DALLAS (AP) — A former Boeing pilot was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators about the 737 Max jetliner, which was later involved in two deadly crashes.
The indictment charges Mark A. Forkner with giving the Federal Aviation Administration false and incomplete information about an automated flight-control system that played a role in the crashes, which killed 346 people.
Prosecutors said that because of Forkner's alleged deception, the system was not mentioned in pilot manuals or training materials.
An attorney for Forkner did not immediately respond for comment. Boeing and the FAA declined to comment.
Forkner, 49, was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors said he is expected to make his first appearance in court on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If convicted on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.
The indictment charges that he hid information about a flight-control system that activated erroneously and pushed down the noses of Max jets that crashed in 2018 in Indonesia, and 2019 in Ethiopia. The pilots tried unsuccessfully to regain control, but both planes went into nosedives minutes after taking off.
Forkner was Boeing's chief technical pilot on the Max program. Prosecutors said that Forkner learned about an important change to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System flight-control system in 2016, but withheld the information from the FAA. That led the agency to delete reference to MCAS from a technical report and, in turn, it didn’t appear in pilot manuals. Most pilots didn’t know about MCAS until after the first crash.
Prosecutors suggested that Forkner downplayed the power of the system to avoid a requirement that pilots undergo extensive and expensive retraining, which would increase training costs for airlines. Congressional investigators suggested additional training would have added $1 million to the price of each plane.
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Chad Meacham, acting U.S. attorney for the northern district of Texas. “His callous choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls."
Forkner told another Boeing employee in 2016 that MCAS was “egregious” and “running rampant” when he tested it in a flight simulator, but he didn't tell that to the FAA.
Forkner, who lives in a Fort Worth suburb, joined Southwest Airlines after leaving Boeing, but left the airline about a year ago.
Chicago-based Boeing agreed to a $2.5 billion settlement to end a Justice Department investigation into the company's actions. The government agreed to drop a criminal charge of conspiracy against Boeing after three years if the company carries out terms of the January 2020 settlement. The settlement included a $243.6 million fine, nearly $1.8 billion for airlines that bought the plane and $500 million for a fund to compensate families of the passengers who were killed.
Dozens of families of passengers are suing Boeing in federal court in Chicago.
Crash investigations highlighted the role of MCAS but also pointed to mistakes by the airlines and pilots. Max jets were grounded worldwide for more than a year and a half. The FAA approved the plane for flying again late last year after Boeing made changes to MCAS.
FAA Launches New Safety Probe Into Boeing As Employees Complain About Pressure To Cut Corners
By Tyler Durden
The FAA isn't done punishing Boeing for the oversights (later revealed to be systemic) that led to the devastating crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, killing roughly 350 passengers and crew.
According to a WSJ report, the FAA is launching a "broad review of how Boeing employees handle safety matters" after several company engineers told the agency they had faced "undue pressure" to skirt over them.
The FAA survey, conducted this year, revealed that 35% of a small sample of certain Boeing employees reported problems including pressure and hurdles to transparency, according to an Aug. 19 agency letter to Boeing that was obtained by WSJ. Some surveyed employees, who are part of a group empowered by the agency to assist with its work, said they encountered difficulties in being transparent with regulators.
As WSJ explained, aviation regulators have long relied on engineers to act on the agency's behalf when performing certain tasks, especially when it comes to signing off on safety assessments. Any lapses in Boeing's safety overviews should have been anonymously reported to the agency. Yet, as we learned more than 18 months ago, engineers working on the 737 MAX 8 resented their managers, and privately complained to one another about the shortcomings of their oversight - without ever saying a word to the FAA.
According to the letter seen by WSJ, the survey indicated that some 35% of the small sample of Boeing employees surveyed complained to the agency that their work environment "does not support independence" of those who are empowered to act on the agency’s behalf, according to the letter, which was signed by Ian Won, acting manager of the FAA’s Boeing oversight office in the Seattle area.
In the aftermath of the 737 MAX 8 crashes (which famously led to the plane being grounded for more than a year) WSJ's reporting revealed that the FAA had effectively let Boeing regulate itself following an unprecedented incidence of "regulatory capture."
Yet, now we're learning that the "problems cited by Boeing employees in the survey 'indicate the environment does not support independence' of those who are empowered to act on the agency’s behalf, according to the letter, which was signed by Ian Won, acting manager of the FAA’s Boeing oversight office in the Seattle area."
In the survey, the employees complained about pressure that sometimes came from management, and sometimes came from fellow engineers.
The two-page letter came with excerpts from interviews with Boeing employees. The employees, who were quoted anonymously, told the FAA that the pressure they felt wasn’t necessarily overt and could also come from the engineering ranks pushing to stay on schedule.
"I feel undue pressure but I stand up to it," one Boeing employee was quoted by the letter as saying.
The FAA letter said that "Boeing’s company culture appears to hamper" its FAA-empowered employees "from communicating openly with the FAA." The letter cited one Boeing employee who told the agency: "I am very aware that my bringing up issues is not appreciated."
A Boeing spokesperson said the company "takes these matters with the utmost seriousness" and is working to bolster the independence of its employees who work on the FAA's behalf.
"We have consistently reinforced with our team that delegated authority is a privilege and that we must work every day to be trusted with the responsibility," she said. Boeing has directed that its FAA delegates "must be accorded the same respect and deference that is shown to our regulator."
Unfortunately, the problems cited by the August letter are all too familiar: they're the same issues that were identified by an internal company report that was obtained by Congress during its investigation into the two deadly crashes, which took place in October 2018 and March 2019.
Airbus said its decades-old competition with Boeing is back on in earnest as the removal of coronavirus curbs revives international travel and unleashes a spate of jetliner order contests.
The European firm said Thursday that the traditionally fierce rivalry has resumed as Boeing emerges from a two-year slump triggered by the grounding of its best-selling 737 Max. At the same time, it signaled a new challenge with the launch of a freighter designed to erode the U.S. group’s lead in air cargo.
“We see our competitor very willing to win campaigns, to ramp up production again,” CEO Guillaume Faury told Bloomberg Television. “At Airbus we enjoy that competition and we always try to bring the right products and services to our customers.”
Airbus lifted its guidance for full-year earnings, cash flow and aircraft deliveries, a day after Boeing posted its first profit in almost two years. The figures confirm a strengthening aerospace recovery that’s set to gather further momentum with sales campaigns at Air France-KLM’s Dutch arm and U.K. discounter Jet2, both of them usually loyal Boeing customers.
The new freighter, a version of the A350 passenger jet, is expected to enter service in 2025, Faury said on a media call, after the board granted approval for the project. The plane will be based mostly on the largest -1000 variant, and will have a payload of more than 90 metric tons.
The company gets “closer every day” to lining up launch customers, the CEO said. Boeing is meanwhile also eyeing a freighter launch, with CEO Dave Calhoun saying Wednesday his company hopes to launch a cargo version of the coming 777X “in the relatively near term.”
The improving outlook comes amid a travel reopening that’s gathering pace in some key markets.
Domestic Chinese and U.S. demand has led the comeback, the European Union has removed barriers to internal flights, and the U.K. this week announced that it will allow American and EU visitors who have been fully vaccinated to enter without self-isolating.
While other holdouts including Canada and Singapore are easing restrictions, long-distance routes that join continents are still restricted, holding back demand for bigger, more expensive wide-body aircraft.
Airbus expects to hand over 600 jets this year, up from as few as 566, helping to lift adjusted operating profit to 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion) — double the previous target — and generating 2.7 billion euros in free cash flow.
Boeing is also emerging strongly from the pandemic after it beat earnings and cash-burn estimates and Calhoun halted job cuts well short of the 20% originally planned.
Airbus announced a deal from German airline Condor for seven A330neos while detailing first-half earnings that beat estimates. Boeing last month scooped the lion’s share of a mammoth 270-jet order from United Airlines.
The KLM requirement for 160 aircraft will be a key battleground since sister carrier Air France is one of Airbus’s biggest customers.
Faury said Thursday that the company is having “very dynamic discussions” on potential orders and sees activity picking up toward the end of the year.
Still, both plane-makers will be dependent on key equipment manufacturers keeping pace with ramp-up plans, which at Airbus could reach 64 narrow-body jets a month by early 2023 and 75 by 2025.
Engine-maker Safran said Wednesday it expects a “small step up” in deliveries this year and questioned whether demand will support build rates above 60 a month.
On Thursday evening, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Boeing must inspect cabin pressure switches for thousands of its 737 jets worldwide that could lead to pilots becoming incapacitated, according to Reuters.
FAA's directive requires Boeing to conduct tests on all 737 series aircraft. There are more than 9,300 worldwide and 2,500 in the US. Inspecting cabin pressure switches will further ensure there's enough air to breathe as planes climb altitude.
The directive comes as three 737, all different series, last September, failed pressure switch tests. Defective switches could result in cabin altitude warning systems not activating above 10,000 feet, which would pose a safety risk to pilots and passengers. Dangerously low oxygen levels result in asphyxiation, then death.
The failure rate of the switches is "much higher than initially estimated" and poses a safety risk, the FAA said.
On all 737 series, tests must be completed within 2,000 flight hours since the last test of the switch.
The FAA is concerned the switches have a "higher than initially estimated" failure risk and poses safety issues.
On a worldwide basis, the FAA has no legal authority over airline carriers in different countries to enforce checks of the switches.
The words of the FAA are not encouraging for travelers who flood airports this summer after being cooped up in their homes during 2020 virus lockdowns.
The directive covers all versions of the 737, even the MAX, which has just recently been cleared to return to the skies in much of the world after being grounded for two years. In April, a new electrical issue developed on certain MAX jets.
Boeing shares premarket are slightly higher, though we should point out that the daily chart has yet to make a new high since March.
... and it has only been three days since Boeing revealed a new issue with the 787 Dreamliner widebody jet.
Boeing's quality control of its passenger jets has been lacking over for the last couple of years as the company focused on stock buybacks.
If it's not one Boeing jet malfunctioning, it's another.
With Boeing facing an uphill climb in restoring the public's confidence in its crash-prone 737MAX, the aerospace giant is facing fresh troubles, this time involving the updated version of the long-haul 777X jet which is facing additional testing because of what U.S. regulators called a serious test-flight incident and multiple other issues with software and inadequate data.
In a sternly worded letter dated May 13, which was reviewed by The Seattle Times, the FAA warned Boeing it may have to increase the number of test flights planned and that certification realistically is now more than two years out, probably in late 2023.
According to the report, the FAA cited a long list of concerns, including a serious flight control incident during a test flight on Dec. 8, 2020, when the plane experienced an "uncommanded pitch event" meaning the nose of the aircraft pitched abruptly up or down without input from the pilots. During the incident, flight-control software triggered the plane to move without pilots’ input, similar to the malfunction responsible for the two 737MAX crashes.
Boeing has yet to satisfy the FAA that it has fully understood and corrected what went wrong that day.
An FAA official said the drag on 777X certification is now “the subject of a lot of attention” at high levels both within the agency and at Boeing.
“The FAA anticipates a significant impact to the level of regression testing, change impact analysis, and the potential to increase the number of certification flight tests that will need to take place,” the letter said according to Bloomberg. It was written by Ian Won, the acting head of FAA’s division overseeing Boeing.
The FAA said in the letter it now expected the certification wouldn’t occur until mid to late 2023 and the work would take “additional resources” that could hamper other projects with the company. While the FAA doesn’t set the timing of certification work, relying on companies for that, the letter suggests the program could face delays.
The latest delay will push the jet’s entry into commercial service into early 2024, four years later than originally planned.
Separately, the FAA also issued a statement Sunday saying it “will not approve any aircraft unless it meets our safety and certification standards.”
“Boeing remains fully focused on safety as our highest priority throughout 777X development,” a spokesperson at the U.S. planemaker said in a statement in response to the letter. “We are working through a rigorous development process to ensure we meet all applicable requirements.”
The harshly-worded letter by the FAA is the latest in what has been a deteriorating relationship between the giant planemaker and its U.S. regulator prompted by issues that arose during the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max after two fatal accidents. The FAA had previously begun using its own inspectors to approve newly built single-aisle planes and has taken multiple steps to increase oversight of the company.
The FAA highlighted several concerns on the 777X, including a flight-control incident during a test flight on Dec. 8, 2020, when the plane experienced an “uncommanded pitch event.” That meant the nose of the aircraft rose or fell as a result of the control system.
A similar issue triggered by a malfunction on the 737 Max pushed down that jet’s nose repeatedly during the two crashes that killed 346 people, prompting a sweeping review of how pilots interact with increasingly computerized flight-control systems. The Max was grounded for 18 months while it was redesigned.
Bloomberg adds that the agency also told Boeing that a critical avionics system proposed for the airplane doesn’t meet requirements and expressed concern about proposed modifications involving late changes to both software and hardware in the electronics of the jet’s flight controls.
Worse, in a hint of broader troubles for the 777X, the FAA said that European regulators are uneasy over parts of the plane’s design. “The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has not yet agreed on a way forward on the Model 777-9,” the FAA said in the letter. Which, of course, is understandable for a European regulator that would be delighted with pushing out its own competitor Airbus planes.
Boeing announcement in January that it was postponing the 777X’s planned market entry to late 2023 was the latest in a string of delays for a jet originally slated to begin commercial service last year. Executives also disclosed that they were redesigning the jet’s actuator-control electronics at the behest of European regulators.
"That’s still the plan", Boeing’s Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun indicated in a June 3 presentation, weeks after the FAA letter.
“That airplane, we are still confident will be certified in the fourth quarter of 2023,” Calhoun told a virtual Bernstein conference. The planemaker reset its timeline based on the 20-month review of the 737 Max and “architectural preferences” of both the FAA and EASA, he said.
“So those are the important things with respect to how we do this,” Calhoun said. “We’ve given ourselves time to learn as we go through this.”
Emirates President Tim Clark has repeatedly slammed Boeing for delaying the 777X program and has raised concerns over the model’s performance in desert conditions. Bloomberg reported in February that Clark’s airline could swap as many as a third of its 115 commitments for the 777-9 to the smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Little more than six months after Boeing's 737 Max was cleared to fly again by US regulators, the aircraft finds itself under intense scrutiny once again.
The discovery of a potential electrical problem last month led to the renewed grounding of more than 100 aeroplanes, belonging to 24 airlines around the world.
Deliveries of many more new aircraft have been suspended. Boeing and the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration say they are working closely to address the issue.
But the affair has given new energy to critics who claim the 737 Max was allowed back into service prematurely - and that issues which could have contributed to two fatal crashes have not been fully analysed or addressed.
Those critics include a high profile whistle-blower, Ed Pierson, who has already sought to link allegedly poor production standards at the 737 factory with electrical defects on the crashed planes, which he claims may have been implicated in both accidents.
According to Boeing and the FAA, the problem first became apparent during testing of a newly manufactured 737 Max 8, which had yet to be delivered to its owner. It was found that electrical power systems on the aircraft were not working correctly.
The fault was traced to poor electrical bonding, where panel assemblies that were also intended to conduct electricity and form part of a connection with the frame of the aircraft were not doing so effectively.
This meant that some components on the plane, including the pilots' main instrument panel and a standby power control unit, were improperly grounded, or earthed.
According to the FAA, this could potentially "affect the operation of certain systems, including engine ice protection, and result in loss of critical functions and/or multiple simultaneous flight deck effects, which may prevent continued safe flight and landing".
The flaw, then, was a dangerous one. The FAA was worried that over time other aircraft, which were already in service, could develop the same condition. It issued an Airworthiness Directive on 30 April stipulating that affected aircraft should be modified before being permitted to fly again.
On the face of it, there is nothing to link these flaws with the errant flight control software - known as MCAS - that triggered the loss of two planes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, claiming the lives of 346 people.
In each of those accidents, flawed data from a faulty sensor prompted MCAS to force the nose of the aircraft down repeatedly, when the pilots were trying to gain height, ultimately pushing it into a catastrophic dive.
According to Chris Brady, a pilot who runs a website and a video channel devoted to technical aspects of the 737, "the problem is unrelated to MCAS or any other previous Max problem".
It occurred, he says, because in early 2019, Boeing changed the way panels were attached on parts of the plane. It was seen as a very minor change, so it was not notified to regulators.
"There was nothing, let's say, unethical about that", he explains. "Prima facie, this appears to be an honest mistake, the implications of which have just been unearthed".
But for Mr Pierson, a former senior manager on the 737 production line, the new electrical issues are a symptom of something more serious.
During congressional hearings into the crashes involving the Max, he claimed that in 2018 the factory in Renton, near Seattle had become "dysfunctional" and "chaotic", as pressure increased to produce new aircraft as quickly as possible.
Earlier this year, he published a report that explicitly linked alleged production pressures with electrical anomalies and flight control system problems that occurred on both crashed aircraft prior to the accidents.
He suggested that defects in the wiring of both aircraft could have contributed to the erroneous deployment of the MCAS software, alongside sensor failures already implicated in the crashes.
"Yes, MCAS caused the airplanes to pitch down and crash", he explains. "But it was an electrical system malfunction that likely caused the angle of attack sensor to send faulty data to MCAS".
Mr Pierson believes that the 20-month recertification process which cleared the 737 Max to fly again focused on software design and pilot training, but failed to address the impact of production standards at the factory.
As a result, he says, it is "no surprise that new discoveries linked to 737 Max production defects continue to come to light" on an aircraft described by the FAA's Administrator Steve Dickson as "the most scrutinised transport aircraft in history".
Mr Pierson says he has written to the US Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, requesting a meeting to outline his concerns, but has not heard back.
Boeing emphatically denies any connection between production standards in the 737 factory and the two accidents involving the 737 Max.
It says: "The Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents have been reviewed by numerous governmental and regulatory entities, and none of those reviews has found that production conditions in the factory contributed to the accidents."
Dai Whittingham is chief executive of the UK Flight Safety Committee, a group of organisations, including airlines and regulators, which promotes safety in commercial aviation.
He says that a direct link between the two accidents and the recently-discovered electrical flaws is "a hard connection to make".
But on one key point he appears to agree with Mr Pierson. "These issues are separate in how they've arisen", he explains, "but they may well have stemmed from the same corporate culture, with a focus on saving time and keeping costs down over maintaining quality".
The allegation that Boeing prioritised profit over safety in the run up to the two accidents is not new - and indeed was made by prosecutors when announcing a $2.5bn settlement with the aerospace giant earlier this year.
The company says it has learned many lessons as a result of the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 and Lion Air 610 accidents. It says it has "made fundamental changes" and continues "to look for ways to improve".
"Boeing is committed to restore trust, and we'll do it one airplane at a time," it said.
People within the company insist the changes which led to the current problems were not motivated by time or cost savings.
It's not clear how long the affected aircraft will remain grounded. The actual modifications required are expected to be relatively simple and are only expected to cost about $2,250 (£1,600) per aircraft. But the FAA is understood to be asking for detailed analysis to be sure all potential concerns have been dealt with.
With the scrutiny the 737 Max is under, neither Boeing, nor the FAA, can afford to make a mistake.
Boeing's troubled 737 Max returned to US skies last month. American Airlines was the first domestic carrier to fly the Max and has since operated more than 200 flights. While other domestic and international carriers gear up for a much wider re-launch of the aircraft, a former senior manager at Boeing's 737 Max plant in Seattle has publisheda new report warning that the Max is "still not fixed."
Ed Pierson, the report's author, retired from Boeing in August 2018 and worked at the Max factory in Renton, Washington, claims more investigations are needed into the aircraft's electrical system and production quality problems at the factory.
Pierson alleges that the US and European regulators have primarily ignored factors that he points out in the report, which may have played a role in Lion Air flight JT610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crashes that killed 346 people. He links both crashes back to conditions at the factory in Renton.
Pierson firmly believes Boeing's effort to redesign Max's flight control system, called MCAS software, ensures a single sensor failure would not happen in flight is not enough.
"The paper underscores the likely role a chaotic and dangerously unstable production environment played in the accidents. Mr. Pierson also puts forth three other plausible accident scenarios not addressed in the accident investigations. The 14-page report includes a timeline and an analysis that ties the two 737 MAX airplane crashes together in ways not previously reported. Most importantly, Mr. Pierson's analysis raises serious doubts as to the safety of the 737 MAX. Alarmingly, the FAA's recertification fixes do not address the problems identified in the report," the report's abstract reads.
In late 2019, Pierson testified during a House Transportation Committee hearing on both Max crashes where he described the Renton factory as "chaotic" and "dysfunctional."
With the planes returning to the air, he is worried that Boeing and regulators have overlooked many of the issues he pointed out.
In the report, he believes the production defects of critical Max parts were defected when they entered service, adding that the aircraft's complex wiring systems may have contributed to the random deployment of the MCAS system in flight.
Pierson said the MCAS sensor failures contributed to both crashes but asked why they were happening to new aircraft.
All of this suggests, Pierson explained, "point back to where these airplanes were produced, the 737 factory".
Pierson's report was analyzed by famed pilot Chesley Sullenberger who said the "report is very disturbing, about manufacturing issues in the Boeing factories that go well beyond just the Max, and also affect… the previous version of the 737."
"Like electricity, Boeing and the FAA have taken the path of least resistance throughout the entire design, development, certification, production, and now recertification of the 737 MAX," Pierson said in the report.
"The design of the 737 MAX, MCAS software and the failure to provide vital information and training to pilots did not trigger these accidents. Neither did corporate decision making made years ago, unethical behavior, deceptive marketing, or a misguided leadership culture that prioritized profits over safety. Nor did deregulation, regulatory capture, or a completely broken aircraft certification process. In fact, all of these things contributed mightily to these tragedies. Unfortunately, every MAX airplane ever manufactured shares this same wretched history. The pilots are certainly not to blame. They did everything they could to save the lives of the people who trusted them. The triggering event for these crashes was a defective AOA Sensor part, and quite possibly, a malfunctioning electrical system stemming from a dangerously unstable production environment," he said."
Pierson concludes: "We can either investigate these production problems and fix them, or we can wait for another disaster."
Not long after the head of the FDA took a test flight on the newly revamped Boeing 737 MAX 8, Europe's top travel regulator has surpised the aviation world by becoming the first major regulatory body to sign off on the 737 MAX 8 returning to the skies, roughly 18 months after the plane was grounded internationally after a second suspicious crash.
Even though an upgrade demanded by the agency won't be ready for up to two years, EASA - the European Aviation Safety Agency - has signed off on allowing the MAX to return to commercial flight before the end of the year. According to Patrick Ky, the executive director of the agency, the regulator is performing final document reviews ahead of a draft airworthiness directive that's expected to be issued next month. The directive will be followed by a 4-week public comment period. Boeing has said that plans to add an additional "synthetic" sensor to add redundancy will take 20 to 24 months. Though, to be sure, that "software-based" solution will be added to the larger Max 10 variant before it's 2022 debut.
"Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us," Ky said in an interview. "What we discussed with Boeing is the fact that with the third sensor, we could reach even higher safety levels."
Though a sign off from the FAA would be the ultimate boon, after Boeing again booked zero new orders for the MAX in September, the European market is still one of Boeing's biggest.
Congress also found that the FAA outsourced so much of the approval process to Boeing itself, a dangerous example of regulatory capture that led to hundreds of deaths.
After shedding half of their value since the start of the year, Boeing shares were up more than 2% on the news during premarket trading. Given all the embarrassing details showing how deeply Boeing corrupted the FAA approval process, the public might not have been so trusting if the FAA had taken the lead. The fact that EASA is the first to step up and give Boeing the green light - despite the WTO dispute between European champion Airbus and its American rival - might make a difference when it comes to the all-important metric of consumer trust.
Boeing's decades-long ties to Washington state could soon be numbered.
In a massive blow to Seattle, labor unions and the liberal run state of Washington, Boeing is moving its 787 Dreamliner production to South Carolina in an effort to cut costs, Bloomberg revealed on Thursday.
It is a move that is raising questions about how long Boeing may remain at its massive plant in Everett, where it has produced planes since the 1960s.
Dreamliner production is being consolidated as demand for Boeing's planes has dropped amidst the 737 MAX controversy and the ongoing pandemic which has decimated the travel industry. The easiest way for Boeing to cut costs is to move to non-union labor in South Carolina and trim its operations.
It's also the latest move in Boeing bolstering operations in Republican-governed South Carolina. Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafi noted that 747 production would end by 2022 and that “the overhead costs will be increasingly borne by the surviving planes, the 767 and 777X, which don’t have a lot of pricing power right now.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee stopped figuring out new ways to raise taxes and defund the police long enough to issue a statement critical of Boeing, stating that the state would need to take a "hard look" at Boeing's tax treatment. He estimated 1,000 jobs could be at risk.
Meanwhile, Boeing has been in the midst of scrambling to shore up its financials after two fatal 737 MAX crashes and the subsequent grounding of its 737 MAX planes in the interim. Melius Research estimates Boeing could see $23.3 billion in cash burn this year as a result of those groundings, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Boeing CFO Greg Smith said in July: “The goal is to improve cash-flow profile, restore our balance-sheet strength as quickly as possible. And these actions will help get us there.”
Governor Inslee said: "We have asked the Boeing Company multiple times what it needs to keep 787 production in Washington". Inslee also claimed the move would "signal an allegiance to short-term profits and Wall Street...”
On Monday, Airbus revealed three visual concepts for "zero-emission" commercial airliners powered by hydrogen, which could enter service by 2035.
The planemaker's push for the world's first zero-emission commercial aircraft is part of a much larger ambition for emission-reducing airliners as non-governmental organizations, such as the OECD, are urging industries and countries to begin the transformation to a green economyto power the recovery following the virus-pandemic downturn.
Three carbon-free commercial aircraft were unveiled, including a turbofan design, turboprop design, and "blended-wing body" design. Airbus said it's "leading the way in the decarbonization of the entire aviation industry."
"This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole, and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen. The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight," said Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO. "I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen - both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft - has the potential to significantly reduce aviation's climate impact."
A turbofan design (120-200 passengers) with a range of 2,000+ nautical miles, capable of operating transcontinentally and powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel combustion. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.
A turboprop design (up to 100 passengers) using a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan and also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines, which would be capable of traveling more than 1,000 nautical miles, making it a perfect option for short-haul trips.
"Blended-Wing Body" Design
A "blended-wing body" design (up to 200 passengers) concept in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan concept. The exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.
"These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world's first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035.
"The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem. Together with the support from government and industrial partners, we can rise to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry."
While it's no secret the airline industry is attempting to find a way to remedy its carbon footprint, challenges still persist for storing volatile liquid hydrogen during flight. Airbus has dismissed concerns that hydrogen is a risky substance and has called for new investments in energy infrastructure.
Global aviation accounted for about 2.4% of all emissions in 2018.
Paul Stein, chief technology officer for engine maker Rolls-Royce, told the AFP in early 2020 that the industry is "under significant pressure to improve its sustainability image."
Airlines are "working with us to find pathways to increase the availability of sustainable fuels, look at how electrification can impact them... and also looking to more and more efficient engines and airframes," Stein said.
Boeing Put Profits Before People's Lives By Hiding 737 MAX Design Flaws From Regulators, Pilots
18 months after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 plummeted out of the sky just minutes after takeoff last March, Congressional investigators have finally released a comprehensive report outlining the many mistakes made both by Boeing and the FAA during the certification process.
In the months that have passed, investigators have kept the pressure on Boeing (and its share price) with a steady stream of leaks. We've already seen emails showing Boeing engineers criticizing the 737 MAX 8 design time in some of the harshest terms imaginable (at one point, one irate engineer complained that "the plane was designed by clowns, who were supervised by monkeys".
Production pressures that jeopardized the safety of the flying public. There was tremendous financial pressure on Boeing and the 737 MAX program to compete with Airbus’ new A320neo aircraft. Among other things, this pressure resulted in extensive efforts to cut costs, maintain the 737 MAX program schedule, and avoid slowing the 737 MAX production line.
Faulty Design and Performance Assumptions. Boeing made fundamentally faulty assumptions about critical technologies on the 737 MAX, most notably with MCAS, the software designed to automatically push the airplane’s nose down in certain conditions. Boeing also expected that pilots, who were largely unaware that MCAS existed, would be able to mitigate any potential malfunction.
Culture of Concealment. Boeing withheld crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots, including internal test data that revealed it took a Boeing test pilot more than 10 seconds to diagnose and respond to uncommanded MCAS activation in a flight simulator, a condition the pilot described as “catastrophic.” Federal guidelines assume pilots will respond to this condition within four seconds.
Conflicted Representation. The FAA’s current oversight structure with respect to Boeing creates inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public. The report documents multiple instances in which Boeing employees who have been authorized to perform work on behalf of the FAA failed to alert the FAA to potential safety and/or certification issues.
Boeing’s Influence Over the FAA’s Oversight Structure. Multiple career FAA officials have documented examples where FAA management overruled a determination of the FAA’s own technical experts at the behest of Boeing. These examples are consistent with results of a recent draft FAA employee “safety culture” survey that showed many FAA employees believed its senior leaders are more concerned with helping industry achieve its goals and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions.
All these flaws eventually led to the "preventable deaths" of 346 passengers. Boeing repeatedly dismissed warnings and complaints from employees related to MCAS, which was created to compensate for a redesign of the plane's interior to create more space for passengers. One of the flaws was that MCAS relied on a single sensor, which was prone to feeding faulty information.
Why did Boeing need MCAS? Because, as the NYT explains, the engines on the Max are larger and placed higher than on its predecessor, so they could cause the jet’s nose to push upward in some circumstances. MCAS was designed to push the nose back down. In both crashes, the software was activated by faulty sensors, effectively forcing the plane's nose down repeatedly, eventually forcing them into a fatal nosedive.
What's more, Boeing successfully lobbied the FAA to avoid classifying the new software as "safety critical", meaning that the company didn't need to update pilots on how it worked. Some pilots reportedly weren't even aware the software existed before the crashes. Boeing deliberately concealed test data showing that if a pilot took longer than 10 seconds to realize that MCAS had kicked in accidentally, the results would be "catastrophic". Boeing knew all that before the twin crashes that shut down the program...and the company still did nothing. The company also deliberately concealed faulty alerts that would have warned pilots about problems with the sensor used to trigger MCAS.
In a statement, DeFazio blamed Boeing for kowtowing to Wall Street pressure, and putting profits before people's lives.
"Our report lays out disturbing revelations about how Boeing—under pressure to compete with Airbus and deliver profits for Wall Street—escaped scrutiny from the FAA, withheld critical information from pilots, and ultimately put planes into service that killed 346 innocent people. What’s particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes,” Chair DeFazio said. “On behalf of the families of the victims of both crashes, as well as anyone who steps on a plane expecting to arrive at their destination safely, we are making this report public to put a spotlight not only on the broken safety culture at Boeing but also the gaps in the regulatory system at the FAA that allowed this fatally-flawed plane into service. Critically, our report gives Congress a roadmap on the steps we must take to reinforce aviation safety and regulatory transparency, increase Federal oversight, and improve corporate accountability to help ensure the story of the Boeing 737 MAX is never, ever repeated.”
Rep Rick Larson added that the report, combined with separate findings from regulators in Indonesia and Ethiopia, would help paint a more complete picture of what led to the crash.
One of the most egregious decisions made by Boeing was opposing a requirement that pilots receive simulator training to fly the plane. If pilots needed to be retrained, Boeing would have had to eat some of the cost out of its end of the deal, according to an NYT report. This focus on cost-cutting "drove a lot of really bad decisions," DeFazio said.
The Democrats on the committee also accused Boeing of putting a priority on profits by strongly opposing a requirement that pilots receive simulator training to fly the plane. Under a 2011 contract with Southwest Airlines, for example, Boeing promised to discount each of the 200 planes in the airline’s order by $1 million if the F.A.A. ended up requiring simulator training for pilots moving from an earlier version of the aircraft, the 737NG, to the Max.
“That drove a whole lot of really bad decisions internally in Boeing, and the F.A.A. did not pick up on these things,” Mr. DeFazio said.
The report alleges that the 'time pressure' imposed on the 737 MAX project was unusually intense. Keith Leverkuhn, former Boeing VP and General Manager of the MAX program, allegedly kept "a countdown clock" in a conference room, which he allegedly described as an "excitement generator".
"One of the mantras that we had was the value of a day,” he said, “and making sure that we were being prudent with our time, that we were being thorough, but yet, that there was a schedule that needed to be met…" one Boeing worker said.
Back in 2012, in order to lower development costs, Boeing reduced the work hours involved in the MAX's avionics regression testing by 2,000 hours. It also examined other reductions to save costs, including a reduction to flight test support by 3,000 hours.
Boeing doesn't shoulder the blame alone. According to the report, the FAA "failed to ensure the safety of the traveling public" as "excessive" outsourcing had "impaired [the FAA] from acting independently."
The report comes as regulators are reportedly close to finally lifting the grounding order by approving the newly redesigned MAX; the expectation is that the plane might be back in service before the end of the year.
In addition to the report, Congress has introduced legislation that would toughen the agency's certification process, in part by requiring that it carry out regular independent audits on company-employed representatives.
Responding to the allegations in the report, the FAA said it "is committed to continually advancing aviation safety and looks forward to working with the committee to implement improvements identified in its report.” Boeing, meanwhile, said it had learned lesson. "Boeing cooperated fully and extensively with the committee’s inquiry since it began in early 2019. We have been hard at work strengthening our safety culture and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators and the flying public.”
But like we've learned from Sweden's approach to the pandemic: Just because people have the option of doing something, doesn't mean they will. The 737 MAX 8 has such negative associations, that President Trump suggested Boeing rename the plane, and the company has been quietly working on a rebranding effort.
After failing to ring up even a single order for the MAX in 2020, Boeing finally celebrated a small order from Enter Air, a Polish charter airline, a few weeks ago. However, recent reports about alleged design flaws with the aerospace giant's 787Dreamliner, and other Boeing planes, could create lingering problems for shares even after the 737 MAX is back in the skies.
An internal FAA memo, viewed by WSJ, reveals another crisis that could be developing at Boeing, and no, it does not involve the 737 Max that remains grounded. New details are emerging, the company's 787 Dreamliner could have components within its fuselage that do not meet design standards.
The Aug. 31 FAA memo stated quality-control lapses at certain Boeing 787 Dreamliner production lines, located in South Carolina, could date back to at least a decade ago. The planemaker told aviation authorities that certain parts failed to meet its own "design and manufacturing standards."
The parts in question are "nonconforming" sections of "rear fuselage, or body of the plane, that fell short of engineering standards," WSJ said, citing the memo. Sources told WSJ these revelations might spur accelerated inspections that could cover 900 of the 1,000 jets produced since 2011.
Boeing told aviation regulators that quality lapses of certain fuselage parts do not pose an immediate threat to the air safety of the wide-body jet airliner that is mainly used for international flights.
These new developments come as Boeing pulled eight 787 Dreamliners in August for repairs, discovering they did not meet structural-soundness "requirements for safe flight and landing," according to the FAA memo.
Compound these developing 787 Dreamliner issues with the two fatal accidents of its narrow-body 737 MAX, and Boeing is experiencing widespread manufacturing quality-control lapses.
Boeing has notified all airlines with 787 Dreamliners about the problems, the spokesman told WSJ. The memo said Boeing had requested more time to resolve some of these issues.
According to one person briefed on the FAA's discussions with Boeing, there is a new focus on why manufacturing breakdowns occurred and how computerized safeguards failed to alert production crew on parts that failed to meet design standards.
WSJ said as Boeing engineers investigate flight records to identify 787 Dreamliners with possible issues, the FAA already has knowledge of one of the defects: "the planemaker didn't test how it produces shims, or material that fills gaps between barrel-shaped sections of the jets' fuselages, to ensure they meet requirements." The shims are manufactured at Boeing's factory in North Charleston, South Carolina.
On top of 787 Dreamliner and 737 Max design woes, Boeing has seen six straight months(as of August) of airlines canceling narrow and wide body plane orders as the virus-induced downturn in air travel has doomed the industry for the next several years.
The release of the WSJ story describing Boeing's latest woes comes as the US is on holiday with financial markets closed.
American Airlines Slated To Drop Dozens Of Flights To Smaller Cities As Government Aid Dries Up
With the government set to stop subsidizing the industry, airlines are <gasp> actually going to have to make operational changes to effectively deal with the lack of demand. Oh, the horror of free market forces actually forcing companies to make business changes!
This starts with American Airlines, who is reportedly preparing to drop two dozen small and medium city flights as federal coronavirus aid is set to end. The aid had previously mandated that airlines were not allowed to cut service approaches.
Carriers were previously required to maintain minimum levels of service through September 30 as part of a $25 billion aid package, according to CNBC. They were also prohibited from making layoffs. Under the aid package, American Airlines received $5.8 billion.
The purpose of the deal was to provide both payroll assistance and continued air service around the country despite the fact that planes didn't have any passengers.
American's forthcoming cancellations could start showing up in fall schedules that are set to begin next week, the report said. Changes still have not been finalized and the list of cities that could be cut has not been released. Both airlines and their respective unions have continued to push Congress for another $25 billion in support to keep paying workers through the end of next March, when hopefully demand can recover.
Both the Democrats and Republicans seemed to be in favor of such a deal weeks ago, but negotiations have stalled in Congress for the time being. As a result, the Department of Transportation had informed American Airlines that a planned extension of the benefits was not going to happen for the time being.
A DOT spokesperson commented: “The Department did not propose to extend the obligations, but will use the authority in the CARES Act to monitor ongoing access by the traveling public to the national air transportation system. The Department is also prepared to implement any new provisions of law in this area if enacted by Congress.”
United and Delta have not announced changes to their schedule yet. However, one source told CNBC, the "situation is fluid".
Boeing Is Running Out Of Space To Park Its Newly-Built 787 Dreamliners Which Nobody Wants To Buy
While Morgan Stanley continues to stubbornly repeat that the US economy is undergoing a jolly V-shaped recovery, one would be very hard pressed to observe that in either the number of airline passengers, or the commercial aerospace sector in general, where Boeing has become a poster child for how quickly the fate can turn... and it's not just the company's ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX which may or may not fly again. According to Bloomberg, Boeing is now also running out of space to stash newly-built 787 Dreamliners, as unsold jetliners are now crammed onto "every available patch of pavement on airfields near its factories in Washington and South Carolina."
Citing people familiar with the situation, Bloomberg writes that "dozens of the planes are sitting on the company’s premises" with Uresh Sheth, a closely followed blogger who meticulously tracks the Dreamliners rolling through Boeing’s factories, putting the total somewhere above 50. That’s more than double the number of jets typically awaiting customers along Boeing’s flight lines.
According to Sheth, brand-new widebodies are lined up on a closed off runway at the airport that abuts Boeing’s hulking plant north of Seattle. In North Charleston, 787s are tucked around the delivery center and a paint hangar. The U.S. planemaker has even started sending aircraft to be stored in a desert lot in Victorville, California.
Boeing's troubles with parked jets are nothing new: last year Boeing had so many 737 Maxes after their global ground when it emerged that Boeing had drastically cut corners to save on costs even if it meant risking people's lives, that it commandeered an employee parking lot to store surplus aircraft. Now, as it finally starts to emerge from that crisis, another critical source of cash - the company's marquee jet, the 787 Dreamliner - is under pressure but not do to airworthiness concerns but simply due to the global depression that commercial air traffic has found itself in.
As Bloomberg notes, Boeing has relied on the wide-body jet, produced in record numbers, to help bankroll the $20 billion in costs it has rung up since the Max was banned from commercial flight in March 2019 following two fatal crashes. But as Covid-19 sapped consumer interest in long-range travel this year, "the tally of undelivered Dreamliners has stacked up and created a new financial drag as regulators move closer to clearing the 737’s return."
As a result of the current state of the airline industry, "the next couple of years are just going to be very hard for this airplane,” George Ferguson, a Bloomberg analyst said of the 787 Dreamliner. Some more details:
Demand for the twin-aisle 787, Boeing’s 777 and Airbus’s A350 and A330neo has been especially hard hit as cash-strapped airlines slow or cancel aircraft purchases. Some would-be buyers don’t want to send pilots to claim aircraft in the U.S., where the pandemic is raging. When they are able to start growing fleets, airlines are expected to initially focus on smaller planes for domestic flights before adding larger aircraft for continent-hopping trips.
Boeing also faces a “capacity hangover” after pushing Dreamliner production to a 14-jet monthly pace last year -- a record for wide-body aircraft -- in a market that was already glutted with aircraft, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group.
“It was one of the few levers they could pull to bring in more cash during what seemed like a crisis, and now looks like a nothingburger,” Aboulafia said of Boeing’s response to the Max grounding. That scandal has been eclipsed by the unprecedented aviation collapse brought on by Covid-19. “No twin-aisle had ever been built at 14-a-month for a very good reason.”
For now, Boeing is acting as if demand will soon rebound: "We continue to closely monitor the commercial marketplace by staying very engaged with our customers around the globe to fully understand short term and long term requirements," Greg Smith, the company’s chief financial officer and executive vice president of enterprise operations, said in a statement.
Unfortunately, such optimism remains wildly misplaced as customers took just three of Boeing’s 787 during May and June, and 36 of the aircraft in the first six months of the year, down more than 50% from 78 deliveries a year earlier.
While Boeing has already lowered 787 production to 10 jets a month, it will need to pursue far deeper cuts over the next two years, which will further sap the company's cash flow. Even so, the manufacturer could be left holding one-third of the more than 100 Dreamliners that J.P. Morgan analyst Seth Seifman projects the company will build this year.
In short, as a result of the global economic recession, Boeing is facing a good, old inventory glut, and absent taking a machete to prices, it will have big problems clearing out the excess inventory.
“It may be difficult to clear this inventory next year,” given that Boeing would have to ramp up deliveries at a time when “when long-range travel may still be under pressure,” Seifman said in a July 15 report.
While Boeing's stock has so far neglected the lack of demand for the company's cash cow, that will soon change. Boeing’s ballooning 787 inventory and deferred production costs should come into sharper focus over the next two weeks as key customers like American Airlines and United Airlines report earnings, followed Boeing itself on July 29.
For years after the 787 Dreamliner made its commercial debut in 2011, taped up aircraft awaiting retrofitted parts dotted Paine Field, adjacent to Boeing’s factory in Everett, Washington. For Sheth, there’s a sense of déjà vu to the growing glut.
“I have no doubt they are going to recover from that downturn,” Sheth said. “But at this point they’re probably going to have to cut production even lower because they can’t continue on this trajectory.”
All of which means even lower future income, more layoffs and - eventually - a return to the bargaining table to ask Uncle Sam for some bailout cash, which Boeing has so far managed to avoid.
The NTSB has released its findings on Atlas Air 5Y3591, a 767 freighter flight that crashed on approach to Houston (IAH) in February last year. The release comes ahead of a final report which is expected within the next few weeks. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, observers were perplexed and alarmed at the sudden and steep descent the 767 appeared to have experienced as it was performing an otherwise relatively normal approach. The aircraft in question was Boeing 767-375(ER)(BCF) registered N1217A. ADS-B data from the flight can be found here.
The findings indicate the cause of the crash was disorientation on the part of the first officer. However, the NTSB also points to the captain’s failure to properly monitor the situation, as well as failings in industry standards for performance assessment that failed to catch “aptitude related deficiencies and maladaptive stress response” on the part of the first officer. As is often the case, it was a sequence of failings that led to the deaths of captain, first officer, and an additional pilot in the jumpseat.
However, at the heart of the sequence of events that led the 767 freighter to rapidly descend into the ground was what is known as a “pitch-up somatogravic illusion,” a phenomenon in which an increase in acceleration can create the illusion that the aircraft is pitching up. That happened as a result of the go-around mode being activated inadvertently. The first officer evidently believed the aircraft was stalling despite no stall warning activating in the flight deck.
The NTSB released the following animation of the flight:
The captain was also distracted because he was setting up the approach and speaking to ATC, according to the NTSB, which said “his attention was diverted from monitoring the airplane’s state and verifying that the flight was proceeding as planned. This delayed his recognition of, and his response to, the first officer’s unexpected actions that placed the plane in a dive. Investigators also concluded the captain’s failure to command a positive transfer of control of the airplane as soon as he attempted to intervene on the controls enabled the first officer to continue to force the airplane into a steepening dive.”
On top of that, investigators found that the first officer had performance deficiencies which he took deliberate steps to conceal, and might have led Atlas Air to take appropriate action had they known of them in the first place.
“The first officer in this accident deliberately concealed his history of performance deficiencies, which limited Atlas Air’s ability to fully evaluate his aptitude and competency as a pilot,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Therefore, today we are recommending that the pilot records database include all background information necessary for a complete evaluation of a pilot’s competency and proficiency.”
As a result of the investigation, the NTSB has issued six new safety recommendations to the FAA, addressing “flight crew performance, industry pilot hiring process deficiencies, and adaptations of automatic ground collision avoidance system technology.”
Airline Industry is expected to lose US$84 billion in 2020 according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which has just released its financial outlook for the global air transport industry.
The net profit margin will plummet to -20.1 percent with revenues crashing 50 percent to $419 billion from $838 billion in 2019.
In 2021, losses are expected to be cut to $15.8 billion as revenues rise to $598 billion.
“Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation. On average, every day of this year will add $230 million to industry losses. In total that’s a loss of $84.3 billion. It means that—based on an estimate of 2.2 billion passengers this year—airlines will lose $37.54 per passenger. That’s why government financial relief was and remains crucial as airlines burn through cash,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
“Provided there is not a second and more damaging wave of COVID-19, the worst of the collapse in traffic is likely behind us. A key to the recovery is the universal implementation of the re-start measures agreed through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to keep passengers and crew safe. And, with the help of effective contact tracing, these measures should give governments the confidence to open borders without quarantine measures. That’s an important part of the economic recovery because about 10% of the world’s GDP is from tourism and much of that depends on air travel. Getting people safely flying again will be a powerful economic boost,” said de Juniac.
IATA says passenger demand has evaporated as international borders closed and countries locked down to prevent the spread of the virus. This is the biggest driver of industry losses. At the low point in April, global air travel was roughly 95 percent below 2019 levels.
Overall traffic levels (in Revenue Passenger Kilometer) for 2020 are expected to fall by 54.7 percent compared to 2019 with passenger numbers roughly halve to 2.25 billion, approximately equal to 2006 levels.
Capacity, however, cannot be adjusted quickly enough with a 40.4 percent decline expected for the year.
The problem for airlines is made worse as passenger revenues are expected to fall to $241 billion (down from $612 billion in 2019). This is greater than the fall in demand, reflecting an expected 18 percent fall in passenger yields as airlines try to encourage people to fly again through price stimulation. Load factors are expected to average 62.7 percent for 2020, some 20 percentage points below the record high of 82.5 percent achieved in 2019.
And costs are not falling as fast as demand. Forecast total expenses of $517 billion are 34.9 percent below 2019 levels but revenues will see a 50 percent drop. Non-fuel unit costs will rise sharply by 14.1%, as fixed costs are spread over fewer passengers. Lower utilization of aircraft and seats as a result of restrictions will also add to rising costs.
A Boeing engineer who last year lodged an internal ethics complaint alleging serious shortcomings in development of the 737 MAX has written to a U.S. Senate committee asserting that systemic problems with the jet’s design “must be fixed before the 737 MAX is allowed to return to service.”
The letter to the Senate, a copy of which was obtained by The Seattle Times, was written by engineer Curtis Ewbank, a 34-year-old specialist in flight-deck systems whose job when the MAX was in early stages of development involved studying past crashes and using that information to make new planes safer.
His letter, sent earlier this month, argues that it’s not enough for Boeing to fix the flawed Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that’s known to have brought down the aircraft in two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
“I have no doubt the FAA and lawmakers are under considerable pressure to allow the 737 MAX to return to service as quickly as possible and as soon as the public MCAS flaw is fixed,” Ewbank told the Senate. “However, given the numerous other known flaws in the airframe, it will be just a matter of time before another flight crew is overwhelmed by a design flaw known to Boeing and further lives are senselessly lost.”
He goes on to suggest similar shortcomings in the flight-control systems may affect the safety of Boeing’s forthcoming 777X widebody jet.
Ewbank’s letter also reveals that he has been interviewed about his concerns by the FBI, which suggests his allegations have at least been considered as part of the Justice Department’s probe into what went wrong on the 737 MAX and whether the actions of anyone at Boeing were criminal.
He mentions he has also delivered details of his allegations to the lead investigator on the U.S. House Committee on Transportation, chaired by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
In 2014, during early work on the MAX’s development, Ewbank worked unsuccessfully to have Boeing upgrade the MAX’s flight-control systems by adding a new data measurement system called Synthetic Airspeed that would have served as a check on multiple sensors. If it had been implemented, he believes it might have prevented the fatal crashes.
Ewbank’s original internal ethics complaint, first reported last October by The Seattle Times, alleged that Boeing rejected his safety upgrades because of management’s focus on schedule and cost considerations and the insistence that anything that might require more pilot training would not be considered.
Ewbank criticizes not only Boeing for its design of the MAX but also the FAA for approving the design without proper oversight.
“The 737 MAX’s original certification was accomplished with hand-waving and deception to hide the numerous ways the 1960s-era design of the 737 does not meet current regulatory standards,” he wrote.
And he hit out at a recent Department of Transportation (DOT) advisory panel report on the MAX crashes that recommended only minor changes to the way airplanes are certified, preserving Boeing’s central role in that process. Ewbank called the report “a serious threat to aviation safety and the flying public.”
“If the FAA was truly regulating in the public interest, it would take action against Boeing for its continued deception and gross errors in the design and production of the 737 MAX by withdrawing Boeing’s production certificate,” he concluded.
Ansley Lacitis, deputy chief of staff for Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, said her office “was made aware of the letter right before the hearing” on Wednesday.
“The first step of a whistleblower investigation is to make contact with the whistleblower and we have done that,” Lacitis said. “We take these and other allegations seriously and continue to investigate them.”
In a statement, Boeing said company officials have not seen the letter.
“Boeing offers its employees a number of channels for raising concerns and complaints and has rigorous processes in place that ensure complaints receive thorough consideration and protect employee confidentiality,” the statement said. “Boeing does not comment on the substance or existence of such internal complaints.”
Boeing’s statement adds that “when the MAX returns to service, it will be one of the most thoroughly scrutinized aircraft in history, and we have full confidence in its safety.”
During the APU engine start, the IGV (Inlet Guide Vanes) are supposed to be closed. This allows all incoming air to be directed into the combustion chamber. After start with a air demand (main engine start or air conditioning pack operation), the IGV vanes open allowing bleed air output.
We purposely pulled the IGV actuator arm out (vanes open) to see if it would would close them on initial rotation. It did not.
With the drain on the air bleed system, the APU could not accelerate beyond approximately 30% and it would shut down.
Boeing is also seeking federal aid from the U.S. government, but won't do so if it requires the government to take an equity stake in the company.
Over the weekend Boeing announced it is "extending the temporary suspension of operations at all Puget Sound area and Moses Lake sites until further notice" after about 135 Boeing employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
"These actions are being taken in light of the company’s continuing focus on the health and safety of employees, current assessment of the spread of COVID-19 in Washington state, the reliability of the supply chain and additional recommendations from government health authorities," Boeing said in a statement.
The decision affects about 30,000 production employees, who will no longer receive pay after Wednesday. Despite still receiving medical benefits, they now must take vacation and sick time or apply for unemployment.
With things at Boeing going just about as badly as possible, it will be interesting to see how the company comes out of all of this.
Even once the coronavirus subsides, Boeing is still faced with its 737 MAX issues and lack of any net orders for its airplanes.