Pontifications: 737 MAX events remind of Lockheed Electra story

By Scott Hamilton

March 18, 2019, © Leeham News: There’s a saying that history repeats itself.

When it comes to the crisis of the Boeing 737 MAX, I’m reminded of the crisis Lockheed faced in 1959-1960 when the Electra propjet crashed in September and the following March, killing all aboard both airplanes.

The Electra entered service Jan. 12, 1959, with Eastern Airlines. It was considered a pilot’s airplane. Coming off decades of piston engine aircraft and early in the jet age, the Electra was the only airplane that was over-powered, piston or jet. Timing, however, was poor and crashes soon overtook the euphoria.

First crash three weeks later

American Airlines lost an Electra on Feb. 3, when it flew into the water on approach to New York La Guardia Airport. In the history of commercial aviation, no new airplane had crashed within three weeks of entry into service. Pilot error was blamed and other than suspicion that a new type of altimeter fooled the pilot, the Electra itself was cleared.

The Electra crisis began on Sept. 29 when Braniff Airways lost an Electra over Buffalo (TX). It was a clear night, the airplane was at cruising altitude and for no apparent reason, a wing came off.

By the next March, the Civil Aeronautics Board (the forerunner of the National Transportation Safety Board) was completely stumped. The CAB was unable to remotely understand why the wing separated from the airplane.

Then on St. Patrick’s Day, a Northwest Airlines Electra lost a wing cruising in level flight over Tell City (IN). All were killed.

Two virtually new, modern airliners lost wings in level flight. Calls were made by media and Congressional members to ground the airplanes. The FAA refused, though it did enact speed and other flight restrictions.

Eventually, a phenomenon called whirl mode was identified as the culprit. The propellers on the outboard engines began to oscillate and eventually shook the wings to death. Lockheed spent $25m ($212m in 2018 dollars) redesigning and fixing the wing and engine mounts. Customer compensation and legal costs came on top of this.

Full details of these accidents and the investigations are covered in the out-of-print book, The Electra Story, by the late Robert J. Serling. The book is occasionally available on EBay or Amazon.

737 MAX

All this came flooding back in memory in the last week as the second MAX crashed under circumstances similar to the first. The two MAXes were virtually new, just like the Electras (the Braniff Electra in fact was only nine days old). The circumstances between the two 737 and the two Electra crashes were similar. The FAA was reluctant to ground the two airplanes.

The next steps remain to be seen.

To assure the public the Electras were safe to fly even under the speed restrictions while the investigations were underway, pilots formed groups to visit newspapers to explain why the public could fly the planes with confidence.

With the MAX, United, American and Southwest pilots—along with Boeing—issued statements that the MAX was safe to fly. (Personal visits to media weren’t possible in the short time between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the MAX groundings.) But the statements from all the parties were noticeably absent of details. Why the pilots and Boeing believed the MAX was safe in the wake of two crashes five months apart under similar circumstances was not explained.

Boeing belatedly acknowledged it was working on a software fix, saying this would make a safe airplane even safer. The words rang hollow under the circumstances.

Southwest pilots apparently underwent specialized training, but this wasn’t really discussed. American equipped its MAXes with a second angle of attack indicator, but little was said about this and why it was important. United said nothing about anything other than the plane is safe.

Nobody explained why the MAX was safe when everyone else was grounding the airplane.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

LNA’s Judson Rollins rapped Boeing’s knuckles for communications failure. The failure doesn’t stop with Boeing. Transport Canada, the last holdout before the FAA finally acted, the FAA, Air Canada, WestJet, American, Southwest and United also failed to say why they maintained the MAX was safe when everyone else said it wasn’t through groundings and banning overflights.

Nobody handled the communicating to the flying public well.

This should be a case study in communications crisis management.

No loyalty here

Donald Trump once again demonstrated that those who support him are thrown overboard without notice.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Boeing began cozying up to Trump after he became president-elect. $1m for the inauguration (something Boeing did for Barack Obama as well, it must be pointed out), sticking with Trump’s executive advisory board after other CEOs abandoned him in the wake of Trump’s Charlottesville neo-Nazi support, etc.

In the current crisis, Trump first Tweeted how airplanes became too sophisticated, thinly veiled shots at the 737. Then, according to the Washington Post, Trump disparaged the 737 and said he’d never buy the airplane for his (failed) Trump Shuttle.

When it suits his purpose, Trump bails on anyone who has been loyal to him in the past. Boeing is just the latest victim.

147 Comments on “Pontifications: 737 MAX events remind of Lockheed Electra story

  1. Till the end the Electra was a noisy plane which, in my experience, pilots found hard to synchronise Motors. The Vickers Viscount was a much more pleasant ride.
    The jet age with, in my case, was the 737 was such a great leap forward. Smoky tube turbines or not. Now I am worried. If the software tweak is not up to it? Boeing thought they had it right and it is not. I would hope for many months testing of any new software.

    • Don’t worry about the software,it’s already had months of testing wilst passengers and crew were still testing the previous iteration.

      • That makes me feel so much better because the original software didn’t go through months of testing as well??! Fix the design flaw of the engine sticking above the wing & you will NOT need software to override your design flaw! SAVE OUR LIVES!!

  2. My thoughts on the 737Max crisis:

    Boeing are allowing a narrative to develop where people believe safety of their airplanes isn’t the priority for Boeing that it needs to be.

    This in part is because Boeing have in fact been taking shortcuts with safety compliance in recent programs. That will catch up with you at some point.

    There is a problem with regulation in the US between the FAA and Boeing. Working with regulatory compliance in another industry, I know it isn’t an easy thing to get right. The balance of power is heavily weighted towards the subject. Boeing have revenues of (hundreds?) of billions. Dropping a billion, let’s say, on compliance is easy for them. FAA resources are constrained by the fees they charge. Also Boeing know, or should know, what’s going on in their planes and manufacturing; the FAA doesn’t

    There needs to be a healthy tension between the regulator and the subject, where the first is not afraid to challenge the second, where the subject can discuss what needs to be done. The regulator depends on the subject to achieve proper compliance and the subject respects the purpose of the regulation and the regulator.

    I don’t see that with the FAA and Boeing.

    • And nor does else see that healthy tension. If the rest of the world’s regulators continue to disagree with the FAA, then Boeing could find themselves with a much longer grounding than is being talked about in the article. A software patch cannot make up for a lack of hardware redundancy. Given the current circumstances, I don’t see why the EASA or anyone else wouldn’t be insisting on a proper fix.

      • I’m with you. Let’s hope the rest of the world stand their ground.

        My own view is that Boeing must be forced to start from the beginning. Specifically, the flight control laws software algorithms need to be turned off and the natural stability of the airplane estabilished throughout the envelope without intervention using sofware algorithms. This is what Airbus does.

        Any severe behaviour needs to be fixed mechanically as opposed to being covered up by sofware algorithms.

        Bottom line, they got the flight control laws software algorithms wrong and will continue to get them wrong unless they fully understand what they have designed and built!

        The rest of the world said no, isolating America, and must continue to say no until this airplane is known to be stable.

        • I agree. The plane and the engines don’t fit together. There is a limit to extend an old bird life.

        • See, and that is where the big trouble starts – just where it began: The new engines are simply too big for this old lady. The stability of the full flight envelope can not be achieved without major changes in the tail / landing gear / pylon / control systems / …

          Such changes would require the certification of a “new” plane, which again could not be had without even more changes (doors,…). It would also need a lot of time, which Boeing did not have then and doesn’t have today. It would also make it impossible to retrofit the existing aircraft. It would also require a full stop of the current production and for 1-2 years minimum.

          Methinks Boeing should as fast as possible make a clear and open analysis of what went wrong and what can be done. The best solution that I can see is terminate the MAX, restart the NG and begin to develop a full-aluminium-existing-tech-787-cockpit-NSA with utmost urgency.

          • ‘My own view is that Boeing must be forced to start from the beginning. Specifically, the flight control laws software algorithms need to be turned off and the natural stability of the airplane estabilished throughout the envelope without intervention using sofware algorithms. This is what Airbus does.‘

            What’s the betting a fudge will be agreed? There is no way that Boeing can allow for this aircraft to not fly as they have too much future FCF tied up in it. I believe your suggestion of ‘rip it up and start again’ is not going to happen.

            Do you really believe that we will see anything structural or physical changed? I think not.

            The only possible issue is that they will suffer from the NG and MAX becoming a different type rating though Boeing will fight that to the bitter end.

          • @Sowerbob
            If I would be head of FAA or EASA I would certainly require that the fundamental requirements that must be fullfilled to certify an airliner are met. This means a fully stable aircraft over the entire normal operational envelope. A dangerous nose-up tendency, even if only on the edge of “normal” can not be tollerated. Only after that is fixed we can look into “augmented” systems and make sure there is all the reduncancy and training and whatnot.

            Or maybe Boeing can prove that the plane can be flown stable and safe without MCAS. But that I doubt very much, otherwise it would never have been developed.

          • I am not arguing with you at all. I agree with your sentiment

          • This whole episode reminds me not so much of the Electra but of the MD-11. Just like the MAX, the MD-11 was a derivative done on the cheap, it had relaxed stability for fuel-saving reasons, and the relaxed stability was counteracted with an automated stability control system involving the horizontal stabilizer. Unlike the MAX, however, the automated system never directly crashed the aircraft; it just wasn’t always successful in stabilizing the aircraft under challenging conditions. In that sense, the MD-11 is essentially what the software-updated MAX aspires to be.

            I guess we can now see the true culmination of the running joke that MD took over Boeing using Boeing’s money. Yay.

          • As the 737 is NOT relaxed stability I view it as a separate issue only related by the Grandfather clauses all agreed to.

            Work on the grandfather clauses.

            As a stall is to push the nose down anyway, that is exactly what a pilot should be doing even before he gets there.

            No commercial aircraft is intended to recover from a full on aerobatic maneuver.

          • @Transworld, you don’t seem to understand the logic. If the stability problem (stall) would only occure outside the normal operational envelope Boeing would never have implemented anything like the MCAS.

            You also should understand that the entire game that this is just a “plain little upgrade, nothing much really changed, same handling, all is well and easy…” would have imploded. As it should have!

          • Gundolf:

            I am sorry you do not get this. All the doucmention clearly states that as a result of trhe forward and upwar move of the larger engine, there is an earydnami push when the aircraft is talling.

            It does not occur before the stall, its at or in stall.

            Its amain you have not got that and are arguing on a logcil basis that they would not do it if it was just a stall.

            As that is only where it was an issue that is where it was implented (via the AOA which was prormaed only do do it in a stall)

            While it does act in a non stall, its because a sensor says stall (single)

            No question its nuts, lousy logic and beyond belief driving to it, but those are the facts.

            MCAS is stall protection and nothing else.

        • Sowerbob

          It was should happen not what will happen. Having said that, I do hope countries all over the world stand their ground. See my comments with regard to your comments about regulation!

        • ABSOLUTELY! Design flaws not being addressed. This is not a software problem, it’s a SEVERE DESIGN FLAW! Shame on the FAA for not sending Boeing back to design stage 1!

    • I don’t understand the “lack of funding” part on the FAA. Why the heck is the FAA not charging full costs plus for the certification costs that it needs to properly do the job?

      If Boeing wants an aircraft certified, then it should transfer the required amount of money that the FAA deems fit. If Boeing wants it done faster, then invoice them a surcharge.

      The fees charged should fully fund the FAA and then it is not reliant on government shutdowns or budget cuts.

      • “Why the heck is the FAA not charging full costs plus for the certification costs that it needs to properly do the job?”

        Not to pick on you in particular, but deregulation and an obsession with lower taxes (and fees) has been the dominant play in American politics for most of my lifetime – since Reagan at the least.

        Starve the beast, reap the profit, maybe there’s risk in the midst but who really cares? At this point, mostly I believe we’re in a space where insurers are the ones who might put a lid on things. If the underwriters can’t be satisfied that the plane is safe, then and only then will the airlines demand the sorts of changes in design and certification, because they won’t fly uninsured for catastrophic loss/lawsuit exposure.

        I’m not surprised that the FAA, with their frankly untenable dual mandate are failing (see the Seattle Times for more on that), but that European and Canadian regulators may also continue to fail is more surprising/worrying.

        • Yesssssss!!!!!!

          And the FAA is not funded by the mfgs.

          The taxpayers fund the FAA for the good of the system (supposedly)

          There may be some fees charged but its not the funding stream.

    • This incident is rife with people with little or no knowledge of aviation making grand pronouncements about the state of aviation regulation & Boeing. This is an example – the writer extrapolates knowledge of “another regulated industry” onto aviation. If someone said, “I know about bicycles, so I know enough to tell you all about your car” would you believe him?

      Having been involved with aviation & regulation, I’m confident that:

      -its unlikely anyone knows the cause of the Ethiopian crash yet (its too soon), and

      -Most of the pontifications are based on what is in the popular press (NYT, WaPo, Seattle Times, etc.), which is only a fraction of what’s known by the aviation community, and an even smaller fraction of what the experts investigating the crash & following the investigation know, and

      -Boeing (and Airbus, etc.) are very safety conscious. They may have made a mistake, but they wouldn’t knowingly create a unsafe aircraft. The consequences would certainly catch up with them, and they know that.

      Its time to wait for the FAA, other aviation regulatory agencies around the world, Boeing, etc. to do their job – investigate, find the cause, and find a fix. Pontifications on the state of the regulation of aviation should wait until we have the facts to base them on. There will be no shortage of folks to condemn the guilty at that point, but lets make sure they’re really guilty.

      • “Boeing (and Airbus, etc.) are very safety conscious. They may have made a mistake, but they wouldn’t knowingly create a unsafe aircraft.”

        That’s a strawman caricature that I doubt anyone here ascribes to. Muilenburg does not literally wake up in the morning and think, “I’m going to go out and sell more of these planes I know to be unsafe, regardless of how many people die.” The point is, they needed to deliver this plane, they needed to do it fast, and if any Boeing engineers had concerns about the safety of MCAS or other systems, I guarantee you that raising these concerns and trying to force changes that slowed down development or certification would not be a smart way to further their careers.

        It’s not that Muilenburg wants to knowingly sell unsafe planes, it’s that he doesn’t want to hear about all the potential problems. To quote Upton Sinclair, it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

        • Eric:

          You have some good points but Boeing corporate is focused on the bottom line and while individuals and manager withing Boeing disagree, they also do not run the train.

          Boeing (read that corporate ) has shown repeatably it does not care.

          It routinely ignores the NTSB recommendation (which the FAA agrees with on a cost basis so they make a calculation on people lives vs probability data that can be and is wrong)

          The NTSB wrote up Boeing to a sucky auto throttle setup, Boeing ignored that. It even has a bad name by the pilots (FLCH Trap) .

          The FAA has been proven wrong many times and failed to act.

          I don’t pretend to understand the human mind but clearly the two crashes are ominously similar, the jack screw was found in the full up (nose down) position and MCAS was a real piece of crap software and safety wise.

          Grand Jury has started a legal process.

          • Stastical analysis on a sample size of one or two is unworkable. Oil industry woeks on zero tolerance for these types of events, but then, oil spills are more expensive than something trivial, like killing people. Deepwater Horizon cost $40 billion, didn’t it?

          • Ps while zero doesn’t exist I’ve always assumed they mean trivial during the entire life of the project, not just a cost benefit analysis of something, which is, in cases where life threatening occurances are so infrequent, is effectively fiction.

      • Eric just doesnt know how responsible journalism such as LNA and major newspapers such as NY Times, Washington Post, Seattle Times etc go.

        This is a story in Washington post which quotes experts like this

        The sensor going out is serious,” said Clint Balog, a test pilot and associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “But it can be made critical by software.”

        Most commercial pilots today know how to respond to a malfunctioning sensor, said Shem Malmquist, a Boeing 777 captain and a visiting professor at the Florida Institute of Technology.

        or the Seattle Times report mentioned elsewhere:

        “But several FAA technical experts said in interviews that as certification proceeded, managers prodded them to speed the process. Development of the MAX was lagging nine months behind the rival Airbus A320neo. Time was of the essence for Boeing.

        A former FAA safety engineer who was directly involved in certifying the MAX said that halfway through the certification process…”

        You are naive to think that high level experts arent talking to journalists.
        Where are your experts ?

      • Yes. That’s exact why Boeing should stop touting this new software solves the problem when it’s a DESIGN FLAW of which you are aware being knowledgeable of this field. Why is Boeing not waiting for the results of these other investigations? Rushed because of the $$$? Trying to save $$ shortcutting design flaws with software is NOT acceptable! SAVE OUR LIVES

    • recognize that he doesn’t know anything about aircraft and consult with experts before tweeting garbage.

      same basic method is applicable to everything he does/says.

      • Trump possesses an extraordinary gift for gauging public opinion,together with the fact that all the world’s other aviation authorities had grounded the plane,informed him that it was time to stop listening to the experts at Boeing and the FAA.No great intelligence required.

        • Trump possesses an extraordinary gift for gauging right wing radical views.

          He truly is a [EDITED]

          • I was just quoting the Secretary of State Rex Tillison. You can look it up.

            It start with an F and the second word starts with an M.

        • Trump has an extraordinary gift for taking cheap shots.

          He should have let the FAA (the experts) handle this. The FAA Administrator should have made the announcement.

          • Nor does he care about the public. He only cares about his self styled image as I can fix it.

            Then he beats his chest, but only if he has claimed it was someone elses fault.

            If this is pinned (or partly) on his shutdown?

            And then he lies about the littlest slip of the tongue.

          • Grubbie: I should remind you (or will) that two 737s crash in the US due to the rudder issue and FAA and Boeing were forced to act.

            Clearly they care no more or less about any other citizens of any other country.

            The ugly part was that rather than question and test their ruder mechanism, Boeing simply said there was no way it was faulty.

            Analysis of the failure and how it could take place was spot on that it was high on the suspect list.

            Analysis can only point, you still have to confirm.

            In the end the confirmation was a redesign to stop the found in test condition and we never had another one.

      • The ‘experts’ managed to crash two airplanes and destroy the lives of ~350 people and their families.

        That kind of expertise the world can do without.

        Worst thing is the ‘experts’ don’t actually think they are doing anything wrong. Afterall they are going to install a software patch. If that doesn’t work they will install another. And so on.

        Easy really, especially if you have no concern for the lives of others.

        I’m no fan of Trump, but he did have to get something right, one day.

        • The “experts” also manage to deliver millions of people every day to their destinations…

          To say the airplane manufacturers & airlines have no concern for the lives of passengers & crews is absurd, as anyone with any real knowledge of the industry knows.

          • Eric: They pretend to, they nod their head yes and hope its not them on the airplane when it crashes.

            When it does they hide behind the regulations.

            Its basically a game of Russian Rootlet with a lot more empty cylinders.

            When was the last time you saw someone on a corpaote level fess up and take the hit BEFORE it hit the fan ?

          • You offer the same old argument, the wait until all ducks are in a row argument and allow it to continue to fly.

            Anybody who has spent their life in the industry will tell you on the first day after the Lion Air crash that natural causes (acts of god) can be discounted and man (the pilots) can be discounted. This leaves the machine (airplane).

            The all ducks in a row argument is not valid. Airplanes don’t do powered up, 300 knot dives into the sea at an angle of 45 degrees unless there is something very seriously wrong with the airplane.

            The rest is detail, which I accept needs to be identified. But allowing the 737 MAX to fly after the Lion Air crash was wholly criminal which means the Ethiopian Airline crash was criminal.

            The world doesn’t need ‘experts’ who put money before people.

            No don’t agree

        • As long as he can blame someone else he will always do the right thing.

          Giving him any credit for anything is beyond belief.

      • The Donald actually knows more about aircraft since running the Trump shuttle than on many other subjects he comments.

  3. Scott is criticising Trump for throwing Boeing overboard but let’s admit it, it was a good call. More worrying is lack of trust in FAA which will work against Max. Maybe Boeing will have software fix in few weeks and FAA will allow the plane to fly, but will foreign aviation authorities follow suit? Reading Seattle times article on how FAA let Boeing self-certify the MCAS system despite changes in its parameters (the anticipation before the flight tests was that the required deflection MCAS will have to perform will be much smaller) is troubling.

  4. What was Trump supposed to do?Wait until a US MAX crashed?

    At first glance, it would appear as you stated. Boeing was important to POTUS for his 787 photo-op in South Carolina, his pitch for made-in-America (even though the 787 is only “barely mostly made-in-America”), etc. Like a fair weather friend, he threw Boeing under the bus when it didn’t suit him anymore.

    Does the motto, use ’em; dump ’em; and lastly, abuse ’em apply in this case? Perhaps … 🙈

    • I am not sure what POTUS Trump was supposed to do, are you suggesting that because he was given $1m then this means that given evidence of a dangerous aircraft he should sit on his hands? that sounds like something close to bribery! Of course he could have had a quiet word but that is not the man’s style. He could have done nothing and nobody would bat an eyelid but on the other hand this may have led to more tortuous posturing by those concerned to try to ensure that the MAX should not be grounded at all. Trump in many ways got the FAA and Boeing out of an impasse of their own making.

      Now the MAX is grounded the story itself starts to fizzle as the general public will be fed the ‘mending’ story and when it goes back into service most will accept it is satisfactory for use. As always no news is good news when something like this happens. That the grounding will cost money is self evident but in an effective duopoly with order books running into the dim distant future most of the issue will be deferring income ie cash inflow moves three months to the right. This is providing Boeing do and are seen to do the right thing.

      • Saying Trump did the right thing is a gross failure to understand what he did.

        Doing the right thing is to admit you are wrong about so meting, not blowing out someone else is wrong about something.

        So, yes Trump sits on his hands and tweets all sorts of attacks and accepts no criticism or blame unto himself.

        The MAX situation is nothing more than a random typing on keys of a typewrite and it acualy spells a real word.

        Some years ago we had a place called The Monkey Cage. Probably somewhat common across the US.

        Said Monkeys would throw fecal matter around in their boredom.

        That is Trump in a nutshell (heavy on the nut and shell)

  5. Aside the Electra II, the present events remind me of the B737-200/300 rudder issues.
    It was not Boeing but the NTSB which found what was a design flaw. After two crashes.

    • I agree. The rudder is a controls aspect and the Electra was an aerodynamics issue.

      Boeing had 5 months to realize how flawed the lack of logic on the MAX was and could have acted as soon as that became clear (more clear?)

      Boeing resisted in both cases and in both cases refused to consider it was flawed.

      The tragedy is Boeing will only pay for their acts in money.

      This goes right hand in hand with the 767 failure, the 787 Battery failures.

      • Electra basic cause wasnt an aerodynamics issue. The engine mountings showed signs of previous damage- as described in this story from Smithsonian Air Space magazine.

        ‘Microscopic examination of fractures in the wreckage of the two airplanes revealed engine mount damage that had preceded the inflight breakups. The cause of the earlier damage was uncertain–in one case a hard landing was suspected–but Lockheed redesigned the engine mounts and no Electra ever suffered from whirl-mode flutter again.”

        ‘Whirl Mode” itself is described in the article
        “Then Lockheed structural dynamicist J. Ford Johnston had the idea of investigating the hitherto neglected contribution that might be made by small yawing deflections of the propeller. As pilots of propeller aircraft know from experience, the center of thrust of a climbing airplane’s propeller shifts to the side of the downgoing blade. This phenomenon, colloquially called P Factor, occurs mainly because a component of the airplane’s forward velocity is added to the speed of a downgoing blade and subtracted from that of an upgoing one. A similar phenomenon, rotated 90 degrees, naturally occurs when the engine swings to one side. Shifting the center of thrust flexes the engine mount, creating a new shift in the center of thrust and a new direction of flexure. As a result, a propeller and nacelle can vibrate continuously in a circular motion called “whirl mode”. Johnston suggested that whirl mode vibration might have initiated an unsuspected flutter mechanism.”

  6. If loyalty is being brought into play surely the most glaring dereliction of loyalty would be by Boeing and the FAA to anyone using the MAX if it does transpire that they released an unsafe design to service and/or were in any way responsible for an oversight system that failed to ensure safety and/or were aware of similaities between the 2 MAX crashes yet still refused to ground. Who else but the President was in a position to ensure Boeing and the FAA acted when they appear to have been dragging their heels?

    Re the separate ‘subscription required’ grounding impact assessment, I feel the duration suggested and costs suggested are if everything goes the way Boeing and the FAA would like and also that all legal cases against them fail quietly and out of court. I don’t believe this scenario though.

    If the 2 crashes do prove to be linked, given that Boeing was developing a software fix for the Lion Air crash before the Ethiopian crash and all MAX’s were still able to fly the legal case against them seems almost certain to be expensive and highly visible.

    On top of this, if what appears to be serious failings of certification on the part of both Boeing and the FAA do prove to be the case, then surely there will be an entirely justified public demand for an inquiry into the FAA and for a rigorous analysis of certifications produced under this setup in totality. That would mean a longer grounding and perhaps additional certification costs re the MAX and could also impact other lines (eg 787) if the existing setup is determined to have be in place at the time of its certification (regardless of the fact that no 787s have crashed).

    The MAX may indeed by flying again soon but I would be amazed if it doesn’t cost Boeing a lot more than the 787 grounding and I still believe there is a very real, non-trivial threat of a significantly longer grounding and beyond this an existential thrat to BCA as it currently exists, something which was not the case before the Ethiopian crash.

    • I agree with the need for an inquiry into the certification process. No one should ever trust Boeing to self certify in the future. In fact since we do not know what else was glossed over or missed, the whole certification process should be redone from scratch by an independent organization that is not subject to political or industry pressures.

      • All the data is published and is open to review.

        Why did not all the other AHJ’s do that?

        • “Scott Hamilton, managing director of Leeham Co, an aviation consultancy in Seattle, took a less sanguine view of the issue and said the FAA has been underfunded for years.

          “The trouble is any time you have the applicant doing its own inspections, you risk the absence of an outside viewpoint,” Hamilton told China Daily. “But it’s not in the interest of the applicant — Boeing or whoever — to approve something that’s unsafe and will harm or kill people.”

          According to the Seattle Times, the safety assessments “understated the power of the [MCAS],” which could move the plane’s tail “four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis.” The extra power was necessary because the MAX’s large engines were placed farther forward on the wing. However, the system “failed to account” for how it could “reset itself each time a pilot responded.” On the Lion Air flight, black-box data suggests that each time the captain pulled the plane’s nose up, the “MCAS kicked in … to push the nose down again,” causing the plane to crash into the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff.

        • If the Seattle Times article is accurate, one of the questions is the accuracy of the data that is published, and open to review.

          If the FAA were still under the impression that the stabiliser could only move 0.6 degrees under MCAS where in reality it was 2.5 degrees, it does make one wonder about the accuracy of any of the rest of the data.

          I get that initial studies suggested that 0.6 degrees is all that was needed, and when verified in flight it was more (over 4 times as much).

          But the actual figure should have been evaluated, and signed off BEFORE first revenue flight, not over 18 months later after two fatal hull loses.

          I would have thought such a large change would have raised a few questions !

    • I understand LNA ,behind the pay wall, is estimating a MAX grounding of six weeks or less.
      I wonder what wonderful Boeing brew Scott & Co. are sipping on this AM to sustain such a wild optimism in the face flying subpoenas, Congressional inquiries, burgeoning lawsuits and obvious skittishness among non US regulators. Can we have the blend – if it is a legal brew – so that we can also acquire rose colored vision?
      IMHO there will need to be a thorough international review of all the problems – an perhaps even nitnoids – that WILL be released regarding the MAX certification. Then of course the proposed solutions for all of these will need to be exhaustively tested by all.
      It is thus quite likely the MAX will need at the end a new type certificate, training, simulators, etc…
      Can we start a pool on the release date? It would be instructive to see how we collectively evaluate the odds. Perhaps Ladbrokes could be interested?

      • @Doubting: The article was written Friday, before the DOT and DOJ information emerged Sunday night.

        • I don’t think it affects it unless it is proven there are issues that are pretty hard to when its been tested not only to cert levels but by a couple years in the air.

          Legal issues may go on for a long time with charges, but that will not stop it from getting back in the air.

    • The Inspector General of the Detp. of Transportation opened an investigation of the FAA, Boeing and the MAX certification process after the Lion Air crash.

      The I.G. seems to have had enough to worry about with only one crash that things were already being dug through. This second crash certainly seems to have heightened the need for that investigation to proceed and report out.

      I only hope Sec’y Chao doesn’t meddle. I don’t have any specific reason for that worry, but now that news is out about the I.G., pressure will be exerted to hush it up. This current admin makes news daily in terms of corruption, shady dealings and bad faith messaging.

      I know we’re not supposed to get to down in the mud, but I say the above because trust in both the FAA and the Dept. of Transportation are essential to having a safe and effective aviation system. This Admin makes trust really, really difficult. (And in fairness, much of the FAAs possible failings in re the MAX happened under the previous Admin, so even in a much more ‘clean’ political setting, economic interest pressures are intense).

      • Thanks for catching that RaflW. Googled and can see several outlets reporting it yesterday US time but noting that it was launched a week earlier. Seems strange for the investigation not to have been reported widely back then (11 or 12 March US time).

  7. Hi Scott

    There is a fundamental difference here. The Electra issue much like the Comet issue was one of not knowing, something new and different. The issue of the MAX is more about knowing but not really caring enough. that is the perception of the market and what is potentially to be the attitude of all parties.

    Simply Boeing developed the MAX on a shoestring and all the actions they took was to bring the aircraft to market very quickly, at minimal cost and minimal change. They were aware of the limitations of the existing airframe, landing gear etc but on the one hand they were pushing development to catch up with the neo, secondly they were very cost conscious on development and the issue that seemed to colour their thinking too much was that the MAX had to retain grandfathering rights and to ensure cross compatibility with NG. It is this that led to the ‘hiding’ of MCAS from pilots.

    So this cannot be compared to catastrophe coming out of a blue sky but instead arises due to Boeing shooting itself in the foot by being too aggressive, something that seems to be in the DNA of MD/Boeing in recent years.

    • I suppose a cautious EASA, amongst others, might be more questioning of the FAA’s objectiveness/capabilities for the 777X, but there is always the potential political tit for tat that the FAA could threaten them with.

      I wish that were not the case, but can one seriously discount that possibility?

      • The job of an AHJ is to ensure the standards are met, you go for the they might slap me and then you are into the Boeing FAA relationship.

  8. Excellent article thank you. The Electra Story, by the late Robert J. Serling is a great read and is available on Amazon as an e book, well worth the read.

  9. Ok, I am pretty gobsmacked that the FAA refused to ground an aircraft that had two incidents where a wing just falls off!

    Not that I find that the FAA acted correctly in this current 737-8MAX situation but to me, that Electra grounding decision should have been automatic as soon as that second wing came off!

    • At that time people dying in accidents was not seen as an extraordinary event. It was more or less expected that when you were dealing with machinery there would be some fatal losses. Airtransport, shipping, construction work or driving. That mindset didn’t really change until the eighties. So the Electra I can understand, but not the MAX.

  10. How can one software update cure a faulty certification process?

    The MCAS bug was detected by a crash.

    How many more certified bugs does a MAX contain? The only trustworthy solution would be a recertification of the aircraft.

    • Exactly. And the certification has to start with determining if the plane is safe in fully manual flight over the entire envelope.

        • To the contrary, it has been demonstrated that the B737MAX is certifiably UNsafe to fly manually, that is the only reason why Boeing introduced the MCAS in order to make the aircraft certifiable.

          I think it is very questionable whether EASA would be prepared to recognise FAA certification of the B737MAX+MCAS system with just a couple of software tweaks, since it has been demonstrated by the Lion Air crash, that a fault in a single component can cause a hull loss with 100% fatalities.

    • It will be interesting to see what it takes to get MAX flying again in all juristictions. (I’m sure I’ve misspelt that, someone is going to make me pay)

  11. Trump possesses an extraordinary gift for gauging public opinion,together with the fact that all the world’s other aviation authorities had grounded the plane,informed him that it was time to stop listening to the experts at Boeing and the FAA.No great intelligence required.

  12. I fear that Boeing is going to regret their “make a safe airplane even safer” line when announcing their software update.

    Most people I know don’t consider an aircraft model that has two hull losses with total loss of life due to the (presumably) same cause within a half a year as safe!

    Imagine my parent’s dismay when I explained to them yesterday that Boeing had a fix in work for this problem but nonetheless still let the model fly in service!

    To me, this is the situation and their head in the sand attitude both Boeing and the FAA have to address in full before people begin to trust them again.

    It does seem that Congress might do that job for them, but at what cost to Boeing and to the FAA’s Reputation?!

    • “Make a safe aeroplane even safer”,if I were a lawyer I couldn’t hope for a more splendid birthday present.

      • Quite. Add that to the information in the Seattle Times article about MCAS development and certification, and the lawyers will have a field day.

  13. I really hope the media, (Leeham included) will hold Boeing feet to the fire here. Its super important they are give the clear message that they have severly damaged their credibility. To be working on a “fix” and not grounding the planes once they realized a fix was needed, is IMHO criminal negligence that cost 157 people their lives. Its shamful, horrific and incredibly sad. Once they had established what happened (they know and are not telling us) on Lion Air. the Max fleet should have been grounded. Of that I think we are all 100% certain. They were hoping they could slip the upgrade into the fleet, pay of the Indonesians and this will all be forgotten. They we gambling with peoples lives. Even when MAX is “fixed” I will be uneasy flying on one for quite a while and will prefer to avoid it if possible. Thank GOD Air Canada has 60 A220s on order.

    • Mark: Deities aside AC also has MAX and you don’t get to choose a route having one or the other.

      More like 350 dead from the looks of it.

      How do you hold Boeing feet to the fire when the aircraft is certified for all but one now for sure know flaw?

      Unless some successfully sue Boeing CEO for false statements in regard to the 737 safety.

      I would love to see that.

      No one I know of has yet.

    • @mark from Toronto.
      Not everyone one agrees the MAX should be grounded. I’ve read multiple posts claiming the MAX only got grounded because of politics, specifically mentioning communist governments like China and Europe (I’m not even kidding).
      Another poster was making the case the lionair crash only happened because they didn’t have well trained pilots, saying he wouldn’t worry about flying the MAX in North America and grounding was not necessary.

  14. We are unsurprisingly focusing on Boeing and the FAA and their overly cosy relationship. In the UK we like to call this ‘light touch’ regulation where the onus is on the commercial party to self regulate with reduced interference from the regulator. This has been discredited in practice as unworkable.

    As a counterpoint could anyone give an understanding of the relationship of Airbus to the EASA? Do they adopt a similar relationship? Further what formal and informal agreements exist between the regulating bodies?

    • One of my points, obviously Brazil does not just blindly accept things from Boeing.

      I think all AHJ’s have an obligation to review the data and concur or disagree.

      • @ TW

        I would suggest that the relationship between EASA and FAA is a difficult one. The EASA did raise concerns at the time as is well known, if they had gone further there would have been a massive political issue that reverberated far into the future. The American press would have cried foul and accusations of national favouritism would be made.

        Could the EASA have done more? Probably but with substantial adverse impact on certification matters into the future and wider US:EU relations. Should it have had to do more? The answer is simply no, raising concerns is about as far as it can go and if the FAA having already failed to do their job don’t take heed of those concerns that is the fault of the FAA.

        This does bring into question international certification and how things work into the future but your argument that all countries certificate separately is risible and done purely to obfuscate and spread the blame.

        I know Brazil…….

        • Duke:

          I fully agree the FAA needs to clean house.

          I do disagree that this absolves the rest of the AHJs from protecting their constituents.

          So, rather than obfuscate I think its thinking outside the fuselage.

          You are hung on on possible issues that may or may not come up, but that again is not the job of the AHJ.

          If they do have to rubber stamp per agreements, then that needs to change.

          How many times in the last 50 years has the FAA failed to do their job?

          DC-10, 737 Rudder, 787 Battery, 767.

          As Einstein is report to have said (with a lot of paraphrasing ) , trusting someone to do the right thing when they prove they will do the wrong this is insanity.

          So while FAA should be held to and I hope are to account (and Boeing, murder charges are warranted), how about doing the same with your respective AHJ?

          Or is this just an excuse to bash the US without accepting the culpability of the other entities?

          • While in principal, I agree with your desire to see all certification authorities do a full investigation of each aircraft, I am afraid that is not as practical as you seem to believe.

            The aircraft today are documented from top to bottom, from left to right and then back again and that is one reason that they are getting more and more expensive. Imagine the time, the effort and the cost if each country’s certification authority were to demand a complete, separate certification program from the OEMs.
            It was to avoid that kind of chaos that they came up with agreements and recognition of certain standards.
            It is not a perfect system but most are trying to do a good job.

            I remember in the early days of the A350 that Airbus was having problems with the FAA because they wanted to use the little green and white running person pictogram for the emergency exits. The good folks at the FAA were claiming that nobody in America would recognize such a symbol. It wasn’t until it was pointed out that such symbols were being used in the construction of new buildings before the FAA agreed to allow their use.

          • AN:

            I am not saying they have to run the tests.

            I do say they should review all the data and the decisions and make a decision based on their take if its acceptable or not.

            I think we can all agree that a nail into a battery tells you nothing unless you have good science that says the nail is the perfect way to test the battery for the data you need.

            The data is all there from the pitch up, now much and what MCAS did and was allowed X amount of authority (total) to counter.

            Its all in the data package – simply review the whole data package and pull out any that raise an eyebrow and assess it.

            If it does not assess per standard, then refuse to accept until its proven not to be an issue.

    • All major OEMS self-regulate. They infact get a certificate that says they self-regulate. In doing so they must set up an independent compliance department in their company. That independent compliance department reports to the regulator and not to management.

      Rolls-Royce is a good example. Everything that is known about the Trent 1000 came from Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce have been ruthlessly honest. It will cost them £2 billion, but the airlines know they can trust Rolls-Royce. So in the end Rolls-Royce will prosper.

      I actually don’t think the FAA knew what Boeing were up to. The emergency AD they issued after the Lion Air crash came across as somewhat startled. In other words, FAA to Boeing: “What do you mean you have not told airlines about MCAS?”

      But then we come to the relevation that the trim stabiliser can overpower the elevators. The FAA probably found out after the Lion Air crash. But the FAA kept it secret. Nobody else knew until after the Ethiopian Airline crash. In my view it was that relevation that caused the world to ground the airplane. Certainly country after country began grounding the airplane soon after it was made public that the trim stabiliser can overpower the elevators.

      This then comes to the software patch. We are told Boeing started design and development after the Lion Air crash. If that’s true they are proposing to put a major patch into the field in cica 6 months. That in itself is crazy. Heck, Micosoft, Oracle and others don’t do that, even though their software doesn’t fly airplanes. A year at least.

      But then perhaps, Boeing knew about the deficiencies in the FCC/MCAS well before the Lion Air crash but didn’t tell anybody. Instead they crossed their fingers and hoped they could slip a major software patch in under the radar.

      Boeing need to have their self-regulation certificate pulled! The FAA must be held complicit in not informing other countries what Boeing were up to after the Lion Air crash, recognising they didn’t know before the Lion Air crash.

      • You are correct and I am guilty of oversimplification. The certification process has however relied more and more on the OEM and the ability for the regulator to check on the OEM has become more difficult. This is particularly the case with any flight enhancements such as FBW or MCAS systems.

        At the same stage the compliance team and the regulator should act with transparency and in concert which I think is what you are saying and what appears to be lacking here

        • Yep, but unless the compliance team within Boeing ‘declare’ the regulator takes the view there is nothing to ‘declare’. Boeing are not declaring.

          Interestingly Bombardier don’t yet have the right to self-regulate, which is why it takes 24+ months to certify Bombardier airplanes.

          Thenty four months plus is how long it would take to certify the 777X if Boeing’s self-regulation certificate was pulled.

          • RR got caught out with its pants down and had no choice but to admit the issues as they were occurring.

            If they had not started to fess up they u would have simplify grounded the RR fleet until they to to the bottom.

            this is the same firm that paid close to a billion bucks US for bribing people to take their engines.

            If the European AHJ does not have the conjones to do what is right for their citizens you should not blame it on the FAA.

            If Brazil can do it Europe can do it.

            We are all better off with cross checks.

          • Airbus uses the same Grandfather clause, so lets not get wild.

            The C Series was an all new aircraft and was certificated as such.

            If you want to change the reg then work with your representatives to do so .

            It may not be right but it is the law.

          • Philip:

            There is nothing new about a stabilizer over come elevators. Its in ALL aircraft design of the type with a moving stab and elevator system.

            The FAA new that Boeing did not put it in training manuals.

            Brazil gave them feedback on review that it had to go into their manuals for in country aircraft (only place they have AHJ authority )

            MS updates their software once a month.

            It also has nothign to do with how fast it takes to do software.

            All Boeing had to know was it was deficient and the FAA as well and the conversation started as to what was sufficient.

            There looks to have been some disagreement, we can assume Boeing did not want to go full out and FAA did.

            Boeing will loose and all remedies will be put in place. None of it is that complex.

            2 x AOA
            Limit the Stab movement
            Only let it do it once
            Displays /Alarm on AOA disagree
            Mandatory Training

          • Transworld

            Your claim that all trim stabilisers can overpower the elevators is something I violently disagree with, but I will keep it civil. Even the Wright Brothers’ knew better; they knew nothing should ever be allowed too overpower the elevators. It’s the grim reeper.

            With regard to your comments on Rolls-Royce. I think they were unlucky, but at least they were honest. But Boeing and the FAA have not been honest.

          • Transworld

            To add. You clearly have never written software. I have, for I was a theoretical engineer. In other words, I didn’t bash tin with a hammer. It was all physics and applied mathematics, for about 50 years. In my career, that meant computers day in day out.

            As I said before, I actually know what an eigenmode is. Rolls-Royce were very, very unlucky.

            With regard to MCAS, they have torn up the existing flight control laws software algorithms and are replacing them. Six months is crazy.

          • Philip: Thank you for the bashing tin with a hammer, its honorable work (I did very close to ditch digging in my life as well) – in the circles I was in getting dirty for a living was a badge of honor. Those who would not get there hands dirt were looked down on quite seriously.

            I suspect you mean vehemently disagree as opposed to violently?

            If you have read the WP article, you will note that Airbus A320 overrode the pilot and trimmed the A320 into a seep dive despite the captain pulling back.

            In short, the Stablizer trimming if it continues will ALWAYS override the elevator (I assume the pilot has full elevator authority and no computer FMC overrides but I am not an A320 FBW experts) There is a backup system if all the automation is shut off (computers)

            The Stablizier has more surface by huge amount (10-1?) and it will always be able to overcome elevators when it moves. Most of the time not as the movements are tiny

            Its one issue in MCAS that is being corrected that it had the ability to move far more than needed to get out of a stall.

            One part of the fix is to limit its total allowed movement. Current MCAS as installed can move it full up (nose down)

            That is why you also have stab switches in the cockpit. If the trim runs away, its the only way to get control of the aircraft by removing the power. That then allows you to flip the trim wheel handle out and use the Mechanical Trim wheel to get it back to to neutral which then allows the yoke to control the aircraft .

            As your climb, decent or cruise change, you sub trim the Stab with the wheel to maintain the neutral part.

            And yes I have written software. Not an engineer but I have to assess it on my controls system and have written some of my own to deal with it.

            Software is a strange world indeed totally detached from real world logic though it works well in machines.

          • ThansWorld


            No professional engineer would allow what your saying! They would get struck off from their professional body.

            Freedom of speech means you can say it. But that is all!

          • Phillip:

            As Kelly Ann Conway has stated, everyone is allowed to have their own alternative facts.

            What you are arguing against is a basic aspect of the world – much like the Sun Rising in the East.

            Reality is this has nothing to do with professional as to what kind of force a moving Stabilizer (per all modern large commercial aircraft and even some small ones) exerts on the tail of an aircraft.

            It simply has more leverage. Its larger, it has more affect with airflow. Elevators are smaller and have less.

            On most small aircraft the stab is fixed and the elevator is quite large.

            You might want to look up the sq feet (squre meteres) of a 737 Stabalizer and thn tyr to esimte the elevaros

            This is a good picture:


            I would guess 30% Elevator size compare to the entire horizontal surface.

            Its why there is emergency cutout in the first place. As it can have that affect you need to be able to disable it if it does go wrong.

            This is another of the same type. Note the picture of the tail and the size differences between Stab and elevator


            I know you don’t believe me but the same mechanism failed and they could not control the aircraft with elevators – stab wins each time.


            I understand it, but I assume that is because I am not a professional engineer.

            Merely a designated one.

            You might want to visit a local flight school and see if they have an instructor who has worked with LCA and explain it to you.

            Better off in person in some cases.

  15. Scott:

    Calling Boeing a victim is like saying Attila the Hun was misunderstood.

    • “Trump bails on anyone who has been loyal to him in the past.” Does it matter to you that his motive was to protect the American people/flying public at large? This is exactly what should be expected of political figures: allegiance to electorate, not donors.

      The fact Trump is involved in this at all shows a breakdown of the FAA hierarchy. Although the President is the head of the executive branch and CAN do this, he should not have had to be personally involved.

      Additionally, Trump’s statements on wanting professional pilots with actual airmanship skills and his aversion to continually updating/modding a 1960’s design seems pretty reasonable.

      • And his demand that they all be 757s is very reasonably as well.

    • Atilla the Hun was misunderstood, at least in his own mind, all leaders are. Suspect Trump is the same. The point many people are making is that you can’t self certify anything because any human has some sort of a natural bias, I suspect the failure to allow the FAA the resourses needed to do its job will cost BA in the end. Maybe they will be the victim in the end??

      • Martin: That gets pretty Nitzche (sp?) like – how can the perpetrator become the victim?

  16. As with some recent 777 crashes the 737 crashes have been caused by the pilot loosing control and becoming a systems manager. One of the reasons I like Boeing over Airbus is the philosophy of giving the pilot the ultimate control of the plane. What happened here is the computer had the ultimate control and the pilot could not override it without working against a computer system. I remember a 747 that almost crashed but the pilot bent the wings and survived. Would a newer computerized plane have let that happen today?
    The software fix will limit the ability of the MCAS system’s ability to override the pilot and let him save the plane. At what point did Boeing start putting the pilot in 2nd place?

    • Both system have their flaws.

      If reg are enforced and interpreted the way they should be this would not have occurred.

      Most crashes are now caused by the pilot.

      Boeing insisting the pilot still is in control, all he had to do was pull the stab power, Simple, nothign to hide behind this door.

  17. Since this story concerns a book, I’ll mention a movie: “No Highway In The Sky,” a Jimmy Stewart acted story about a commercial airplane that suffers from metal fatigue and the tail falls off. He plays kind of an egghead scientist type who people in high places think that he is insane. It’s a good drama. Will they be making a motion picture about the Max 8? Well, 737s have been the center of pictures before, but that story had pilots as heroes. Of course this Max story is not over yet… But I’d venture to say that the heroes of this story would be those who fought for the grounding of the plane earlier on – the masses of well-informed people who fought to change the court of public opinion on news websites, blogs, etc.,… No small task in this day and age.

    • Sam:

      You should mention that it was off a Neville Shute book.

      Some good stuff he wrote.

      • He was an early aero engineer, always amazed me how close he came to predicting the Comet failures, unfortunately there was no Mr Honey to save the day.

          • I was referring to the little known nature of metal fatigue rather than the part of the aircraft.

          • Duke will always take exception, its one of his endearing qualities.

          • They did know about fatigue once they started using Aluminium.
            The first airliner crash where the accident report was published covered fatigue.
            1930 crash of Junkers F13 metal aeroplane, with only 100 hrs, with flutter on the tailplane.
            Just as Shute mentioned in his fictional story and with his high level involvement in the Airspeed company would have been well aware of in designing their planes.
            Part of the Comet fuselage was tested through 16,000 cycles as a fatigue check before first flight- they wouldnt do that if fatigue ‘was a mystery’
            Shute cant have been ‘predicting’ something that had been happening back then for decades – and still does. Im sure in the story he would had accurately described the specific circumstances,
            as he was an expert, your memory probably isnt as good.

  18. I wonder if the FAA would have communicated better and taken more of a leadership position during this crisis if it had an appointed administrator rather than just an acting one.

      • I agree. This is surely not direction from the administrator. This is a systemic problem with how the civil aviation “regulator” works, and I don’t even know whether it can be blamed on a specific political party.

        But, seriously, the FAA is a “regulator” at best now, and more of a promoter of industry. Those quotation marks are fully deserved.

        • CBS Morning show, today, had an expert on who said starting in 1993, FAA “regulators” did not have the staff or expertise to provide oversight, and had to rely on the manufacturer’s word, data and so forth. Both of the two major political parties took the contributions from the business world setting in motion, oh, things like a toothless FAA, the mortgage-housing-banking crisis, the S & L debacle, NAFTA. Fortunately, new technologies have come on and made airline travel even safer – for the most part.

  19. “The Electra entered service Jan. 12, 1959, with Eastern Airlines. It was considered a pilot’s airplane. Coming off decades of piston engine aircraft and early in the jet age, the Electra was the only airplane that was over-powered, piston or jet.”

    the Vickers Vanguard, which entered service in 1960 was even more over-powered (when measuring power to weight).

  20. The FAA will be under immense pressure by all parties. Boeing will want its cashflow restored. Congress will want to ensure the aircraft is safe. But if the FAA is too close to Boeing, it risks losing its credibility elsewhere in the world. Right now EASA (and other authorities) follow the FAA’s lead on Boeing certifications. Imagine a world where EASA says, no, we no longer have any faith in the FAA, we’re going to require a separate European process.

    The FAA is in a vise. Boeing too. And based on the reporting of Dominic Gates this weekend at the Seattle Times, they seem to deserve it.

    • Both EASA and Transport Canada are now saying they are going to review the FAA certification information in detail, rather than accepting it at face value.

  21. One point made by today’s NYT article is on the pilot training: since the MAX was deemed to be the “same” as the NG, the simulators were not updated and the MAX differences would not have been trained there.

    Instead, the pilots were given iPad-based training …

  22. Letter from Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg to Airlines, Passengers and the Aviation Community:


    Safety is at the core of who we are at Boeing, and ensuring safe and reliable travel on our airplanes is an enduring value and our absolute commitment to everyone.

    Muilenburg just keeps digging while moving beyond just “thoughts and prayers.”

    Having fast-tracked the 737 MAX development, it’s not surprising that the software patch that Boeing is rolling out — without the company waiting for the cause of the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 to be fully determined, nor waiting for the preliminary report on the crash of Ethiopian Air Flight 302, that’s due in one month — is going to be fast-tracked as well.

    Beyond “thoughts and prayers” it would appear that safety is not at the core of who they are at Boeing. Of course, Muilenburg won’t admit that it’s shareholder value which is really the enduring value of Boeing’s top management.

    • Yup, I have seen the rather impressive video of the ‘message’ by DM. The performance was something to behold. Simply he is duking it out. The script must have been reviewed 100’s of times by both PR and Legal to suggest one thing whilst at the same time not say anything of substance.

      It appears an apology or acceptance of fallibility on behalf of Boeing is not something that is in their vocabulary. He is practiced to the MAX (oops) to hit the right note of sincerity and concern without being patronizing or accepting of fault. In my jaundiced view he can’t quite carry it off but that is the cynic in me.

      Key highlight of course involve sneaking in ‘already safe even safer’ comment but this time referring to a broader company wide context, is that a subtle change to attempt to hide or disown the previous announcement relating to the MAX?

      My guess is that that is the closest we will come to an apology and now that has been parked Boeing will be full on aggression to get the grounding lifted.

      • No disagreement what so ever in regards to Boeing Mgt.

        I do think the broad brush should not be applied to the workers and lower level people.

        You get your marching orders and then you have to decide between trying (and about 99.9% of the time failing) or keeping your job.

        In a long work carrier I have never won a disagreement with a manger. I once got a standoff (and then was informed the policy had been changed as its only guidance not legal binding) and lost anyway. That was a very high up individual in a large corporation.

        If you are not going to succeed do you throw yourself on the sword? Like the MAX crashes, it takes a unique set of circumstances to do so, for ever whistles blower that makes the grade, thousands do not.

        And until something happens, as I have been all too often informed, its just an opinion (no matter how hard a set of facts its based on)

        FAA personal would be in the same boat.

        People lower down care a lot and do good work (for the most part) the ones that are higher up are the DMs of the world.

        Sowerbob: nothing the least cynical about your take, its the reality. Not a pleasant one but factual. It does make you wonder on how people like DM sleep at night. I never have been in that position but there have been many nights that I have lost sleep over safety issues.

        As for getting back into the air as fast as possible, yes that is what they will try to (and probably success at doing)

        As all AHJs can review the design and details of the flight tests and assess that, at this point I don’t see that as an issue. Like the 787 battery, I think this was a grossly criminal stupid one off decision.

        Could I be wrong? Yes. While I am not remotely in Bjrons leagues, the biggest change on the MAX was the engines and that would in turn make the pitch up into stall the main aspect of impact.

        If they uncover other questionable decisions on how a change is rated and handled then its fully fair to have that corrected (and should be)

        I do believe its a Space Shuttle one off grossly stupid move, launch it below the O ring temperature rating to meet a schedule (in this case both a schedule and lie about difference, training needed and minimizing the Criticality level of MCAS) .

  23. The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that federal prosecutors are looking into the development of the planes, and how they went through the process of approval in the first place. A grand jury in Washington, D.C., issued a subpoena seeking documents related to the development of the 737-Max series of planes on March 11, just one day after the deadly crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. It’s unclear, as of March 18, just who is targeted by the subpoena and whether the targets are at Boeing or inside the FAA.

    The involvement of federal prosecutors is “highly unusual” and suggests that there is more under consideration than just whether or not Boeing followed all the rules in submitting their paperwork. Even major infractions of rules are usually handled within the Department of Transportation through fines and oversight. It seems likely that the Department of Justice is looking at potential criminal prosecution of people within Boeing and/or within the FAA.

    A number of complaints about the behavior of the 737-Max autopilot system were filed with the FAA before the crash in Ethiopia, and even before the crash of Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018. It’s not clear whether the behaviors described in those complaints are related to the issues that brought down the two flights. However, it does seem clear that in both cases, the pilots were engaged in struggling against a system that seemed to be pitching the plane’s nose radically up or down. Both black box information and satellite tracking has suggested that the two flights followed a similar profile before entering a final, deadly plunge.

    In addition to the action being taken by federal prosecutors, the Department of Transportation has launched an internal investigation.

    • Your words are entirely right. But the 737 is a cash cow. Will the regulators in America bring it down?

      Time will tell. What comes first money or safety?

      • Money of course!

        But with a public eye and focus, publicity horses it back to the safe side.

        I agree that the cert needs to be fully vetted, I don’t think they will find anything.

        All this can take place while Boeing implements its fix (once its approved)

        If nothing is found to the contrary, it goes back into the air as safe as it was in the NG version.

        Hopefully FAA gets its funds back and it gets split out from its cheerleader mode.

        Depends on how much heat continues to get applied.

        It not bout morality, its about the spotlight and what can or can’t be gotten away with.

  24. Marisa Garcia of Forbes is reporting more detail on the planned assessments by EASA and Transport Canada. One excerpt here:

    “On fly-by-wire aeroplanes the flight controls are implemented according to complex control laws and logics. The handling qualities certification tests usually performed on conventional aircraft to demonstrate compliance..are not considered sufficient to cover the flight control laws behaviour in all foreseeable situations that may be encountered in service.”


    And related to this, Air Canada has removed the 737 MAX from its flight plans until the end of June as they do not expect to see them back in service until after that date.


  25. Muilenberg seems intent to tar the FAA, DoT and NTSB over this with his open letter statement of “We’ve been working in full cooperation with the US Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board on all issues relating to both the Lion Air and the Ethiopian Airlines accidents since the Lion Air accident occurred in October last year.” implying they are all in it together. From available evidence this seems understandable re the FAA but is it understandable re the DoT or NTSB? Should either of them pushed hard for a grounding before the Ethiopian crash?

    • My take is yes they should have.

      But both MO and FAA MO (going back some time) is to delay until they are beat into submission

      The 737 Rudder is a great case in point and both the losses were in the US and they still resisted and denied.

      Unfortunately there was just enough issues with wind shear in Colorado to have that as a valid question.

      Clearly there was none of that in the Lion Air crash.

    • As I said before this statement is a masterpiece. It says effectively nothing but infers a great deal. If only there was someone to take DM sentence by sentence through the statement and ask him what it means, that would be revealing. I don’t think it would stand up to the slightest of scrutiny.

  26. Meanwhile EASA Manager stated it will proceed with its own evaluation of Boeing new software and “ all of its possible failure modes” and reach its own conclusions independent of what FAA does.
    There goes the ball game for Boeing…

    • Actually I think not.

      The ball was being pushed by the FAA and Boeing was resisting all the recommendations.

      Now Boeing will accept all of them.

      How the rest of the certifciaon stands up to scrutiny remains to be seen.

      One peep though and Boeing will roll over, this has to much public glare that they have to comply.

  27. Back to Electra Scott. In January 1960, I flew from Ankara to Spokane Washington to start my university education in Pullman. I flew from Ankara to Brussels in a Sabena DC 7. After overnighting there I flew one of the first Sabena B707 flights over the Atlantic. Odly, it was a night flight to Idlewild. Had to transfer next day to LaGuardia and took an Amercan Airlines Electra flight to Detroit. I new something was wrong with the aircraft and I was very nervous. Despite the worries I thought it was a beautiful aircraft. From Detroit I think it was a Northwest Airlines DC 4 which took me to Spokane. We made so many stops on the way.

    • That is a whole lot of flying!

      I though getting from AK to the United States was tough gig.

      Pullman wasn’t even a cow town in those days, maybe a Gas Station at the crossroads?

      One they fixed the issue with Electra it went onto serve a great career. One of my favorites.

      • By the way, as we climbed from Ankara Esenboga we flew over the wreckage of SAS Flight 871, not a good sight to start my trip and my parents were very nervous.
        Pullman was more than a gas station, a very nice little town. WSU had about 4000 students. The Polouse country offered me nice farm jobs in the summers. The greatest part of Pullman was that I met my future wife, a gal from West Seattle. We are married 55 years. Cheers.

  28. Interesting parallels.

    The more I read about this the more it sounds like the Obama administration really dropped the ball in its oversight role.

    • Nice troll,were was Trump with his special knowledge after the lion air crash and before the Ethiopian one?The way Trump went about it clearly exposed his narcissistic personality disorder.
      The really alarming thing is the fact that Boeing and the FAA were opposing something so obviously unavoidable, morally, technically and politically.

  29. Working a bit on the Electra, from a Boeing jet background plus DC-6 and kin, I was impressed with the flight deck.

    As for noisy, the big turboprops weren’t quiet – Viscount and CV640 (Dart) for example.

    The higher powered Allison engines on the Hercules (C-130) had synchronization that put the props at blades at a specific angle to each other. (IIRC the first version had +/- 10 degree tolerance, the later solid-state controller 2 degrees.) The Herc’s props were big.

    Note that the Electra had a ground-idle position for one engine, to keep providing electric power while reducing noise. I don’t remember how noisy it was inside from flying in it but I was used to the Herc.

    Riding in the back of a DC9-30 was not a quite experience, IIRC Douglas added synchronization to the -50 variant.

  30. Are you kidding?! We start out with an aviation discussion and you turn it into Trump-bashing? I guess the rest of your comments must be politically-motivated, as well. Sorry I wasted the time in reading this.

  31. Another tangent may be in order, with the NG four wing “forks” showing cracks upon inspection – problem reportedly NOT affecting MAX or P8 maritime versions.
    Could NGs now be also restricted?

  32. After the recent Alaska Airlines incident, I remarked to a friend that the 737 Max could become the Lockheed Electra of the twenty-first century if any other faults are detected.

    When I searched to see if anyone else had made a similar connection, I noticed that Mr. Hamilton had done so years ago, after a second crash killed all onboard.

    Of course there are similarities and differences. Back in Electra’s day, it would have been impossible to override faulty aerodynamics with softtware. (Electra’s aerodynamics were OK, anyway.)

    The chief pilot at PSA set more conservative operating maximums on its fleet of L-188s and they never lost one. This provided a clue in the investigation: that airline’s tachometer maximum (never exceed) speed was below Lockheed’s red line and below the level of RPMs which produced a harmonic of a vibration (I think it was chop) that caused an exponential increase in stress on the frame. PSA continued using the Electra for its Lake Tahoe (TVL) service well into the 1970’s.

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