Boeing’s 737-800

by | 2019-03-16

The recent 737 accident, a tragedy by all means brings to light few factors of absolute relevance to the air transport industry.

First and foremost is the unthinkable arrogance Boeing (the corporation) has demonstrated. Nothing to do with engineering within. Why is the corporation pushing a most objectionable policy of not divulging a system in the flight manual. Really? Smells like an auto maker’s dealings with false data on diesel engine emissions.

Moreover that the FAA approving all this is astonishing.

I personally have no clue nor would I speculate on any accident as to the causes or what pilots were doing to avoid such an event. But rest assured presently that even a neighbour’s grand mother already has a well educated opinion on the issue thanks to all the experts spreading their stuff over the media.

For all I could see, the recent accident could be caused by a myriad of problems certainly starting from ill intentioned individual nut cases emanating from yet another irate political, religious or financial minority. The assortment of mechanical causes or human factors issues also take their place in all investigations.

Apparently the authorities have publicly indicated that the recent 737 accident would have the dubious MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) under scrutiny. So much, that Boeing promised to come up with an AD (airworthiness directive) to address the issue of probable failings of the MCAS.

This all good and comforting for the travelling public. But let’s be clear on the subject, this not the first time that serious AD’s are issued by any aircraft manufacturer. Boeing had rather embarrassing fire issues with the batteries of its new 787. Or what about the fuel freezing causing flameouts on the excellent 777 and zero braking events on Embraers 190’s. Airbus was under severe scrutiny and difficult position following accidents for its outstanding yet controversial 320 design of the time.

I am going on a limb here. The pilot profession has every right to object to the reprehensible technique used to implement MCAS. What else will big corporations hide from aviators? The very last protection the industry depends upon when everything else fails is not fully cognizant of aircraft design? Come on!

In the United States NASA flight safety reports are now well documented with pilots correcting failures of what is now known as an unreliable MCAS. All of them had simply reverted to a flight mode known as « hand flying » . The aircraft is not going where it was programmed to go? « CLICK », off goes George. Trim and fly away. Oh, they may have received an anxious call from ATC but all of them were able to respond. These events grip you in the guts no matter how cool you may present your image.

Talk to any instructor training a low time « candidate », sometimes surrealistic events happen in spite of all the care and attention the instructor contributes to the job. They take control « recover ». Has anyone suffered a runaway stabilizer trim event before ? Same kind of thing. Two people pull or push on the column, it is heavy thrust me! De-energize the trim, manually operate the wheel. Carry on as if normal. The point here is the totally unexpected will happen and that is why, trained pilots, have to take over and fly with Newton, Bernoulli, Wright and Mach.

What is it to be said about a crew that spends maybe 6% of their time hand flying ? What kind of proficiency are we talking about? Take-off, switch on the auto-pilot at 400 feet only to switch it off again at the FAF all configured for landing after a nine hour leg. Is it the crew « guilty » of anything? Absolutely not. The industry for the last 30 years has been driving this procedure relentlessly for very good reasons. At least in the days where flying threats were birds, icing etc… not automation. 

We now live in a world where many countries will use flight data recorders (FDR) to reprimand flight crews should a transgression of profile is observed or reported by ATC. Why would one remove an auto-pilot to « practice » and fly off a localizer by a dot for instance? 

Worse, nowadays the world is suffering from a lack of qualified flight crew. This situation was painfully reminded to us by the Dash 8 (Q400) accident near Buffalo in February 2009. The onset in this part of world is somewhat less drastic as opposed to other places.

There are flight crews out there consisting of first officers sitting on a large jetliners such as a A-321 or a B-737 logging 200 hours. Low time on a jet is cruel nonsense. It is so for the captain should he/she not be much of an instructor, to the F/O who despite the best rote knowledge of the SOP has no clue on how to recover from jet upset never mind being startled and of course to passengers who expect nothing but the best from us.

Training incurs cost, training does not contribute to shareholder value. Do not expect any improvement anytime soon. Practicing hand flying should be rehabilitated and encouraged. Yep, there are a lot of smart folks out there who predict artificial intelligence will cover all these issues for flight safety. I believe they will get it straight. Perhaps in 30 or 50 years from now. In the mean time I have to go and reset my brand new advanced home router to finish this article.

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