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How safe is the Boeing 737 MAX: Many questions after Lion Air deadly crash

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189 people died on the new Boeing 737 MAX when a Lion Air passenger jet crashed in the Java Sea on October 29 in Indonesia. Lion Air is an Indonesian budget airline.

Questions are surfacing question the U.S. manufacturer, Boeing, if they shared enough information with regulators, airlines, and pilots about the systems on the latest version of its popular narrow-body plane.

The most-hyped features of the 737 MAX compared with its predecessor, the 737NG, are more fuel-efficient engines.

But as a result of the larger engines, which are placed higher and further forward on the wing, the jet’s balance changed. To address that, Boeing put in place more anti-stall protections.

An automated protection system called the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) kicks in when the angle of attack is too high, when the plane’s nose is too elevated, threatening a stall.

After the crash, the US Federal Aviation Administration warned airlines worldwide that erroneous inputs from the anti-stall system’s sensors could lead the jet to automatically pitch its nose down even when the autopilot is turned off, making it difficult for pilots to control the jet.

American Airlines Group Inc. last week said it had been “unaware” of some functions of the so-called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.

Bloomberg first reported on Boeing’s plan to hold a call with airlines on Tuesday. Today, Boeing told eTurboNews: To clarify earlier inaccurate reports, Boeing is rescheduling the 737NG/MAX fleet-wide operator calls to be a series of sessions with our customers to allow for more attendance, more time for Q&A, and to accommodate different time zones. 

These meetings will be hosted by Boeing Field Service Representatives who are located regionally with our customers, and those meetings will take place early next week in close proximity to our customers.

Boeing last week said it had provided two updates for operators around the world that re-emphasixe existing procedures to deal with situations relating to MCAS. Boeing declined to provide further comment.

In a message to employees on Monday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said news reports that claimed the manufacturer withheld information on MCAS from airlines were “untrue.”

In a memo on Friday, a United Airlines union said the carrier’s pilots were properly trained to handle an MCAS malfunction even though the system was not mentioned in a course for those switching from older models to the new jet.

A preliminary report on the Lion Air crash will be released on November 28 or 29.

However, divers have yet to locate the airline’s cockpit voice recorder, which would shed light on pilot interactions that are important for gaining a fuller picture of the circumstances of the crash.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.