Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Updates on recent crashes and Boeing 737MAX8 safety issue

In last night’s feature, Trump admin assurances on plane’s safety ring hollow abroad, “Rachel Maddow reports on worldwide concerns about potential safety problems with the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and why perceptions of Donald Trump as compromised by poor judgment and susceptibility to manipulation have undermined the authority of the FAA and isolated the United States.” She cited evidence that, beyond the two post-takeoff crashes involving the Boeing 737Max8 plane, other pilots reported difficulties controlling the plane during takeoff.

The data Rachel reported came from an investigation by the Dallas Morning News: Several Boeing 737 Max 8 pilots in U.S. complained about suspected safety flaw.

Pilots repeatedly voiced safety concerns about the Boeing 737 Max 8 to federal authorities, with one captain calling the flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient” several months before Sunday’s Ethiopian Air crash that killed 157 people, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News found.

The News found five complaints about the Boeing model in a federal database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation incidents without fear of repercussions.

The complaints are about the safety mechanism cited in preliminary reports about an October Boeing 737 Max 8 crash in Indonesia that killed 189.

The disclosures found by The News reference problems with an autopilot system, and they all occurred during the ascent after takeoff. Many mentioned the plane suddenly nosing down. While records show these flights occurred in October and November, the airlines the pilots were flying for is redacted from the database. [Scriber’s note: Americans and Southwest are the largest users of the Boeing 737Max8.]

The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, was included on the Max 8 model as a safety mechanism that would automatically correct for a plane entering a stall pattern. If the plane loses lift under its wings during takeoff and the nose begins to point far upward, the system kicks in and automatically pushes the nose down.

After the Lion Air crash, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive that said: “This condition, if not addressed, could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane, and lead to excessive nose-down attitude, significant altitude loss, and possible impact with terrain.”

Officials have not yet determined what caused Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 to nose-dive into the ground Sunday, but many experts have noted similarities between this week’s crash and the one in Indonesia. [Scriber’s note: And, between those two crashes and nose-down incidents reported by other pilots.]

The complaint from the captain who called into question the 737 Max 8’s flight manual ended: “The fact that this airplane requires such jury rigging to fly is a red flag. Now we know the systems employed are error-prone — even if the pilots aren’t sure what those systems are, what redundancies are in place and failure modes. I am left to wonder: what else don’t I know?”

Now Boeing is promising a fix the the problem that is known to have resulted in the Lion Air crash in Indonesia - by the end of April. So why not sooner? Rachel reported that U. S. officials have claimed that work on the fix was suspended during the 35-day government shutdown. I confess that I don’t get that. Was Boeing treated as a government contractor?

And yet, in the absence of the fix, the 737Max8 planes are still flying - but not in most of the world. The NY Times reports Boeing Flights Grounded Across the Globe, but Not in the U.S..

By Tuesday afternoon, the United States was nearly alone among major countries still allowing the jets to fly.

Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, said regulators “will not hesitate to take immediate and appropriate action” if a safety issue arises.

Boeing reiterated in a statement late Tuesday that it had “full confidence” in the 737 Max 8. It noted that the F.A.A. had taken no action and “based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

Two United States airlines fly the 737 Max 8 aircraft and both said they planned to keep flying. Southwest Airlines has 34 of the planes and American Airlines has 24. The airlines have said they have analyzed data from their thousands of flights with the jets and found no reason to ground them.

But also know this.

Boeing is a major lobbying force in the nation’s capital. Its top government relations official is a veteran of the Clinton White House, and last year, the company employed more than a dozen lobbying firms to advocate for its interests and spent $15 million in total on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The company, through its political action committee, funnels millions of dollars into the campaign accounts of lawmakers from both political parties. A list of a year’s worth of political spending on Boeing’s website stretches on for 14 pages, listing campaign contributions to lawmakers ranging from a city councilman in South Carolina to Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who is now the House speaker.

“Boeing is one of the 800-pound gorillas around here,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who has called for the Max 8 to be grounded. As an example of Boeing’s reach in the highest levels of government, Mr. Blumenthal noted that the acting defense secretary, Patrick M. Shanahan, is a former Boeing executive.

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