Pierre J. Jeanniot
Some comments concerning the B.737-MAX current issue
We know that the cause of the two crashes … has been attributed to a failed sensor of the angle of attack … and the questionable behaviour of some the Manoeuvring Characteristic Augmentation System (MCAS).
The LionAir accident resulted in 189 fatalities. The Ethiopian crash caused 157 fatalities.
The M.C.A.S. is the part of the Flight Management System … which senses a loss of speed … and automatically compensates by ordering the nose downwards … to diminish the risk of stalling.
Boeing admits that the M.C.A.S. was designed … to make the MAX feel and handle like a NG … when it is flown manually at low speed with flaps retracted.
The system is intended to switch on automatically … when it senses a risk for the aircraft to stall.
The system relied on a sole sensor of the angle of attack (on the Captain’s side of the aircraft) rather than the two sensors on board.
The system is unique to the B.737 MAX … because the MAX no longer has the docile pitch characteristics … of the B.737 NG at high angle of attack.
This is caused by the larger engine nacelle covering the higher bypass engines (Leap 1.B).
The drawback of the larger nacelle is that it displaces the center of gravity of the airplane … and contributes to destabilizing the aircraft pitch.
And thus … to counter the MAX lower stability margin at a high angle of attack … Boeing introduced M.C.A.S. … a software loop in the flight control computer. … It seems to have been Boeing`s intention … to make the handling feel of the MAX identical to the handling of the NG.
All this to make the introduction of the B.737 MAX type … very easy … to any airline already operating the B.737 NG.
In the spotlight is the training requirement for ensuring that a pilot`s existing type rating … for the B.737 NG … would cover the new B.737 MAX series.
If the license is type rated for both the B.737 NG and the B.737 MAX … a pilot can fly any one of these aircraft … at any time.
Training seems to have been deficient … and it may not have been recommended by the manufacturer to adequately train the pilots for the changes in system in the simulator.
The reputations of both the FAA … and the Boeing company … has been somewhat damaged as a result of these two crashes … as there seems to have been a reluctance to take seriously the LionAir crash … and its impact on the new Boeing model.
It appears that the FAA may had delegated approval authority to Boeing for this particular area … and that Boeing may have attempted to minimise the impact … and the seriousness of the first crash.
The absence of an adequate reaction … to analyse the problem seriously by the FAA and Boeing … and the impression that the first crash may not have been taken as seriously as it should … may have been compounded … by their inadequate handling with the media … and the industry in general.
There seems to be an indication … that the senior management of Boeing … may have attempted to minimise the impact of the first crash … and to deny responsibility for the accident. …
Some observers feel that the Boeing Company was late … in accepting its responsibilities … and in taking appropriate action … to ensure that the deficiency could be quickly corrected.
Some concluded that crisis management was inadequate … and that the resulting damage to the reputation of the industry as well as to the FAA may be serious … and their respective reputations may take time to recover. …
Boeing has now taken many steps to ensure that the systems issue has been satisfactorily resolved … and is trying to have it demonstrated in simulators. …
It is reported that Boeing has made appropriate modifications … and carried out a number of test flights.
Bloomberg has estimated … that the sum of the disruption cost resulting from the grounding of the fleets … would be approximately 1.4 billion USD … assuming that the B.737 MAX would be in operation by October.
Some 360 airplanes have been delivered and another 4,600 are on order. This estimate assumes that no airline cancels any orders as a result of a lack of confidence and public opinion. This number does not take into consideration the compensation … that will take place resulting from the two crashes – at least 346 casualties.
Litigation to obtain compensation for each one of those victims could go on for many years.
On that basis … it would not be surprising if the total cost to Boeing could be in the region of 2 billion USD. … This also assumes that the value of Boeing stock will recover quickly … and that no significant cancellation of orders for the B.737 takes place.
This situation is likely to lead to a serious re-examination of the role of the FAA … and the need to take action to restore its credibility. … It also raises a serious question mark on the leadership of Boeing … and its performance in handling the crisis.
Pierre J Jeanniot, O.C., C.Q., FRAeS
10 June 2019