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TECH TALK


HOW THE BOEING 737 MAX COULD DRIVE A CHANGE TO MODERNIZE REGULATORY OVERSIGHT


BY JOHN PAWLICKI | OPM RESEARCH


ONCE THE MEMORY OF THE RECENT BOEING 737 MAX DISASTERS FADES, THE ULTIMATE LOSER IN THE ENTIRE SITUATION MAY BE THE FAA. BOEING WILL SUFFER FOR THE ENGINEERING ISSUES AND LACK OF TRAINING AND UPDATED MANUALS FOR A SHORT TIME, BUT ONCE THE PLANE RE-ENTERS SERVICE AND ALL OF THE ASSOCIATED CONCERNS ARE RESOLVED, IT WILL RECOVER FINANCIALLY, AS THE MEMORY OF THE TWO DISASTERS GETS RELEGATED TO THE BACKGROUND.


But how has this incident shaken the confi dence of the fl ying public in the FAA itself? If you read various newspapers, magazine, social media posts with commentary and listen to the news, you will soon learn that most of the general public have little idea of how an aircraft is certifi ed, or who does this process, and how. I would also venture to say that a good part of the aviation industry may not fully understand the extent the risk of having company employees perform such tasks on behalf of a regulator. As many who read this magazine


and are involved in some part of aircraft maintenance understand, the FAA and such regulators do not have a large enough workforce to provide oversight as the public seems to think they do. Not only is this an economic issue, but it is also an expertise issue. Hence, the industry depends upon the goodwill and competence of a set of people who do such tasks on behalf of the FAA.


THE AFTERMATH


OF THE CRASHES Boeing went into full defensive mode as one would expect, and began chipping away at the narrative around both crashes.


A week after the Lion Air 737 Max aircraft in Indonesia in October 2018, Boeing and the FAA issued bulletins that warned pilots of a problem with a stall recovery feature (the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS) which can be triggered by external events (i.e. an abnormal angle between the wing and the air fl ow). The MCAS can possibly cause the plane to swivel the horizontal tail to move the nose down automatically. This bulletin provided guidance to pilots on how to override the problem in the MCAS, which as much of anyone in aviation is now aware that this feature is new to the 737 MAX, and is intended to address a nose down condition to correct from what it considers is a stall. And this is caused by using an old fuselage design with a new engine and other design trade-off s too many to name in this article. The next problem was that Boeing had apparently not provided adequate information to airlines and pilots about the existence of this new system or how to override it. This omission was heavily criticized by the Air Line Pilots Association, Allied Pilots Association, and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association,


among other industry groups. Boeing disagreed. Lion Air was unhappy with how Boeing seemed to portray their airlines and their pilots. So when the second 737 Max crash occurred under comparable circumstances in Ethiopia, more questions arose around not only regarding the MCAS system, but how it was designed, and if airlines and pilots were properly trained on it. As details became available, it was soon learned that the MCAS only used input from just one of the two (angle-of-attack) sensors, which is a rarity in the aviation world, where redundancy is not only common, but expected. More questions arose about how testing was performed on this system, and the 737 Max. Questions about how an old airframe was retrofi tted in order to reduce costs and speed up the time to market to better compete with Airbus. Once again, questions arose about the lack of training on the Ethiopian Airlines fl ight crew, and how they reacted to the situation. The investigation is ongoing, so complete conclusions should not be drawn. Media reports that a damaged sensor may have set off the chain of events that led to the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.


16 DOMmagazine.com | june 2019


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