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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/5/19

Boeing's Homicide Will Give Way to Safety Reforms if Flyers Organize

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Boeing 737 MAX Fix Delayed The Fix set to be implemented on the Boeing 737 MAX is set to now be delayed further. In today's video, I discuss the software fix delay. Listen to the Podcast on ...
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To understand the enormity of the Boeingcrashes (Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302) that took a combined total of 346 lives, it is useful to look at past events and anticipate future possible problems.

In 2011, Boeing executives wanted to start a "clean sheet" new narrow body air passenger plane to replace its old 737 design from the nineteen sixties. Shortly thereafter, Boeing's bosses panicked when American Airlines put in a large order for the competitive Airbus A320neo. Boeing shelved the new design and rushed to put out the 737 Max that, in Business Week's words, was "pushing an ageing design past its limits." The company raised the 737 Max landing gear and attached larger, slightly more fuel efficient engines angled higher and more forward on the wings. Such a configuration changed the aerodynamics and made the plane more prone to stall (see attached article: https://www.aviationcv.com/aviation-blog/2019/boeing-canceling-737-max).

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This put Boeing's management in a quandary. Their sales pitch to the airlines was that the 737 Max only received an "amended" certification from the FAA. That it did not have to be included in more pilot training, simulators, and detailed in the flight manuals. The airlines could save money and would be more likely to buy the Boeing 737 Max.

Boeing engineers were worried. They knew better. But the managers ordered software to address the stall problem without even telling the pilots or most of the airlines. Using only one operating sensor (Airbus A320neo has three sensors), an optional warning light and indicator, Boeing set the stage for misfiring sensors that overcame pilot efforts to control the planes from their nose-down death dive.

These fixes or patches would not have been used were the new 737's aerodynamics the same as the previous 737 models. Step by step, Boeing's criminal negligence, driven by a race to make profits, worsened. Before and after the fatal crashes, Boeing did not reveal, did not warn, did not train, and did not address the basic defective aerodynamic design. It gagged everyone that it could. Boeing still insists that the 737 Max is safe and is building two a day, while pushing to end the grounding.

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Reacting to all these documented derelictions, a flurry of investigations is underway. The Department of Transportation's Inspector General, Calvin L. Scovel III, is investigating the hapless, captive FAA that has delegated to Boeing important FAA statutory and regulatory duties. The Justice Department and FBI have opened a criminal probe, with an active grand jury. The National Transportation Safety Board, long the hair shirt of the FAA, is investigating. As are two Senate and House Committees. Foreign governments are investigating, as surely are the giant insurance companies who are on the hook. This all sounds encouraging, but we've seen such initiatives pull back before.

This time, however, the outrageous corner-cutting and suppression of engineering dissent, within both Boeing and the FAA (there were reported "heated discussions") produced a worst case scenario. So, Boeing is working overtime with its legions of Washington lobbyists, its New York P.R. firm, its continued campaign contributions to some 330 Members of Congress. The airlines and pilots' union chiefs (but not some angry pilots) are staying mum, scared into silence due to contracts and jobs, waiting for the Boeing 737 Max planes to fly again.

BUT THE BOEING 737 MAX MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO FLY AGAIN. Pushing new software that will allow Boeing to blame the pilots is a dangerous maneuver. Saying that U.S. pilots, many of whom are ex-Air Force, are more experienced in reacting to a sudden wildly gyrating aircraft (consider the F-16 diving and swooping) than many foreign airline pilots only trained by civil aviation, opens a can of worms from cancellation of 737 Max orders to indignation from foreign airlines and pilots. It also displays an aversion to human-factors engineering with a vast number of avoidable failure modes not properly envisioned by Boeing's software patches.

The overriding problem is the basic unstable design of the 737 Max. An aircraft has to be stall proof not stall prone. An aircraft manufacturer like Boeing, notwithstanding its past safety record, is not entitled to more aircraft disasters that are preventable by following long-established aeronautical engineering practices and standards.

With 5,000 Max orders at stake, the unfolding criminal investigation may move the case from criminal negligence to evidence of knowing and willful behavior amounting to corporate homicide involving Boeing officials. Boeing better cut its losses by going back to the drawing boards. That would mean scrapping the 737 Max 8 designs, with its risk of more software time bombs, safely upgrading the existing 737-800 with amenities and discounts for its airline carrier customers and moving ahead with its early decision to design a new plane to compete with Airbus's model, which does not have the 737 Max's design problem.

Meanwhile, airline passengers should pay attention to Senator Richard Blumenthal's interest in forthcoming legislation to bring the regulatory power back into the FAA. Senator Blumenthal also intends to reintroduce his legislation to criminalize business concealment of imminent risks that their products and services pose to innocent consumers and workers (the "Hide No Harm Act").

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What of the near future? Airline passengers should organize a consumer boycott of the Boeing 737 Max 8 to avoid having to fly on these planes in the coming decade. Once Boeing realizes that this brand has a deep marketing stigma, it may move more quickly to the drawing boards, so as to not alienate airline carriers.

Much more information will come out in the coming months. Much more. The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which receives incident reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, cabin crew, maintenance technicians, and others, is buzzing, as is the FlyersRights.org website. Other countries, such as France, have tougher criminal statutes for such corporate crime than the U.S. does. The increasing emergence of whistle-blowers from Boeing, the FAA and, other institutions is inevitable.

Not to mention, the information that will come out of the civil litigation against this killer mass tort disaster. And of course the relentless reporting of newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and AP, among others will continue to shed light on Boeings misdeeds and the FAA's deficiencies.

Boeing executives should reject the advice from the reassuring, monetized minds of Wall Street stock analysts saying you can easily absorb the $2 billion cost and move on. Boeing, let your engineers and scientists be free to exert their "professional options for revisions" to save your company from the ruinous road you are presently upon.

Respect those who perished at your hand and their grieving families.

 

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.
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David Watts

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Given that Ralph Nader wrote this article, something popped into my head after reading the 2nd paragraph:

"In 2011, Boeing executives wanted to start a "clean sheet" new narrow body air passenger plane to replace its old 737 design from the nineteen sixties. Shortly thereafter, Boeing's bosses panicked when American Airlines put in a large order for the competitive Airbus A320neo. Boeing shelved the new design and rushed to put out the 737 Max that, in Business Week's words, was "pushing an ageing design past its limits." The company raised the 737 Max landing gear and attached larger, slightly more fuel efficient engines angled higher and more forward on the wings. Such a configuration changed the aerodynamics and made the plane more prone to stall."

When I read what Ralph Nader said, "Boeing shelved the new design" thereby putting out an airplane with a faulty design, what popped into my mind was the 1965 book written by ... Ralph Nader -- Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile.

This article should have been titled, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the Boeing 737 Max.



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Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 8:06:00 PM

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I posted a comment on the article Boeing's Doomed 737 MAX's by Eric Margolis. I used to fly Boeing airliners and this was my comment:

"I would like to throw in a few comments. I don't know what is going on with MCAS and the Boeing 737 Max. But, without checking out why an auto-correcting, anti-stall feature was programmed in, it makes no sense to me why the heck they thought it was necessary. About the most basic flying skill that a pilot learns when starting to fly is to not let the airspeed fall off to the point the airplane stalls. A student pilot is taught early on how to avoid a stall, how to recognize a stall, and how to recover from a stall. Airline pilots do not stall airliners. (Note: A stall is not the engine stalling.)"

Well, I should have checked out why such a feature was programmed in. Eddy Schmid replied that Boeing used an old design for the 737 MAX that does not fit some of the new flying characteristics. So I checked and wrote:

Thanks Eddy. I just checked and you are right. I thought I might be missing something because it made no sense to me why an auto-correcting, anti-stall feature would be put in; airline pilots don't stall airliners. But, I was missing something.

This is something I found:

"The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was developed for the 737 MAX to prevent stalls in flaps-retracted, low-speed, nose-up flight.[69] The MCAS uses airspeed and other sensor data to make an attempt at computing when a dangerous condition has developed and then trims the aircraft nose down.[70]

"Boeing 737 MAX aircraft have engines mounted higher and further forward than previous 737 models. According to The Air Current, "the relocated engines and the refined nacelle shape" cause an upward pitching moment. In order to pass Part 25 certification requirements, Boeing employed the MCAS to automatically apply nose-down trim when the aircraft is in steep turns or in low-speed, flaps-retracted flight. When the angle of attack (AOA) exceeds a limit that depends on airspeed and altitude, the system activates without notice to the pilot. The system is temporarily deactivated when a pilot trims the aircraft using a switch on the yoke."

Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 8:20:01 PM

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Paul from Potomac

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Ralph hits the nail squarely on the head with this piece. I doubt that the airlines will ever allow the plane to fly once the truth emerges. The real problem is that the big lie technique is still in force. Boeing should go under if they don't succeed with the lie campaign. We shall see.

Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 8:22:52 PM

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Potomac Paul, I see you are a 'who' in both Who's Who In America and Who's Who In The World. That is neat. :)

I read your very impressive bio. Boeing should have consulted you when they designed the 737 MAX!

Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 8:40:05 PM

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I worked for Boeing for free as a student, back in '66 and '67, designing the 747 using a fancy new technique known as "finite element analysis". Dr. Hussain Kamel led the team. The software we developed became part of NASTRAN, the famous package developed by NASA to design all things for structures, hydrodynamics, and aerodynamics. The 747 and the Space Shuttle were among the first products.

Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 9:56:20 PM

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That was a surprise! Of course I was joking that Boeing should have consulted you in designing the MAX. Then you said you actually were involved in the design of the 747! :)

I flew the 37s, 57s, 67s, and 747-400s. I can fly them but I sure as hell can't design them.

Submitted on Saturday, Apr 6, 2019 at 5:14:14 PM

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Great article, I have a couple of comments. First, one of the things Trump's airline grifter did was change the rules so that approval could be done by a manager without involving pilots, senior assemblers, and Engineers, who most managers agree "delay profits". I'm sure pilots, senior assemblers, and Engineers would have insisted on more thorough testing, but I'm only guessing from 35 years of project experience. Second, the major issue with these planes is to increase fuel economy they move the engines as far out front of the wings as possible. This reduces stability, though as a Controls Engineer, I want to mention that "stability" is a relative term, EVERY aircraft is "unstable" under certain conditions, so one major goal of controls is to keep aircraft away from instability. Stability is also notoriously difficult to test with digital controls, because every control software routine has many inputs from other software. I've been told by certain controls vendors "if we had to test every possible situation nobody could build any - whatever".

Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 9:20:23 PM

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We never built a final product that was inherently aerodynamically unstable. That is unsafe by every definition. Software is not a fix for dangerous unstable hardware. Never. The 737 MAX 8 and 9 should be grounded forever.


Submitted on Friday, Apr 5, 2019 at 10:01:21 PM

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