Airlines are desperate getting their fleet of Boeing 737 MAX flying again. The recertification process of the 737 MAX will require regaining the confidence of safety experts, pilots, and flight attendants. Additionally, it requires regaining the confidence of passengers and the public. The process to date has been shrouded in secrecy, and passengers advocate Flyers Rights predict passengers will boycott the Boeing 737 MAX if the process is perceived to be rushed, secretive, conflicted, and incomplete.
Boeing, and by all public accounts, the FAA, seem persistent to tailor their actions to ensure that pilots do not need extra training. From day one of the planning of the 737 MAX, Boeing has been motivated by the desire to minimize the
(1) regulatory costs of certifying the MAX as a new family of planes and
(2) training costs to ensure pilots are aware of new features and how to react to theoretically unlikely, but known problems.
Flyers Rights is again ringing the alarm bell
The FAA and DOT have not made transparent the process of determining if and when to unground the 737 MAX. Although investigations such as the DOT Inspector General’s Audit of the FAA’s 737 Certification Process should remain independent and confidential until completed, the two investigations appointed by the DOT and FAA have remained secretive and closed to outside perspectives. What is most troubling is that the FAA has signaled that it will not wait for any of the investigations to be completed before ungrounding the 737 MAX. The investigations include the DOT IG investigation, the Joint Authorities Technical Review, the DOT’s “Blue Ribbon” Panel, the FBI criminal investigation, and Congressional investigations.
The one place where the public, including independent safety experts, can make their perspectives known is through comments here on the Flight Standardization Board’s proposed decision to continue to not require simulator training for 737 MAX pilots. It is here that FlyersRights.org, on behalf of airline passengers, can tell the FAA to slow down its process of re-approving the 737 MAX, to consider the opinions of independent experts, and to put an end to the “profits over safety” approach that incentivized Boeing to downplay the changes made to the 737 MAX in its attempt to sell the plane as a 737 to the FAA, to airlines, and to the public.
Having to install larger, more fuel-efficient engines on the same fuselage dating back to the 1960’s, while also attempting to minimize outward and obvious changes that would attract the attention of the FAA and clearly require substantial pilot training, led Boeing to propose a software fix: MCAS.
The only problem with MCAS, however, was that it was a badly-written piece of software1 relying on only one error-prone angle of attack sensor input 2, whose existence was not disclosed to airlines or pilots3, that operated differently than Boeing anticipated and told the FAA, and that could not be overridden, in certain flying conditions5, by following the checklists provided by Boeing.
And while Boeing appears to still be working on that software fix, ensuring the redundancy features first deemed optional by the FAA are installed, and ensuring that this redundancy features work as advertised, the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board still proposes no simulator training requirements. This proposal is not supported by the Allied Pilots Association, Capt. Sully Sullenberger, other aviation and software experts, and the public.
According to Capt. John Cox, formerly the top safety official for the Air Line Pilots Association, MCAS creates a condition similar to a runaway stabilizer. But corrective action for a runaway stabilizer problem, the “roller coaster” technique, was no longer included in training manuals sometime after 1982. Capt. Cox has said that runaway stabilizer ceased to be a problem after the 737-2006. Starting with the 737-300, “the product got so reliable you didn’t have that failure.”
This “roller coaster” technique is counterintuitive. If it were included in the pilot’s manual, pilots would be more likely to correct MCAS errors.
The Allied Pilots Association has argued that the proposed training requirements are insufficient. APA argues that more computer training “will not provide a level of confidence for pilots to feel not only comfortable flying the aircraft but also relaying that confidence to the traveling public.”
Capt. Sully Sullenberger states that “he agrees wholeheartedly with no reservations” with the comment submitted herein.
The first attachment is a declaration by Gregory Travis, a software engineer with over 40 years of experience and a pilot with over 30 years of experience. Gregory Travis argues that MCAS needs to be removed entirely and the 737 MAX airframe must be altered to eliminate its inherent longitudinal instability.
The second attachment is a statement from Travelers United President Charles Leocha.
The third and final attachment is the first comment of FlyersRights.org, submitted on April 30, 2019.
In light of the following chain of errors, an MCAS software fixes expeditiously approved by FAA, without any pilot simulator training requirements, is unacceptable to the flying public.
Boeing’s decision to place the new engines on the existing 737 fuselages instead of starting with a frame that could support the engines
Boeing’s failure to thoroughly review and understand MCAS and its failure modes
Boeing’s failure to alert the FAA to MCAS’ capacity of 2.5 degrees, larger than the 0.6 degrees previously communicated
Boeing’s failure to inform pilots of MCAS
Boeing and FAA’s decision not to include MCAS in the United States and European pilot manuals
Boeing and FAA’s decision to not require any redundancy for the angle of attack sensors
FAA’s decision to classify an AOA failure rating as “hazardous” and not enforce the redundancy requirement, despite AOA sensor failure historically occurring more frequently than allowed under the “hazardous rating”
Boeing and FAA’s decision to not require the angle of attack sensor heaters to be operable, according to the MMEL.
Boeing’s software’s failure to identify that a reading was erroneous because its rapid change was structurally not possible
FAA’s decision to not require, as safety features, the AOA disagree light and the AOA indicator display
Boeing’s failure to ensure that one optional feature, when purchased separately, would operate when the other feature was not purchased by the airline.
Boeing and FAA’s failure to conduct test flights simulating an erroneous AOA reading
Boeing’s inadequate emergency procedures, which were followed by the Ethiopian Airlines pilots
Boeing’s failure to allow pilots to cut off MCAS without cutting off the stabilizer trim.
Until the FAA commits to wait until the conclusion of the investigations before deciding if and when to unground the 737 MAX, the process will have been rushed. Any ungrounding at this time is premature. Any proposal that does not mandate simulator training for pilots makes light of the chain of events that caused these two crashes and will illustrate the FAA’s continued priority for commercial expediency over safety.
FlyersRights.org requests extended time for the public comment period on Revision 17 of the Flight Standardization Board’s Report. On behalf of the travelling public, we request an additional 7 days for safety experts, pilots, and others to submit their comments to the FAA.
The recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX is of great interest to the general public and deserves a full investigation. After two crashes within six months of each other, both occurring within the first two years of the MAX’s commercial service, the public needs assurances that these airplanes are safe and that the FAA and Boeing are doing everything they can to prioritize safety for the 737 MAX and all other aircraft. To achieve that end, more time is needed for independent safety experts to come forward to share their expertise and concerns.
Paul Hudson president, FlyersRights.org demanded:
On behalf of airline passengers, we are petitioning for more time to gather and encourage safety experts to submit their comments to the FAA. The comment period has only been open for 10 business days. In consideration of the FAA’s pending decision to choose the least rigorous
change available, “Differences Level B”, an extended comment period will not create prejudice for the FAA or any stakeholder. While Boeing may want the 737 MAX recertified as quickly as possible, we see no reason for the FAA want to jeopardize safety, or appear to jeopardize safety, by recertifying the 737 MAX too quickly and endangering even more lives.
The Lion Air crash, the Ethiopian Airlines crash, other reported problems with the 737 MAX, prominent news reports of problems with Boeing’s 787 South Carolina factory, and the U.S. Air Force’s refusal to accept the KC-46 after finding foreign objects have resulted in a near complete loss of confidence in the integrity of the FAA’s and Boeing’s safety regime. Safety experts, pilots, flight attendants, and passengers are only left to wonder what other safety vulnerabilities exist in the above-mentioned aircraft as well as in other aircraft.
If public confidence is not restored, many passengers will not only avoid traveling on the 737 MAX, they may avoid flying on the 787 and other Boeing airplanes. This may already be happening internationally as airlines have considered canceling orders of the 737 MAX.
Normal comment periods under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) provide for at least a 30 day comment period. The APA requires a minimum comment period of 30 days except for interpretative rules and for good cause shown. Unless there is a modest extension granted, after balancing the need for an expeditious remedy against the need for a comprehensive and open process to decide on that remedy, there will be a lack of due process here. Unsafe aircraft may be prematurely ungrounded, risking passenger and public safety, and the FAA will lose even more public trust. 2
Comments on FAA’s Proposal Not to Mandate Simulator Training
FlyersRights.org strongly recommends that the FAA require simulator training on the MCAS feature for all pilots of the 737 MAX before a single aircraft returns to the air.
The Allied Pilots Association has stated that the FAA’s proposed fix does not go far enough because it does not include simulator training. The Allied Pilots Association has said the requirement for only more computer time will not only fail to restore the confidence of its pilots to fly the plane, but it will fail to restore the confidence of the public to fly on the plane. American Airlines has said it is exploring additional training options, but an individual airline should not have to unilaterally put themselves at an economic disadvantage relative to other airlines in order to achieve a safety advantage that should be mandated across all airlines.
New information is continuously coming to light each day. Today, April 30, the deadline for public comments, the Wall Street Journal reported that the optional AOA disagree signal did not operate as expected. It was intended to be a standalone feature but was inoperable if the airline did not also purchase the AOA indicator optional upgrade.
A recent whistleblower reported that he or she has observed loose debris damaging the wiring of AOA sensors in the 737 MAX. While Boeing denies this specific claim, the New York Times has reported on a separate whistleblower from the Boeing 787 South Carolina factory who has claimed that he has seen planes approved with debris in them and has been told by superiors to ignore the violations. The U.S. Air Force stopped accepting deliveries of the Boeing KC-46 aircraft because debris was found inside the aircraft. This is a pattern of misbehavior that must be fully investigated by the FAA and independent investigators before the FAA continues its push to quickly re-certify the 737 MAX.
The FAA must slow down this frenzied, secretive rush to allow the 737 MAX back into the skies until it acquires the whole picture from independent safety experts, pilots, and others.
The short period has made a full comment impossible and has likely prevented others from fulling sharing their expertise, knowledge, and experiences.