complaint states.

Ludtke agreed. Synthetic airspeed was rejected “probably because of cost,” he said. He said Boeing had promised the airlines that the MAX would be so minimally different from the prior 737 model that no additional pilot certification or flight simulator training would be necessary.

He said his manager told him Boeing promised MAX launch customer Southwest “$1 million per tail” if the FAA were to require expensive simulator training.

“The MAX program leaders had always mandated that, if it’s not required for function or certification, it’s not going on the airplane,” Ludtke said. They looked upon synthetic airspeed as “a good improvement, but just an improvement,” not a necessity.

“We still tried. Because we believed these aircraft need improving for the quality of pilots we are experiencing,” Ludtke added. “In the old days, before the MAX, that’s how we did business. At the launch of a new program, its leaders would be very interested in including all the latest ideas and safety improvements.

“The MAX was different from the very beginning,” he said. “We’re just going to put these new engines on and the minimum change to make that happen. That’s it. We’re not spending money.”

“That concept broke the company,” Ludtke concluded.

Another former Boeing employee, a veteran test pilot also involved in the assessment of the proposed system changes, wasn’t close enough to the technical details of synthetic airspeed to be sure it would have prevented the accidents, yet agreed that any similar system based on angle of attack likely would have cut out MCAS.

“That’s how you would hope the system would work,” said the pilot, who asked for anonymity to preserve relationships at Boeing.

And the pilot agreed with Ludtke that preserving the MAX’s common type rating — certifying it as just a variant of the prior 737 NG model, rather than a new airplane — and ensuring that airline pilots wouldn’t be required to train for the MAX on flight simulators was “such a huge deal” that it blocked potential updates to the avionics systems.

“I couldn’t believe they kept stretching the 737, both literally (with a longer fuselage) and also in terms of cockpit design,” the pilot said.

The culture

Ray Craig, former chief pilot on the 737 MAX until he retired in 2015, had a very different take. He said he worked with Ewbank and knew him as a “very sharp, very dedicated” engineer.

Yet he defended the safety culture atBoeing and around the MAX program.

“Safety was paramount. If there was something we thought was a safety issue, there was no question, it was taken care of,” Craig said. “But it’s not always a black-and-white decision.”

Lacking full technical details, he wouldn’t venture an opinion about whether synthetic airspeed could have prevented the crashes. “I don’t remember it as ready to go. It wasn’t just a simple plug-and-play,” Craig said. “It wasn’t as program-ready as perhaps some of the folks were thinking. But I don’t remember the exact reason it was shot down.”

Talk to us

We continue to seek information on the design, training and certification of the Boeing 737 MAX. If you have insights, please get in touch with aerospace reporter Dominic Gates at 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com. To communicate on a confidential and encrypted channel, follow the options available at https://st.news/newstips.

Ewbank’s ethics complaint is much broader than the failure to install synthetic airspeed. He attacks the company’s culture around aviation safety and questions Craig’s and Boeing’s assertion that safety is always paramount.

He recounts an episode in his department when he says Boeing hid in-flight safety incidents from Europe’s aviation  regulator. This occurred when EASA found five events where 737s experienced a problem with the autothrottle disconnecting on approach and a confusing alert led to an inappropriate pilot response.

EASA asked if Boeing was aware of any other such events and Ewbank was assigned to search the in-service databases. But when he identified five further similar incidents on 737s, his ethics complaint says his manager decided “to not tell EASA about these events” and that instead “we would fix the issue ourselves.”

Ewbank, a relatively young engineer at the start of his career and with less than six years at Boeing over his two employment stints, even goes so far in the complaint as to directly attack CEO Muilenburg.

He cites Muilenburg’s statement on a quarterly earnings teleconference, just four days before Ewbank filed the ethics complaint, denying that the two recent MAX crashes were due to any “technical slip” by Boeing during the jet’s design or certification. Ewbank calls this “a false statement.”

“When CEO Muilenburg and others state that the Max was a safe airplane as designed, they seriously misrepresent what Boeing Engineering has learned about how data and control functions should be treated,” Ewbank wrote.

Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @dominicgates.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @stevemiletich.

Lewis Kamb: 206-464-2932 or lkamb@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @lewiskamb.

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The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

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Reuters Exclusive: Regulators weigh ‘startle factors’ for Boeing 737 MAX pilot training – Transport Canada executive

News provided by Reuters – link to full story

MONTREAL/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Global regulators are looking at “startle factors” that can overwhelm pilots as they consider revised protocols for the Boeing 737 MAX, Nicholas Robinson, the head of civil aviation for Transport Canada, told Reuters on Friday.


Boeing Co’s fastest-selling jetliner, the 737 MAX, was grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people within five months.

Pilot overload appears to have played a role in both crashes, in which crews struggled to regain control of the airplane while a new flight control system repeatedly pushed the nose down amid a series of other audio and sensory alarms and alerts.

“What we need to do is ensure that the aircrew in the MAX are able to handle that environment,” Robinson said in an interview with Reuters.

Transport Canada is among a core group of regulators that is evaluating the requirements for the 737 MAX to fly again after a seven-month grounding.

It has been convening weekly by phone, video conferences or face-to-face with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and its counterparts in the European Union and Brazil, Robinson said.

Their decisions could lead to sweeping changes to pilot flight operating manuals and classroom instruction and even mandates for costly simulator training, industry sources have said.

However, no training decisions can be made until Boeing submits software updates to the FAA for review and approval, Robinson said.

Transport Canada is closely aligned with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency on return to service demands and has also raised questions over the architecture behind the 737 MAX’s angle of attack system.

“We continue to look for a solution proposed by the manufacturer and the FAA on that area,” he said.

Still, Canada’s goal is for the MAX to return in countries across the globe simultaneously, or at least in close succession.

“It’s not a necessity, but it’s a goal,” Robinson said.


A startle or surprise in the cockpit can endanger a pilot’s ability to maintain control of the aircraft and was said to play a role in earlier air crashes like Air France flight 447 in 2009.

The same year, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed a US Airways flight on the Hudson River in New York after a bird strike disabled the engines. He told lawmakers in June that the 737 MAX crew could have been confused as they struggled to maintain control of the aircraft.

“I can tell you firsthand that the startle factor is real and it’s huge. It absolutely interferes with one’s ability to quickly analyze the crisis and take corrective action,” Sullenberger said.

Under new simulator scenarios, 737 MAX pilots worldwide may be trained on runaway stabilizer, a loss of control that was triggered in both 737 MAX crashes, coupled with some kind of unexpected malfunction.

“The only way to effectively deal with the physical and mental reactions of ‘startle effect’ is to have previously been exposed to it,” said Captain Larry Rooney, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

The goal of introducing startles is to teach pilots how to respond to “fight, flight or freeze” instincts in an environment where the effects are not life threatening, said Rooney. The only way to train for startle is in a simulator or in real life.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Wednesday acknowledged that Boeing’s flight control software, activated off faulty data from a key airflow sensor, contributed to a broader chain of events that created more workload for the pilots in 737 MAX crashes.

The planemaker, which is targeting a 737 MAX return to service in the fourth quarter, has started showing pilots and regulators its proposed software update and training program at information sessions in Miami, London, Istanbul, Shanghai and Singapore scheduled to run through mid-October.

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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A startle or surprise in the cockpit can endanger a pilot’s ability to maintain control of the aircraft and was said to play a role in earlier air crashes like Air France flight 447 in 2009.”

Really?  I don’t think the pilots of AF447 were startled... they just didn’t know how to fly an airplane.

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IMO, it may not be so much startle as it is escalating stress leading to poor performance. When interfacing with a system an operator has a set of expectations when an input is made. The result creates a mental model on which the next set of inputs and expected results are based. When responses from the system don't match what was expected, stress increases and depending on the individual, the stress created can go quickly into a performance reducing "choke" situation and then on to panic. Once in panic mode the lizard brain takes over and you will fight, flight or freeze. Very difficult to simulate.

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On 10/5/2019 at 7:33 PM, J.O. said:

You can’t really appreciate the effect of startle factor until you go through it. And a simulator session that starts with a training briefing cannot accurately simulate what it’s like.

Have had that same thought during unreliable airspeed (AF447) scenario.  You know it is coming and have been briefed about how to handle, but it is still a startle when everything starts making noise.

Can try and imagine what it was like in the dark for them that night, but probably not even close. 

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American Airlines to resume flying beleaguered Boeing 737 MAX jet in January

American Airlines announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Wednesday that it will start flying the troubled Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on Jan. 16.

The airline said it expects the two software upgrades to be approved before the end of the year and it is notifying Wall Street on when it intends to fly the MAX again.

American Airlines is one of three U.S. carriers -- including United Airlines and Southwest -- ordered by federal regulators to ground all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft following two crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, which killed a total of 346 people.

Since the grounding of the Boeing MAX aircraft in March, U.S. commercial carriers have said they have gone to great lengths to minimize the impact on their passengers, pulling MAX flights from their schedules.

Were mistakes made?

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has been working to get a better understanding of the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight, certification and delegation along with an investigation into Boeing's design and development of the 737 MAX.

When asked if Boeing made any mistakes, CEO Dennis Muilenburg has repeated that not having an "AoA Disagree Light" working on all MAX aircraft was a mistake.

In both crashes it appears that the angle-of-attack sensors sent bad data, misfiring the MCAS -- or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System -- and the software fix will rely on both sensors for activation.

This is one of the outstanding questions: Wasn't it a mistake to use just one sensor, if the fix is using both?

On Oct. 30, Muilenburg will appear on the Hill and is expected to answer that question when he testifies on the airworthiness of the 737 MAX and the updates made to the MCAS software.

This will be his first appearance before lawmakers since the two fatal crashes.

Safety investigators issue recommendations to the FAA

Preliminary findings indicate that while the pilots of Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 fought to regain control of their aircraft -- making life-and-death decisions in a matter of minutes -- they were bombarded with cockpit alarms.

Grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 are seen parked at Miami International Airport in this March 14, 2019 file photo in Miami.more +

The National Transportation Safety Board said those alarms and alerts were "undoubtedly confusing" and "probably" made a stressful situation worse. In response, they issued non-binding safety recommendations to the FAA.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said that the NTSB recommendations suggest that in designing and certifying the 737 MAX Boeing and the FAA, "may not have made realistic assumptions about how pilots respond to multiple simultaneous and potentially confusing warnings in emergency situations."

The path to certification

The FAA has been working with Boeing, international authorities, the aviation industry and a team of technical experts to return the Boeing 737 MAX to service.

In June, Boeing announced that they completed development of the updated software for the 737 MAX, along with engineering test flights.

Boeing then worked to address FAA requests for additional information on the system architecture, detailing how pilots interact with the airplane controls and displays in different flight scenarios.

Once the FAA completes their review and schedules test flights, Boeing will submit final certification documents.

Federal regulators have not yet set a date for certification flights, but in an interview with ABC News last month, the head of the FAA, Stephen Dickson, said that no U.S. commercial carrier will fly the Boeing 737 MAX until he is "completely assured" that it is safe to do so.

"I'm not going to certify this plane until I'm satisfied," he said.

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Same story but quite different headline.

American Airlines cuts Boeing 737 Max from schedules until Jan. 16 as grounding continues

Published Wed, Oct 9 20198:00 AM EDTUpdated 4 hours ago
Key Points
  • American has pulled the planes from its schedules until Jan. 16, 2020, later than any U.S. airline.
  • The planes have been grounded since mid-March after two fatal crashes killed 346 people.
  • American expects to cancel 140 flights a day because of the prolonged grounding.
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American Airlines delays 737 Max return date to Jan. 16

American Airlines pulled the Boeing 737 Max from its schedules until mid-January, delaying its return longer than any U.S. airline, as the prolonged grounding of the troubled plane disrupts year-end holiday travel.

Regulators have not said when they will allow airlines to operate the Max jet again. The plane hasn’t been allowed to fly since mid-March after two crashes within five months of each other killed 346 people.

The grounding has forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights, driven up costs and dented airlines’ profits. American said Wednesday that the 9,475 flights it canceled in the third quarter reduced its pretax income in the period by about $140 million.


Boeing has said it expects the Federal Aviation Administration to clear the planes to fly in the fourth quarter.

The company has developed a software fix for the planes after crash investigators implicated a flight-control program that malfunctioned, repeatedly pushing the nose of the Max planes down in both disasters, but the FAA hasn’t approved it yet. Some regulators, including in Europe, have expressed concerns about the plane’s design, and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg last month said officials around the world may not all approve the plane at the same time.

American said the schedule change will force it to cancel around 140 flights a day. The airline previously expected the planes to return to its fleet for commercial service in early December, and like other carriers, has had to repeatedly postpone the jet’s return to its schedules.

Southwest Airlines struck the planes from its schedules until Jan. 5, while United Airlines expects them back Dec. 19.

American said it plans to “slowly phase in” its Max planes, starting Jan. 16, and will increase its use of the jets through February. It had 24 of the 737 Max 8 planes at the time of the grounding and has 76 on order.

Airline executives have said they are talking with Boeing about receiving compensation for the grounding, the largest ever. Boeing took a $4.9 billion after-tax charge in the second quarter to reimburse losses at carriers that can’t fly the fuel-efficient planes.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said the carrier has had conversations with Boeing but doesn’t have a firm number yet.

“It’s hard until we know when the airplane is really going to be back in service to ascertain what the damages are,” he said in an interview.

American said customers booked on flights that it scheduled for its 737 Max planes through Jan. 6 will be rebooked on an older 737 that has the same seating configuration, while travelers booked on Max flights between Jan. 7 and Jan. 15, will likely be rebooked on another plane. The airline said it would contact travelers whose flights have been canceled.

Some flights that were not scheduled with the Max may be canceled because airline may opt to reassign those jets to higher-demand routes.

The schedule changes will take effect Oct. 13.

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October 10, 2019 / 10:56 PM / Updated 6 hours ago

FAA failed to properly review 737 MAX jet's anti-stall system: JATR findings


WASHINGTON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A panel of international air safety regulators on Friday harshly criticized the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) review of a safety system  on Boeing’s (BA.N) 737 MAX airliner later tied to two crashes that killed all 346 people aboard.

The Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) was commissioned by the FAA in April to look into the agency’s oversight and approval of the so-called MCAS anti-stall system.

The report also faulted Boeing for assumptions it made in designing the airplane and found areas where Boeing could improve processes.

“The JATR team found that the MCAS was not evaluated as a complete and integrated function in the certification documents that were submitted to the FAA,” the 69-page series of findings and recommendations said.

“The lack of a unified top-down development and evaluation of the system function and its safety analyses, combined with the extensive and fragmented documentation, made it difficult to assess whether compliance was fully demonstrated.”

Boeing did not directly address the report’s findings but said it “is committed to working with the FAA in reviewing the recommendations and helping to continuously improve the process and approach used to validate and certify airplanes.”

Regulators around the world continue to scrutinize proposed software changes and training revisions from Boeing aimed at returning the Boeing 737 MAX to service.

Boeing’s top-selling airplane has been grounded worldwide since a March 10 crash in Ethiopia killed 157 people, five months after a Lion Air 737 MAX crashed in Indonesia, killing 189 people on board.

Major U.S. airlines including Southwest Airlines Inc (LUV.N) and American Airlines Inc (AAL.O) currently do not expect 737 MAX flights to resume before January.

The JATR draft recommendations, obtained by Reuters ahead of their release on Friday, also said the FAA’s longstanding practice of delegating “a high level” of certification tasks to manufacturers such as Boeing needs significant reform to ensure adequate safety oversight.

“With adequate FAA engagement and oversight, the extent of delegation does not in itself compromise safety,” the report said.

“However, in the B737 MAX program, the FAA had inadequate awareness of the MCAS function which, coupled with limited involvement, resulted in an inability of the FAA to provide an independent assessment of the adequacy of the Boeing-proposed certification activities associated with MCAS.”

The report also questioned FAA’s limited staffing to oversee certification tasks it designated to Boeing and said there were an “inadequate number of FAA specialists” involved in the certification of the 737 MAX.

There were signs that Boeing employees conducting FAA work faced “undue pressure. ..which may be attributed to conflicting priorities and an environment that does not support FAA requirements,” it said.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement he would look at the panel’s recommendations and take appropriate action following the “unvarnished and independent review of the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX.”


The U.S. planemaker has stopped short of admitting any fault in how it developed the 737 MAX, or MCAS, which repeatedly pushed the plane’s nose down in the Indonesian and Ethiopian crashes while the pilots struggled to intervene.

However, it has said erroneous Angle of Attack (AOA) data fed to MCAS - the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System - was a common link in two wider chains of events leading to the crashes.

The JATR report recommended the FAA review the stalling characteristics of the 737 MAX without MCAS and associated systems to determine if unsafe characteristics exist and if so, if a broader review of the system design was needed.

JATR said MCAS and those systems could be considered a stall identification or stall protection system, depending on how the aircraft handled without them.

Boeing has said MCAS was not meant to prevent stalls and was instead designed so that the 737 MAX would have similar handling characteristics to its predecessor, the 737 NG.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) last month said it planned to undertake flight tests of the 737 MAX including a test without MCAS to check its performance during high-speed turns and stall.

Boeing is revising the 737 MAX software to require the MCAS system to receive input from both AOA sensors, and has added additional safeguards. If the AOA sensors differ by 5.5 degrees or more then MCAS cannot operate, FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell said last month.

If MCAS does operate it can only operate once unless the problem had been “completely resolved,” he added.

The JATR is headed by Christopher Hart, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and includes air safety regulators from the United States, Canada, China, Indonesia, European Union, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Japan.

Last month, Hart said it was important to note “the U.S. aviation system each day transports millions of people safely, so it’s not like we have to completely overhaul the entire system, it’s not broken. But these incidents have shown us that there are ways to improve the existing system.”

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Costs pile up for airlines as Boeing 737 Max grounding enters eighth month

Published 5 hours ago
Key Points
  • Costs are piling up for airlines as the 737 Max heads into its eighth month.
  • The planes have been grounded since mid-March after two crashes killed 346 people.
  • Boeing’s board stripped CEO Dennis Muilenburg of his chairman role so he can focus on getting the planes back.

RT: Boeing 737 Max aircraft parked 190701

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, July 1, 2019.
Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

The worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, now in its eighth month, is driving up costs for airlines as they cancel thousands more flights into 2020.

American and United this week joined Southwest in removing the planes, grounded since mid-March after two fatal crashes killed 346 people, from their schedules until January.

Boeing executives have said they expect aviation regulators to clear its best-selling plane to fly again in the fourth quarter, but the Federal Aviation Administration said it has no firm timeline for lifting the grounding.

That has forced airlines to repeatedly push back when they expect the planes to return to their fleets. The added costs are denting airline profits and dashing their growth plans. The capacity constraints are also becoming a bigger headache for travelers, which in addition to facing canceled flights, are getting bumped more frequently.

The impact is becoming more pronounced as the grounding continues longer than expected. Airlines not only lack access to the more than 370 Max jets that were in fleets worldwide at the time of the grounding but also the hundreds more they expected Boeing to deliver this year. The fuel-efficient planes are a key part of these airlines’ growth strategies.

American Airlines on Wednesday said it canceled 9,475 flights in the third quarter because of the grounding order, which hit its pre-tax income by about $140 million. It expects to cancel 140 flights a day until it expects the planes to return, which would mean more than 14,000 cancellations in the fourth quarter and early January.

American reports earnings on Oct. 24. The airline had 24 of the 737 Max jets in its fleet at the time of the grounding and has 76 more on order.

Airlines are canceling flights ahead of time to avoid having to give complementary last-minute, alternative flights, trips that fetch a premium.

“That’s a close-in fare that another passenger is not paying,” said Credit Suisse airline analyst Jose Caiado. “I think they explicitly want to avoid doing that around Christmas and New Year’s.”

Airlines are trying to use similar or larger aircraft to rebook travelers and limit disruptions.

Even if regulators deem the planes airworthy again, airlines need at least a month to train pilots and perform maintenance work on the planes before passengers can fly them.

Boeing took a $4.9 billion after-tax charge in the second quarter to cover compensation to airlines affected by the grounding. It has developed software fixes for the 737 Max after crash investigators implicated an anti-stall system that misfired, repeatedly pushing the nose of the planes down in both disasters ⁠— a Lion Air flight in October 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max in March ⁠— but it hasn’t yet handed it over to regulators for review.

American’s CEO Doug Parker said the carrier has had conversations with Boeing but doesn’t have a firm number compensation figure yet.

“It’s hard until we know when the airplane is really going to be back in service to ascertain what the damages are,” he said in an interview.

On Friday, Boeing said its board stripped CEO Dennis Muilenburg of his chairman role so he can focus on getting the Max back to service.

The rising costs don’t only apply to airlines with Max planes in their fleets. Delta Air Lines doesn’t have any Maxes and it won market share from airlines hamstrung by the grounding. In “the second quarter as well as the third quarter, we certainly were a beneficiary of the MAX not operating,′ CEO Ed Bastian said on an earnings call Thursday. That, along with higher travel demand in general spurred more flying, driving up its non-fuel costs, mainly in employee wages. The airline said it plans to hire 12,000 workers, including more pilots and flight attendants, through the end of next year.

When the Max returns, it may not be all good news for U.S. carriers, whose stock is already underperforming the broader market.

That added capacity could drive down fares, said Credit Suisse’s Caiado.

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7 minutes ago, Marshall said:

I understand AC has now stored a number of the 737 max at  Marana AZ, are they now all there or?  Where is WestJet etc. storing theirs?

I believe that WJ is storing all theirs domestically across the 3 main bases, YYC, YYZ and YVR.

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2 hours ago, Ex 9A Guy said:

I believe that WJ is storing all theirs domestically across the 3 main bases, YYC, YYZ and YVR.

I guess AC is using AZ to avoid the humidity.  For all of our airlines, you have to wonder re the cost of storage, Mtce and of course return to service if and when the ban is lifted.  WestJet video re what they are doing to keep the aircraft flight ready.  


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International regulator report slams Boeing, FAA over 737 MAX design and approval

Oct. 11, 2019 at 9:31 am Updated Oct. 11, 2019 at 8:51 pm

Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

An international panel of air-safety regulators convened by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a damning report Friday that criticizes both Boeing and the FAA for how they assessed and approved the design of the 737 MAX automated flight-control system implicated in two fatal airliner crashes.

More broadly, the panel also questioned how systems on the the MAX were certified as derivative of a now-50-year-old aircraft design.

And it further recommended that airplane-safety systems address the new reality of increased cockpit automation by reducing the reliance on pilots to respond to emergencies, and instead designing protections as part of the systems.

The report from officials representing 10 different regulatory bodies carries the weight of the world’s aviation experts. Its findings point to glaring shortcomings in how Boeing’s 737 MAX was certified as safe, with the company effectively auditing its own design and and the FAA unable to fulfill its oversight role.

That’s a blow to Boeing’s reputation but also to the long-established primacy of the FAA among global aviation bodies. And the report raises serious questions as to how the regulatory system can be fixed to prevent similar accidents in the future.

The Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) panel found that the MAX’s new flight-control system, which played a central role in the accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people, was not properly evaluated in the certification documents that Boeing submitted to the FAA.

Echoing a Seattle Times report on March 17, less than a week after the second crash, the panel found that Boeing submitted to the FAA an inadequate technical description of the airplane’s new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), lacking full details of when the system activated and the extent of its power to push an airplane nose down.

Boeing’s documentation of MCAS was fragmented and incomplete, the report said. When Boeing changed the design to make it more powerful and to reduce the trigger mechanism to a single sensor, that wasn’t fully communicated to the FAA.

Undue pressure

The report also found that the FAA had “limited involvement” in the evaluation of MCAS and left most of the work of assessing the system to Boeing itself.

“MCAS should have been considered a novelty (and therefore clearly highlighted to the FAA technical staff) owing to the important differences in function and implementation it has on the B737 MAX,” the report declares.

In practice, FAA personnel had “inadequate awareness” of how MCAS worked, which “resulted in an inability of the FAA to provide an independent assessment.”

The report, confirming a Seattle Times report on May 5, also cites indications that Boeing employees working on the certification of the airplane on behalf of the FAA faced “undue pressure” from managers who prioritized cost and schedule.

The report recommends revision of the system whereby the FAA delegates much of the oversight of airplane certification to Boeing, a system known as Organization Designation Authorization. Under ODA, Boeing engineers who do the certification analysis and testing report to managers within the Boeing organization who relay the results to the FAA.

The JATR recommends adjusting this structure so that authorized engineers at Boeing have direct, “open lines of communication to FAA certification engineers without fear of punitive action or process violation” to ensure they “are working without any undue pressure when they are making decisions on behalf of the FAA.”

This recommendation mirrors the advice of experts cited in the May 5 Seattle Times story who advised the FAA to revert to elements of an earlier oversight structure — called Designated Engineering Representatives or DERs —  in which the Boeing engineers who act on behalf of the FAA report to their technical counterparts at the FAA.

Pilots unable to cope

The panel also questions the assumption in FAA regulations that pilots will recognize something wrong within 1 second when flying the plane manually and will take corrective action within 3 seconds. The report indicates that the 737’s crew-alerting systems that tell pilots when something goes wrong may not be adequate for such an assumption.

The JATR noted that a system fault can result in cascading failures, and asked the FAA to assess the adequacy of both the certification process and of pilot training to address “the impact of multiple alarms, along with possible startle effect, on the ability of pilots to respond appropriately.”

Regulators need to ensure there’s adequate training so pilots can “respond effectively to failures that they may never have encountered before,” the report states.

Last week, the Seattle Times reported that Boeing pushed the FAA to relax certification requirements for crew alerts on the 737 MAX.

As a result, the JATR team determined, the certification process did not adequately address this issue of multiple clamoring alarms and the expected pilot response.

JATR therefore recommends a top-down reassessment of how airplanes like the MAX that are derivatives of earlier models are certified, to determine when an aging aircraft design is “incapable of supporting the safety advancements introduced by the latest regulations.”

The report states that the FAA raised concerns to Boeing about the cumulative effect of cockpit system changes from the previous 737 model to the MAX and suggested that might create a need for simulator level pilot training.

Boeing’s response to this concern, which the FAA accepted, was that there was “no precedent” for a demand for enhanced training in previous certifications of derivative models.

In a teleconference call Friday, JATR chairman Christopher Hart, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said that the increasing prevalence of automation on aircraft means that the problems with the MAX are “not just an airplane problem, but an airplane/pilot problem,” which he said complicates decisions about grounding and ungrounding an aircraft and is likely to become a major issue in the future.

“As automation becomes more and more complex, pilots are less likely to fully understand it and more likely to have problems and more likely to encounter scenarios in real operations that they haven’t seen even in a simulator,” he said.

Hart called on the FAA and regulators worldwide to recognize and address “this new reality of super-complex automation and pilots not necessarily understanding how to operate it.”

The JATR report says that as systems become more complex, the certification process should ensure that aircraft incorporate “fail-safe” designs, meaning that any system failure triggers an automatic default into a safe mode.

The goal is to eliminate or mitigate hazards “through design, minimizing reliance on pilot action as primary means of risk mitigation,” the report goes on.

The panel separately recommends that “the FAA should review the natural (bare airframe) stalling characteristics of the B737 MAX to determine if unsafe characteristics exist.”

This implies JATR wants the FAA to assess the safety of the plane without MCAS in operation. Boeing has said that the purpose of MCAS is not to prevent a stall but simply to make sure it handles exactly like the earlier model 737 when going through certain stall testing.

Some criticism of the company on social media has been skeptical of this, proclaiming the MAX “inherently unstable” because it needs software to fly safely.

To demonstrate otherwise, Boeing test pilots this summer repeatedly flew that required stall test on the MAX — an extreme maneuver called a “wind-up turn” — both with and without the revamped MCAS operating. Boeing says it is satisfied with the results.

The FAA and overseas regulators will conduct their own flight tests, likely next month.

MCAS upgraded

JATR was convened in April by the FAA to independently evaluate all aspects of the design and certification of MCAS. The panel is made up of technical safety experts from the FAA and NASA along with the civil aviation authorities of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Boeing did not directly address the report’s findings Friday but said in a statement that it “is committed to working with the FAA.”

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson issued a statement thanking JATR for its “unvarnished and independent” report.

“I will review every recommendation and take appropriate action,” Dickson said. “We welcome this scrutiny.”

MCAS consists of new flight-control software added to the MAX. If a sensor that measures the jet’s angle of attack, the angle between the wing and the oncoming air flow, indicates that the nose of the aircraft is pitching up, MCAS is designed to swivel the jet’s horizontal tail — called the horizontal stabilizer — so as to push the nose of the aircraft back down.

The JATR report notes the failure in communication between Boeing and the FAA during the certification process as MCAS evolved “from a relatively benign system to a much more aggressive system.”

The result was a failure to address the potential unintended consequences that resulted from “designing software for one scenario — in this case, high-speed windup turns — and then modifying the software for a different scenario — in this case reducing the pitch-up tendency at higher angles of attack at low speeds.”

Boeing has prepared a redesign of MCAS that addresses the inadequacies of the original design, which was activated by a single angle-of-attack sensor. On both crash flights, the accidents were initiated by a false signal from that one sensor.

The updated MCAS software will be activated only if both such sensors on the aircraft show the same high angle of attack. In addition, the system is now redesigned so that it can activate only once.

And Boeing has changed the overall software system architecture to compare readings from both flight control computers, instead of using only one, and to shut down MCAS in less than a second if the computers disagree.

But as regulators evaluate those improvements and the pilot training that will be required, the 737 MAX remains grounded worldwide seven months after the second crash.

On Friday’s teleconference, FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said that because the FAA is doing an entirely new safety analysis of all the changes to the MAX before giving the plane clearance to return to service, “the majority of the return to flight issues that have been raised by JATR are being addressed.”

“We are going through the recommendations one more time to make sure that any of them that aren’t being addressed will be as part of the current review,” Lunsford added.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @dominicgates.
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Thanks Don

I noted this in the report.

"The JATR noted that a system fault can result in cascading failures, and asked the FAA to assess the adequacy of both the certification process and of pilot training to address “the impact of multiple alarms, along with possible startle effect, on the ability of pilots to respond appropriately.”

This is an often overlooked factor and is a problem with modern aircraft. One fault can wind up giving numerous warnings and it takes time to sort them out. It is also difficult for a team of 2 to remember that one pilot should focus on flying the airplane using standby instruments with everything else going on. This was more of a problem with the AF 330 than in this case, but it makes the idea of pilots recognizing the problem in one second absolutely ridiculous.

I'm planning to make lunch over there tomorrow. Hope to see you.


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Air Canada has pulled the MAX out of the schedule through Feb 14 and is leasing a couple of additional wide bodies through March break. It's going to be an awesome lawsuit for Boeing to contend with. I think we're talking a billion plus in the filing.


Air Canada Updates Schedule Through to February 14, 2020 in Response to Ongoing Grounding of Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft 


MONTREAL, Oct. 16, 2019 /CNW Telbec/ - Air Canada said today that it has now removed the Boeing 737 Max from its flying schedule until February 14, 2020. The decision is based on operational considerations for the airline, as it launches a new reservation system beginning next month. 

"Today we are extending to February 14, 2020 the removal of the Boeing 737 Max from our operating schedule. We are taking this prudent step as a result of the ongoing regulatory uncertainty about the timing of the aircraft returning to service. The extension will give us scheduling predictability through the implementation of the first phase of our new reservation system and the required stability as we prepare the second phase of the system roll-out, introducing it into the airport environment," said Lucie Guillemette, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Air Canada. "As a result of these and other measures we are taking, including leasing two additional wide-body aircraft through at least the March Break, customers can continue to book with full confidence on Air Canada."

In compliance with a safety notice closing Canadian airspace issued by Transport Canada on March 13, 2019, Air Canada grounded its fleet of 24 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Final decisions on returning the 737 MAX to service will be based on Air Canada's safety assessment following the lifting of government safety notices and approval by international regulatory authorities. 



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15 hours ago, FA@AC said:

Wow.  Likely to have been grounded for a year or longer by the time it operates again.

FAA will re-certify first. Likely somewhere very early in 2020.

Other Regulatory bodies will follow shortly thereafter but it is possible they will impose additional certification criteria (i.e. TC will likely mandate hands on 737 MAX simulator training for MCAS related scenario).

The ‘loss of service’ financial damages liability accruing to Boeing for MAX groundings and delayed deliveries will be staggering. Boeing will be faced with either writing several very large cheque’s or giving away airplanes for free to settle the debt.

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The loss of trust, prestige, status, reputation and 'face' are already incalculable by comparison to the dollar figure which could exceed US$100b. Trust and integrity are necessary qualities for aviation to sustain itself - that is its only "stock-and-trade"; the rest is mere technology which is worth nothing against "character".

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Southwest Airlines removes Boeing 737 Max from schedule until February

Published 2 hours agoUpdated 33 min ago
Key Points
  • The Boeing 737 Max has been grounded worldwide since mid-March after the second of two deadly crashes.
  • Over the summer, Southwest had delayed the date of the planes’ expected return until Jan. 5.
  • The airline has now removed the aircraft from its schedule through Feb. 8.
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