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Walls Closing in on Boeing

The walls are closing in on Boeing. In what may well go down as the biggest tragedy of American corporate history, Boeing and its management team are sliding off the cliff from what little credibility they have left, into the abyss of ignominy and very possibly criminal charges leading to massive fines, and a thorough cleaning of house. Moreover, while it is too early to know for sure, incarceration for the leading players in what was most likely a fraudulent certification of the 737 Max that ultimately lead to the death of 346 people cannot be ruled out for individuals at both Boeing and the F.A.A.!

So what’s changed lately? Importantly, the F.A.A. has a new head person named Steven Dixon who was just drilled by the House Transportation Committee, led by its Chairman, Rep Peter DeFazio and it wasn’t pretty. With family members of deceased 737 Max passengers present in the room, Dixon was subjected to a heated dressing down about what’s gone on in the four months that he’s been in charge, to indicate his independence from Boeing in any decision about when the Max should return to service and other breakdowns in the certification process that have been revealed. They include:

  • Why he appears to have ignored letters from a white blower who had repeatedly urged management to shut down production of the Max prior to the first crash, because of multiple problems he observed first hand in the Max production process?
  • Why there was no mention of the MCAS software  in the notice to pilots following the first crash?
  • How is he going to handle the pressure to get the Max back in the air?
  • Whether he’d admit that the F.A.A. made serious mistakes in allowing the Max back into the air following the first crash?
  • …and more!

Dixon stressed that there was no way the Max would be back in action in 2019 and that ultimately the “if” and “when” would be determined by how long it would take to get past the ten or so steps that have been identified as required for that consideration. They include:

  • Clearing up technical issues around the MCAS system.
  • Pilot simulator training to be determined by a collaboration of 15 pilots from various jurisdictions who would establish parameters of the training.
  • A comment period of 2-3 weeks to give all constituents the opportunity to express their opinions.
  • Time to evaluate the comments and respond.
  • Aircraft by aircraft inspection by the F.A.A. and their counterparts in various jurisdictions to assure air-worthiness of each Max prior to delivery.
  • That he has informed all F.A.A employees not to be pressured into rushing the process due to pressure from any outside entity and that potential approval was 100% in the F.A.A.’s hands.
  • That he would personally fly the Max himself before it would be cleared for the public to do so.
  • In responding to multiple queries about a time-table Dixon stressed that if one thinks about the steps he has outlined, while impossible to be specific, it is not going to happen until sometime into 2020

Bank of America airline analyst Ron Epstein just conducted a 2,000 person survey about flyers perception of the Max. Some of the take-a-ways:

  • 50% of the flying public are familiar with the Max dramatics.
  • 20% believe the Max is safe and that they would not have a problem flying on it.
  • 75% said they’d switch if possible.
  • 30% said they’d have to be paid to fly on the Max.

My personal view is that the 737 Max will not be certified to return to service until it is completely re-engineered with a new fuselage designed for the larger engines employed by the Max, that caused their problems in the first place.That could be a 1-4 year period but could ultimately return Boeing to its long-time status as an engineering driven manufacturer, more focused on safety than profits.

That is how it used to be, but the Boeing we know today has become far from that. It could possibly return depending on the decisions being made today. We all hope they make the right ones.

The FAA Knew the 737 MAX Was Dangerous and Kept It Flying Anyway

One of the major questions in the wake of the 737 MAX’s two crashes was how much the FAA and Boeing knew about potential problems with the aircraft. Months of investigation into the 737 MAX have painted an ugly story of how Boeing outsourced critical production in a bid to cut costs. The long-term decline of the company’s engineering culture has been covered at length, as has the FAA decision to allow Boeing to self-certify its aircraft.

It turns out the FAA was fully aware that the 737 MAX

It turns out the FAA was fully aware that the 737 MAX had a much higher likelihood of crashing than any other aircraft manufactured today and signed off on the plane anyway, the Wall Street Journal reports. After the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, the FAA conducted a review of the 737 MAX and estimated that the jet would suffer a fatal crash every three years over its expected 45-year operating lifetime.

How does that compare to the safety record of other airliners? Here’s the WSJ:

The projected crash total, according to the Journal’s analysis, was roughly comparable to all fatal passenger accidents over the previous three decades—from any cause—involving Boeing’s 757, 767, 777, 787 and the latest 747 models combined. The MAX fleet was eventually anticipated to be nearly 5,000 jets world-wide, while the other fleets together total slightly more than 3,800 aircraft.

According to the FAA, in other words, the risk of dying on a 737 MAX over its lifetime was equivalent to the combined historical risk of dying on five other aircraft, many of which operated at a time when the number of aircraft crashes per year was higher. Rather than pulling the aircraft and repairing the MCAS system’s known deficiencies, Boeing and the FAA decided on a flawed strategy of reiterating education on MCAS recovery techniques in the short-term. Long-term, Boeing was supposed to provide a software solution that tweaked MCAS performance. The FAA decided that doubling down on pilot messaging and the eventual software update would address the problems and allow the aircraft to keep flying.

PK-LQP, the aircraft involved photographed in September 2018, six weeks before the accident

The 737 MAX’s safety record during the time it operated amounted to two catastrophic accidents for every million flights. The previous generation of 737s logged one catastrophic accident per 10 million flights. The global accident rate for all Western-built jets in 2018 was one fatal crash per three million flights. The 737 Max’s ratio does not reflect well on Boeing or the FAA and according to the WSJ, the accident rate on the 737 MAX after just Lion Air should have been an immediate red flag. These values are far higher than what the agency is supposed to permit. According to the FAA’s analysis in December 2018, “risk is sufficiently low to allow continued growth of the fleet and operations until the changes to the system are retrofitted.”

In separate testimony, former FAA engineer Michael Collins recounted how at least 18 experts within the safety agency all concurred that Boeing should be required to modify the 1960s-era design of the MAX’s rudder cables to meet current regulations — only to be stymied by an FAA manager… as certification of the MAX loomed and Boeing hadn’t changed the design, the head of the FAA’s Seattle-based Transport Airplane Directorate, Jeff Duven, overruled his own technical specialists and approved the unmodified Boeing design.

The rudder issue is a separate problem from MCAS, but the fact that the FAA was willing to overrule 18 separate experts who collectively recommended a change is worth investigating given the overall state of the 737 MAX.

Walls Closing in on Boeing

The 737 Max is expected to return to service in Q1 of 2020, but the date has been repeatedly pushed back. It’s not known if the aircraft will actually be ready to meet its Q1 2020 reintroduction. The FAA analysis document, dated 12/3/2018, can be found here. The question of why the FAA repeatedly overruled its own specialists in deference to Boeing is also under investigation.

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“A stable, positive, non-preachy, objective voice makes the manual stand apart from others in the genre.  A successful guide that uses anecdotes to reveal powerful truths about life.” – Kirkus Reviews

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Walls Closing in on Boeing

Walls Closing in on Boeing