MAX delivery process will be slowed by FAA’s fewer resources

By Scott Hamilton

Jan. 14, 2020, © Leeham News: Boeing likely faces an extended timeline to clear its inventory of 400 737 MAXes. LNA estimates it will be well into 2022 before these new-production airplanes are delivered to customers.

The new timeline is based on LNA discussions with key people and our analysis. Boeing won’t comment. Wall Street analysts so far haven’t significantly shifted their forecasts of 3Q or 4Q2021.

The decision last year by the Federal Aviation Administration to assume responsibility to certify each Boeing 737 MAX before delivery is key to LNA’s estimate.

FAA’s resources

Boeing hasn’t made any public forecast, other than a few references in the middle of last year in which it talk about “several quarters” would be required.

Some Wall Street analysts believe Boeing can deliver 25 of the stored airplanes a month. Analysts typically gain some guidance from Boeing’s Investor Relations office before publishing a note.

The FAA decision to assume responsibility immediately raised questions about the number of airplanes it will be able to process. An FAA spokesman at the time wrote LNA that it has the resources to meet Boeing’s delivery schedule. The spokesman did not specify this schedule.

However, a person with direct knowledge of the plans says the FAA has only 10 inspectors, who will work Monday-Friday from 8am to 4pm. LNA has one report that the FAA now has arranged for 50 inspectors, but the person with direct knowledge can’t confirm this.

Boeing’s certification team, on the other hand, includes 500 people who would work 24/7.

Boeing expects the FAA to be especially meticulous.

The planes each will have to go through detailed inspection after months of storage. Test flights by Boeing and the customer are routine. Squawks identified have to be resolved and, if necessary, an additional test flight performed.

The entire process, called flow, normally takes about eight days, LNA is told. With the FAA assuming control on its own workday/weekday schedule and with only 10 inspectors, the flow could increase to 13-14 days per airplane.

“It will take well into 2022 to clear the inventory,” LNA is told. “The process will really be slow. Boeing’s reputation with the FAA is damaged.”

There have been published reports that it will take about 100 man hours to ready each undelivered MAX for handover to the customer. This is characterized to LNA as “conservative.”

86 Comments on “MAX delivery process will be slowed by FAA’s fewer resources

  1. I don’t see a M-F 8-4 schedule playing well in public. Of course the FAA need to be seen to not be at Boeing’s command but they also need to be seen to not be having a sulk.

    • Wasn’t Boeing itself that was lobbying to reduce FAA involvement in certification, what translated to less budget, what translated to less workforce? I think they did.

      Always FAA can revert and decide that Boeing is happy to do MaX’ deliveries on it’s own. Wouldn’t be first time FAA being accommodating with Boeing. It’s one of the things that will show how integral FAA is. I think FAA done this move (to be involved in MAX’ deliveries) in response to constant expectations from Boeing for RTS soon.

    • It is of course about total capacity, I hope that in the US you also have 40 hour working weeks and not 7/24 = 144 hour working weeks per person. If FAA has 50 or 60 staff, and Boeing had 500 staff, we still will see things at 10% of the possible rate. The total lack of trust that Boeing created with FAA is the main culprit, obviously

      • Congress pushed around FAA to do what suits Boeing, helps the US industry.

      • Well, 24/7 seems an exaggeration, but 10/6 or 12/6 is doable. (Not 7 in the experience of I and others. And the pace can’t be continued forever.

        If the need is pressing, FAA should bring people from elsewhere.

        Done by Canadian police in a bad forest fire season in the Caribou area of BC, several hundred RCMP officers from Saskatchewan to provide security in evacuated areas and help in general.

        And months later when the BC Minister of Forests found out that businesses that worked hard to feed firefighters and other helpers had not been paid, he had 50 people work a weekend.

        Wanna bet FAA people will relay on Boeing people to significant degree?

  2. This is quite funny in a way, as we will see inverted roles with Boeing pushing hard for more FAA inspectors as soon as this becomes obvious (after re-certification, whenever that might happen). This topic might turn the continuing shrinkage of the FAA (in an environment of ever growing commercial aviation) in funding and manpower round into increased funding and hiring.

    • Poetic justice at work there, with B actually lobbying to INCREASE FAA funding.
      The wheel has turned….or is it the worm?

    • “”This topic might turn the continuing shrinkage of the FAA in funding and manpower round into increased funding and hiring.””

      theguardiam.com Jan 10:
      “Donald Trump has used two executive orders to cut regulatory oversight and hand more of that supervision over to businesses. Trump’s 2019 budget proposed an 18% cut to the transportation department.”

    • Sharice Davids:
      “The newly released messages from Boeing employees are incredibly disturbing and show a coordinated effort inside the company to deceive the American public and federal regulators, who are in place to keep passengers safe. It’s further proof that Boeing put profit over safety in the development of the 737 MAX.”
      “As a member of the Transportation Committee, and as Vice-Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, I’ve been working to conduct rigorous oversight of Boeing as part of the Committee’s investigation into the design, development and certification of the 737 MAX. It’s unacceptable that it has taken 10 months of investigations for Boeing to turn over these messages”

      https://davids.house.gov/media/press-releases/davids-statement-newly-released-boeing-messages-spirit-aerosystems-job-cuts

      • Let’s wish Sharice David succes, she’s new. The Transportation Aviation Subcommittee is at the roots of FAA aircraft certification “Streamlining”over the last 8 years. Hope she did her homework and isn’t pushed forward as others trying to stay out of the news / Google searches.

      • Boeing did not know the text messages existed. as the e-mails containing them were not communicated to anyone at Boeing. They were found during discovery and turned over to the Justice Department as part of the investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing, which is still on-going. They could not be released publicly without redaction and approval so as not impede that investigation. That has now happened.

        • If they were on company phones or computers they were available and easily found. Makes no difference who to or from if either side used a company computer- phone- system

          Trivial to find. Send a email – text- from a company provided phone or computer or iPad and use obscene words or similar and the odds are you will be called in to HR and read rocks and shoals – Over a decade ago- a boeing employee did so to me ( after I had been retired for over 5 years ) and he promptly found out how well the filter system worked.
          I’m sure nothing has changed for the better since.

          • Bubba, please note this did not involve company-provided phones. Instead, the author copied a transcript of personal text messages from his personal phone, into company e-mails to himself, thus making them part of company records.

            Boeing would have no knowledge that he did that. It would only be found during a search and review of all company e-mails regarding the MAX, for which there are probably millions. That process is known legally as discovery. And it’s not trivial, it takes awhile as it involves human review of all search hits. It’s teams of people working for an extended time. I’ve done this before for FOIA requests.

            It’s not the same as an obscenity filter that looks for a relatively few specific keywords.

          • I think that lots of this correspondence was found quite easy and early but withheld by Boeing in sake of “researching others”, and researching and researching…

          • Pablo, once found they needed to be turned over to the Justice Department as evidence of possible wrongdoing, in an open criminal investigation. That’s what drove the need for discovery.

            Once that happens, they cannot be made public without redaction and approval, so as not to compromise the investigation.

          • @Rob

            I’m quite familiar of the reason for searching these e-mails and a use of the finds.

            It took Boeing a lots of time and even CEO change to bring them to the light.

      • FAA statement on the e-mail release:

        “Our experts determined that nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft.

        The FAA maintains a rigorous process for qualifying flight simulators. Upon reviewing the records for the specific simulator mentioned in the documents, the agency determined that piece of equipment has been evaluated and qualified three times in the last six months. Any potential safety deficiencies identified in the documents have been addressed.

        While the tone and content of some of the language contained in the documents is disappointing, the FAA remains focused on following a thorough process for returning the Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service.”

        • “nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks” good blind FAA experts – obvious fall of the safety culture in Boeing is nothing to see.

          • Or they are being truthful and trying to quell misinformation and misinterpretation, based on the personal remarks of one non-representative individual.

          • Rather simply being politically-correctness and covering their own asses. Most people will see at first glance that these e-mail shows how inside Boeing is rotten in safety culture, but some individuals will see nothing.

          • Pablo, that reflects your own beliefs, which are present in most of your commentary here.

            If the FAA or Boeing resist that kind of thinking as being incorrect, even when confirmed by the Justice Department, then they are all wrong and you are right.

            The FAA correctly sees the e-mails as not being relevant to the task at hand. We will have to see what the Justice Department finding is regarding Boeing.

  3. Could this be an indication that production stoppage could be up to say 3-6 months?

  4. I do think this article is being optimistic.

    My own view is enough evidence exists to void all MAX contracts.

    Unless the regulators give the MAX a totally clean bill of health, airlines will refuse delivery. Airlines are coping without the MAX and apparently there will be a down turn. So I think there will be a lot of reflection by airlines before they take delivery.

    But then add simulator training to the mix. As any level D simulator been approved? For example , as a level D simulator been approved that can do the yo-yo manuever for the purpose of correcting runaway trim stabiliser?

    • The reports of agreements between Boeing and some major airlines on MAX compensation is one sign that Boeing will not face a wave of contract cancelations. It think this is pragmatism, short to medium term those airlines have no-where else to go.

      Moreover the compensation is designed to make an already cheap aircraft even cheaper.

      • I agree with you to some extent. But I think compensation agreements, indeed all agreements, are subject to what the regulators say.

        We should remember that Boeing have always used a very positive spin, making clear it’s done and dusted. So compensation payments, for some, are in place based on what Boeing have said.

        I’m waiting for what the regulators say.

        • Each airline is going to figure out what rate it can take aircraft at depending on its current needs.

          We are now into the waiver area where due to failure of delivery, they can cancel contracts as well.

          And they have taken interim steps to deal with the sustain and or growth needs.

          A bunch in the EU are gone (have not done any checks to see if MAX is involved). But there are surplus hulls to lease out there.

      • In Germany we have 3 tags:
        Teuer ( pricey but can be worth it)
        preiswert ( good value for money )
        billig ( low price for an overproportionally lower quality product.)

    • Most airlines don’t want to void the contracts. The reality is the airline industry can’t do without the MAX. In a world without the MAX, Airbus couldn’t possibly backfill fast enough to materially damage the world’s airlines.

      Southwest was supposed to have about 70 MAXes in service at the end of 2019 – a little less than 10% of their fleet.

      In a world without the MAX, the airline industry would face a shock to aircraft supply from which it would not soon recover.

      The airline industry very much needs a reformed Boeing, but it really can’t do without Boeing at all.

      • Long term Boeing is badly needed.

        Short term it can be and has been adjusted to.

        Ryan MO is to sell the 737 off once the warranty expires.

        Now they just hold them.

        That is why the death to the 737MAX types do’n’t want to talk about the issue of manual trim because it not only affects the MAX, its an NG and all other manual ops aircraft.

        Kill off the Evil MAX while its evil cousin and the nephews go on.

        • “”That is why the death to the 737MAX types do’n’t want to talk about the issue of manual trim because it not only affects the MAX, its an NG and all other manual ops aircraft.””

          The trim wheel system of the MAX is different than the system on the NG and other aircraft. Decreased diameter, decreased handling space, increased MTOW, increased engine thrust, increased stab and elevator forces, intended usage and so on.

          It can be assumed that older aircraft followed regulations, but with Boeing’s self-certification nonsense it needs to be checked if the MAX trim wheel system follows regulations. If a regulation isn’t followed it needs to be checked at which evolution step it didn’t follow.

          If a trim wheel system is needed for safety it needs to follow regulations. If safety isn’t provided the plane can’t fly.

          Can’t circumvent the regulation system and produce unsafe planes only to give Muilenburg and Co a bonus.

          • I belive that decreased diameter, decreased handling space of trim wheels already happened in NG. This systems are not so different, unfortunately.

      • Your words represent why Boeing expected and still expect to get away with it.

        Safety is a red line that must not be crossed.

        • No, its a hard reality that completely biased people ignore.

          I don’t have an agenda, I ran into knotty problems all the time and just throwing something out to fix it was not going to be accepted.

          Cost is a reality and if a fan does not work you don’t just pick up the whole building and slide a new one in under it.

          If there is a problem, you fix the problem.

          I have advocated on the Trim Wheel issue but its not a MAX issue, its a manual controlled aircraft issue that goes back to the start of the jet age.

          You have yet to answer how you would handle it, you just trash the MAX.

          Typical of non problem solvers.

          Then there is people like me that kept the world running safely (bugles, flag waving, parades, adulation etc)

          • TW

            I’ve repeatedly given the solution to the MAX problems. All of them, including manual trim.

            I’ve made clear there is no such thing as manual on an airliner. Everything is power assisted. So manual trim must be power assisted.

            If the control system is a primary control system, the power source must be triple redundant.

            There, wasn’t that easy.

        • wrong.
          profits are at the top.
          red line is at “profits below expectations”.

  5. One question on this article.

    Will the “re-certification” of built and un-delivered planes (400) also apply to the built and delivered planes (another 400)? i.e the 34 737 Max’s that Southwest had been flying but are currently parked – does the FAA need to inspect each of those as well? So the total number planes to be looked at is closer to 800 not 400? Thanks – any feedback appreciate.

    • Patrick, this change affects only Boeing’s ability to issue airworthiness certificates for newly manufactured aircraft. That will now be done by the FAA.

      For existing delivered aircraft, the original airworthiness certificates remain in effect, but compliance will be required for the FAA airworthiness directive that is eventually issued for the MAX. Responsibility for that lies with the owner-operator, but compliance must be confirmed by a certified maintainer.

      Boeing will likely assist airlines with implementation of the required engineering packages, but Boeing cannot certify compliance, the airline’s certified maintainer must do that. Actually the maintainer must do this each time the aircraft is returned to service (assure all due directives have been completed and aircraft is compliant before becoming airworthy).

    • @Patrick C Marx

      Well, nobody knows for sure how it will look like for real. Overtaking certification of eaxh MAX by FAA was only hinted, without precise technical scope. Because it’s about the end of the recertificacion road I wouldn’t put any money on scope of FAA real involvement in this matter.

  6. If the aircraft that haven’t been delivered need a super inspection, surely those MAXs that have already been delivered need a glance over as well?
    Logically the FAA should begin with an incredibly thorough inspection and then determine what is necessary based on the evidence uncovered.Unfortunately this might give Boeing the leeway to try and pressurise the FAA again,Boeing can’t be trusted.

  7. Perhaps a way forward would be for some of the Boeing DER/ARs to take a form of sabbatical, and be allowed to gain experience working at the FAA.

    So Boeing would pick up the cost. The FAA would have skilled workers with current knowledge of the product, but no extra budgetary requirement in the short term. The DER/ARs would be reporting to the FAA directly as they would be FAA employees.

    It may cost Boeing some money, but it may speed up the process, and get the FAA to a position where they would be more likely to allow Boeing to self certify once the DER/ARs had returned to Boeing.

    In the longer term though I think the system needs to change. The designated DER/ARs need to report directly to the FAA.

    I also think the FAA should be split into two entities; one to perform the safety/certification brief, and the other to be an industry cheerleader. I think there is a pretty clear conflict of interest when one agency tries to perform both functions.

    • FAA hire / pay them. Having to report to FAA but being payed / overruled by a stock price rewarded Boeing boss, proved to be a lethal concept.

      A inspector should be able to refuse certification and refer alarmed executives to his boss waiting for them 9:00 monday morning at the FAA HQ in Washington to set some clear assignments.

  8. What do the inspectors actually do on each plane? There aren’t inspectors for each bus made, so why do planes need it?

    I get the big picture stuff checking production lines, culture, reporting systems etc, but why each plane too?

    • It’ll be a mainly a verification of conformity – that all the equipment installed corresponds to what is written in the technical dossiers. Any deltas will need the change validated for that particular aircraft or a rework of the aircraft to install the correct equipment. After, there is also a check to be sure that there are no time expired components (fire extinguishers, first aid kits…).

      The customer will be involved at some stage and the quality of the paint and so on will be checked. There will also probably be questions about the conditions of storage and the way destorage was done.

    • Lack of confidence in Boeing (& the desire to be seen to do all that could reasonably be done) coupled with uncertainty about the effects of long-term storage.

    • My take as well, I think its PR spin to show the FAA is back in charge and a lot to do about nothing as they will change it back when it gets rolling.

      The Cert issues are hull deep, is it safe or not?

      The pre delivery tests confirm all system are working correctly and get fixed if they are not. Owner rep is on hand and observes it all and signs off as well before he pays the bill.

      Nothing more than Hooplah.

      • I agree, this FAA idea is more like a PR spin. I believe it was hinted in response to Boeing’s constant RTS dates. Technically I don’t see what gain it would bring to safety, if every safety issue had been already resolved im design and production.

  9. The FAA said that they had the manpower available to take on the initial airworthiness certification role, and that the change was temporary until they gained confidence that Boeing had adequate quality control in place.

    “The agency said it will keep the authority to issue the certificates until it is confident Boeing has “fully functional quality control and verification processes in place” and that other Boeing procedures meet all regulatory standards.”

    This may mean that they will start out working with Boeing inspectors initially, and then have a transition at some point when they feel the process is being done correctly.

    I think they didn’t want to just open the spigot on deliveries without any oversight, which is a wise & prudent decision.

    • So, Dave doesn’t get his bonus if there’s another crash, how is this going to help Boeing or the dead people?

  10. “Let business do what business does best; make Money!”
    Signed, Barack

    “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help!”
    Signed, Ronnie

    “The K-Street growth and Citizen’s United success for their constituency is unimpeachable!” Either I said that or Bob Dylan (sorry – but I was thinking if it was the truth it isn’t political…)

  11. The FAA needs to staff up quickly and hire their own staff back that was retired, especially those that retired/got pushed out during the 737MAX program, get skilled contractors and retired engineers from Boeing, Douglas, Lookheed, Gulfstream, Northrop from Engineering/Validation/Certification and add junior Aerospace graduates to learn from the”old dogs”. Boeing used to do hiring raids in Europe as national programs were scaled back from Saab, Fokker, UK and Germany.

  12. Sky is Falling:

    It will get worked out. Frankly starting slow is a good idea and then working up to MAX delivery rate. Fluid area due to the delays and downstream impacts.

    FAA will hire more, Boeing will get its allowance to certify back in some combo of those.

    The US has been known to get things screwed up, but we still lead the world in figuring out how to overcome the logistics issues.

    They will figure it out and clear it up by end of 20220, early 2021 (clock starts when they get MAX back in the air certified and that is at least 2-3 months off)

    • The Forbes article states that Ford workers leaked to journalists who used or published the information
      But even if, as the released emails suggest, Boeing workers were very critical of Boeing, the insiders appear not to have leaked, even after the Lion Air crash when it became critical to do so; or if they did no journalist published
      Why not?

  13. FAA should be flexible enough to hire temporarily more competent people, should also put that bill to Boeing.

  14. “Boeing’s certification team, on the other hand, includes 500 people who would work 24/7.”

    Come on Leeham. That sentence is obviously nonsense.

    Boeing certainly has more people as the FAA but what is the factual evidence that they, in average, work more hours?

    • Once again being on verbiage.

      Boeing can staff up for a 24 hour a day operation if they so choose. Simple as that.

      Also simple is it will get worked out and a non issue.

      I guess its a slow news week.

      • The problem is that contrast it with this:

        “says the FAA has only 10 inspectors, who will work Monday-Friday from 8am to 4pm. LNA has one report that the FAA now has arranged for 50 inspectors”

        The FAA inspectors could not work in three shifts 24/7 like firemen and police do?

        Why denigrate the FAA inspectors as limited in work time and exaggerate the capabliity of Boeing payed workers as 24/7? Sure, a Boeing lobbyist in front of Congress would do that but a presumably neutral industry analyst?

        If 500 inspectors are needed for certification let the FAA hire them and send the bill to Boeing. If they don’t want to pay for that they will have to live with what 50 inspectors can do.

        • Don’t you think that hiring & training an FAA inspector is more complicated then an Boeing simple worker?

          FAA has it’s budget, which is cut every year, and can’t just hire more then budget allows. Those are budgetary rules, they can’t just send a bill to Boeing as were a private company. So FAA lasted only with 10 / 50 inspectors availables – you won’t make 3 shifts with such a lack of workforce.

  15. Why cant some parts of the FAA final inspections start now?
    We can clearly exclude the cockpit systems as that may change with upgrades and probably related items.
    However the paperwork on the manufacture process and the entire cabin could be started now. The engines along with some mechanical systems could also be checked off with some on ground engine runs etc.
    Is there no one thinking ahead to the reality that the maxs will be fixed and delivered , so that a large proportion of checks can be done while sitting on the ground. The planes owners could be included as well. This way the ‘flow’, once deliveries have resumed, be reduced down to 1 or 2 days including test flights .
    I was amazed to see a similar process of tunnel vision when I saw a picture of convoy of those sort of land mine protected Australian army vehicles stopped in a fire affected forest by a fallen tree across the road- this was an expected issue with many fallen trees to go. This tree was being cut up in place while the vehicles waited. Someone in charge should have used these vehicles as well as other types to push or drag most trees to the side to get through to the isolated towns quicker. That way multiple trees could be cut up to fully clear the road at once by different crews along with fire damaged trees that could fall across the road later.

    • Duke, the driver for all of this has now become visibility and perception of safety. Reassuring the public and the critics that the process is good and safe, will take precedence over what may be more efficient or logical, from an engineering viewpoint.

      Otherwise the criticism will be that RTS is being rushed in order to help Boeing. That perception needs to be avoided wherever possible. So there will be delays and progress will be less than what it could be, with the view of demonstrating that the process is safe. That’s just where we are now. It’s what happens when trust is lost.

      • In normal times the production ‘flow’ was based on (lets say) ‘1 plane a week’
        You couldnt batch the paperwork and other tasks as the next plane wasnt available yet.
        Its a different matter when you have 5 planes ( out of 400) in sequence from the production line in front you. Its much more efficient way to work as well.
        Im talking about a lot of routine stuff- from memory even the cabins are checked throughly – now that doesnt have to wait till cockpit stuff is checked and certified.
        Time for Boeing FAA and the customers to get together NOW and start the ‘flow’ that can be done right away.

        • Duke, I agree. I hope it works out that way and things will be done efficiently.

        • Not sure it’s time for the customers to get together “NOW” and help Boeing.

          Buyer pays $50M – buyer expects to receive new aircraft with all certification and handover inspections completed by the book.

          No sane buyer would put themselves in the middle of BA’s mess and FAA.
          Typical Customer Conversation: “give me a call when you’re ready to delivery my plane per the contract. Until then talk to our legal team”.

          • Buyers that have existing fleets are facing many of the same tasks with their existing aircraft, so Duke’s comment makes sense from that perspective.

    • Duke,

      The FAA have not approved Boeing’s solution. As the FAA have made clear, Boeing have submitted a proposed solution.

      The FAA won’t oversee Boeing’s work to deliver airplanes until Boeing’s solution has been approved.

    • Actually the FAA claimed that:

      “In a statement issued to AIN on Wednesday, the agency said it has enough inspectors in place to meet Boeing’s expected delivery capacity.”

      • @Rob: The FAA said the same thing to LNA after it announced it was taking over from Boeing. I doubt they have 500 employees, working 24/7.

  16. The question I’d like answered is how quickly will airlines accept new MAXs? As I expect initial deliveries to start slowely as operators have locked in older airframes for var lengths of time 50 FAA staff might be enough for the first few months dels. If FAA decides not to re-deligate to BA, they’ll have time to hire extra bodies.

  17. I presume the FAA will be conducting the normal pre-delivery inspections, including check flights, that aircraft from all manufacturers receive prior to delivery.

    I am unaware of any issues prior to the grounding with such pre-delivery checks performed using the usual Boeing process, which would have been explicitly approved by FAA.

    I assume initially most or all the testing/inspection will be performed by FAA with support from Boeing production flight test. As the FAA personnel gain confidence in the process, more and more of the routine work will be performed by Boeing staff, with oversight provided by the FAA. Eventually, only the critical inspections and flight test points (like low speed handling checks with AoA sensor disabled, maybe?) will require direct FAA involvement.

    Since Boeing had the ability to do 50+ pre-delivery checks per month prior to the grounding, building back to near that rate should be possible, but only if Boeing is able to earn the FAA’s confidence.

  18. Who at Boeing is responsible for developing a practical forecast for wall street?

    Is that the role of the Chief Financial Officer?

    • Office of Truth and Public Relations.
      What do we know about Boeing’s PR budget?

  19. The flurry of A320N and Max orders was maybe more a scramble for delivery slots than actually “really need” to replace aircraft.

    Air Malaysia could be a pointing case, it appears that they could be cancelling 25Max orders. From info that I could find their 737 aircraft (48) is less than 10 years old (20 leased), so they could definitely survive another 5 years (?) without new SA aircraft if they can extend leases of the 20 aircraft.

  20. Has any individual at Boeing been identified as the person directly responsible for the disastrous design of the MCAS system? Some specific person there made the decision to code the software using that algorithm.

    • Nick, it was a case of there being two distinctly separate stages of development of MCAS, separated by 4 years, different teams, and simulator vs real aircraft.

      The initial development was in 2012, in the flight simulator before the first MAX was ever built. MCAS was created as an extension of the STS system, intended to address column force issues at cruise speeds. This version required a small authority (0.6 degrees stabilizer deflection), and was given a dual-sensor redundancy requirement for the trigger (AoA vane & G-sensor must agree). It was considered a relatively benign addition, with no substantial risk. This was the version certified by the FAA.

      Then in 2016 in the flight testing of the first MAX, with a different team, it was found that a similar column force issue existed at low speeds. Since MCAS was already present, it was modified to give it the much greater authority (2.5 degrees stabilizer deflection) needed at low speeds, and also the G-sensor was found to be ineffective at low speeds, so it was removed from the trigger logic. These changes substantially increased the risks associated with MCAS.

      The second team assumed that MCAS had already been vetted by the previous certification, and they were only making minor modifications, so no big deal. But in fact they had undone some of the assumptions that went into the previous certification, and the prior safety analysis was no longer adequate for the higher authority.

      These changes were reported up the chain at Boeing, and also at the FAA, but weren’t recognized by either as a significant change requiring new certification. It wasn’t reported with any urgency or identified as a potential problem. Just one of many flight test changes to the software.

      What should have happened, was a redesign and recertification of MCAS for both high and low speed cases. That is now being done for the new MCAS.

      The JATR also pointed out that Boeing could have done an issue paper, to have MCAS formally reviewed as a new concept, since there was no prior experience with it. This would likely have resulted in a much better design.

      • The initial issue which MCAS was the proposed answer wasnt discovered in a ‘simulator’.
        Boeing was doing extensive wind tunnel testing with their large scale models – which are much bigger than you think and extensively instrumented- when the issue came up.
        Simulators can only fly according to what is programmed and are firstly a pilot training aid. They may be programmed once the test points have been confirmed from a prototype flying.

        • Duke, point well taken, wind tunnel testing was involved as well, in determining the need for MCAS, and in developing a baseline for the simulator. The flight testing for MCAS development was done in the simulator for the initial version. This was needed because the test of MCAS was correction of the control column forces.

    • partitioned design process.
      left hand did not know what the right hand did.

      IMU it was designed into the process to come to a solution by way of a “cheese hole alley of oversights”.

      No single person responsible.

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