A second fatal crash in less than five months of its fastest selling Jet Airliner has put Boeing in a tricky situation. Several voices have called out negligence on the part of the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturer.
The Ethiopian Air crash on Saturday claimed 157 lives and took the total death toll from 737 Max 8 crashes to 356 in 5 months.
- Boeing’s new 737 Max 8 Airliner suffered two fatal accidents in less than five months of operations claiming over 350 lives.
- Over 50 countries around the world reacted with a ban of the operation of the airplane in their airspace
- A major technical issue regarding incorrect information to the airplane’s automated systems due to faulty sensors appears to be common to both the crashes.
- A number of voices have claimed negligence and delay on Boeing’s part in ascertaining that pilots had accurate and adequate information about the snag
After the infamous Lion Air crash in 2018 which took 189 lives, the 737 Max 8 Jet claimed 157 more lives as an Ethiopian Airline plane came crashing to the ground on Saturday 9th March 2019. The crash saw growing backlash from around the world, as over 50 countries banned the aircraft’s operations in their airspace. Boeing said it understood the actions but expressed “full confidence” in the 737 MAX, stating safety as its priority.
The company has seen billions of dollars wiped off its market value with its stock down nearly 12 percent since the first crash. As per Boeing India, deliveries of new planes will be halted for now. Boeing has currently 3000 plus orders of 737 Max 8 from around the globe. It has been alleged that the company neglected a key safety aspect in a bid to come out as the winner in the race with Airbus.
Source: Boeing | Credit: Koko Nakajima/NPR
Boeing has been condemned over delay in putting an end to the danger after the Lion Air crash in October 2018. Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate wrote an open letter to the Aircraft Manufacturer to come out clean:
“Soon the technical dissenters in the reported “heated discussions” with FAA, the airline industry, the pilot unions and your company will see some internal e-mails, memos, and whistleblowers go public.”
Activist Ralph Nader wrote an open letter hinting at ‘heated discussions’ regarding the 737 Max 8 issue at Boeing.
What’s going wrong with the 737 Max 8 Jets?
When the Lion Air flight crashed into the sea within minutes of take-off, the pilots were unable to override a new flight control system that features in Boeing’s Max planes known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System). The MCAS automatically lowers the nose of the plane when it detects abnormal attitude or speed from externally placed sensors.
Understanding Boeing’s new MCAS and its role in the Lion Air Crash
Credits: Seattle Times
In the aftermath of the crash, Boeing issued a statement asking pilots not to take sudden dives and then came out with a bulletin on November 6th 2018 on how to override the automated system in case of erroneous readings. US Civil Aviation regulator FAA consequently ordered Boeing to improve anti-stalling measures in its software and the plane’s maneuvering system.
Debris from the Lion Air Flight 610 at sea
When tragedy struck the second time last Saturday, paranoia spread globally. Boeing issued a statement saying they would recommend the temporary global suspension of the entire 737 Max fleet. It however said that it was confident in the safety of the 737 MAX. The company said:
“Safety remains our top priority and a core value for everyone at Boeing. We are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved.”
Is Boeing culpable for negligence?
Reports have come up where pilots have expressed concern about the changing nature of controls and Boeing’s delayed disclosure. It is alleged that the company failed to prominently warn pilots of the change even as airlines worldwide began taking delivery of the 737 MAX 8 airplanes last year.
Dennis Tajer, a 737 pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, representing American Airlines pilots said, “We were completely in the dark.” At least five pilots have written anonymous complaints to the FAA in the last five months. One report charged that the flight manual for the 737 Max 8 “is inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.” Another pilot complaint from the federal database included a report saying it is “unconscionable” that Boeing, the FAA and the pilot’s airline (which was unnamed) would have pilots flying the aircraft without adequate training or sufficient documentation.”
Retired pilot and aviation consultant Douglas Moss explained that aircraft makers seek market advantage by convincing buyers that new generations of planes can be easily flown by existing pilots, without expensive new training. It seems Boeing missed out on providing such information in the bid to gain more orders for the 737 Max.
Boeing dismissed these claims, stating that it had addressed the “flight control functionality” of its updated automated system with more than 60 airlines worldwide and at regional conferences since 2016. It said in a statement that it is developing an updated flight control system and was about to roll out the new update and subsequent training manual. The statement said:
“For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer.”
Boeing was supposed to release the new updates in January, which may have averted the Ethiopian crash. However, it is alleged that the government shutdown at the start of the year may have affected the FAA’s ability to execute planned software changes. The FAA on the other hand determined that the delay was acceptable because its experts and Boeing deemed there was no imminent safety threat, as per a Wall Street Journal report.
A larger political controversy in play
US, alongside Japan were the last two countries among top ten with air traffic globally to ban the airplane’s operations. After initially standing in blind support of the aircraft manufacturer, President Donald Trump announced the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft. FAA had earlier said that it would not ground the MAX 8 planes as a review by the body had shown no systemic performance issues and provided no basis to order grounding the aircraft.
Boeing is a big player in the Washington influence game — spending millions to lobby Congress and the executive branch each year. Allegations have come up that a number of Washington faces are acting for Boeing’s benefit.
Alongside his summit with Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam, President Trump is alleged to have overseen a deal between Boeing and VietJet for 100 of the 737 Max planes. Current US acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is an ex- Boeing executive of 31 years and has been accused of having favored his former employer in his Pentagon role.
US Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, condemned FAA and Boeing for the mishaps. He said:
“They had the new software. They knew of the problem with the sensors. The airline should be held accountable, but the FAA has a responsibility to act right away.”
Senator Bluementhal wants to hold a hearing post the Ethiopian Crash.
The Ethiopian airline plane’s black box has arrived in Paris for analysis. Its investigation will help ascertaining if both the crashes were the result of the same issue.
But is Boeing with its influence in the government responsible for allowing delivery of aircrafts with known technical faults and not informing the changes clearly to pilots, resulting in two fatal mishaps that claimed 356 lives – it remains to be seen.
- President Trump is alleged to have influenced a deal between Boeing and VietJet for 100 of the 737 Max planes during his summit with Kim Jong-Un in February.
- Reports claim that Boeing’s supposed release of the software upgrade which would have resolved the issue was delayed due to the US Government Shutdown.
- Boeing is a big player in the Washington influence game spending millions to lobby Congress and the executive branch each year.
- Pilots have claimed the flight manual for the 737 Max 8 is inadequate and almost criminally insufficient in information on how to override the faulty system