The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is assembling a team of experts to review a series of near-miss incidents and mishaps that could have sparked air disasters.
On Tuesday, FAA Administrator Billy Nolen penned a "call to action" memo that specified a team of safety experts will "examine the US aerospace system's structure, culture, processes, systems, and integration of safety efforts."
"We are experiencing the safest period in aviation history, but we cannot take this for granted," Nolen wrote. He added, "Recent events remind us that we must not become complacent."
Airlines, in their infinite mission to balance costs, profits, and keeping planes full of passengers alive between two points, might be going a little too far in their latest attempt to cut back.
According to CBS News, the industry has been quietly lobbing Congress to allow them to use just one pilot in the cockpit instead of two, as is currently required by part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.
The airlines claim it would quickly solve staffing issues caused by the ongoing pilot shortage, and say that technology has improved to the point where it would be perfectly safe to do so.
There's language in a new bill now introduced in Congress — the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill — asking the Federal Aviation Administration to reconsider part 121 and to allow the use of a single pilot operation, first in cargo aircraft.
Not surprisingly, airline pilots are loudly protesting this idea, claiming that it would diminish a safety discipline and culture that has been responsible for the safest 25 years in commercial aviation in the history of aviation. Pilots unions argue it's all about the airlines saving money and could compromise safety. -CBS News
Unions have pointed to several examples of emergency situations in which two pilots were necessary - such as the "Miracle on the Hudson," when pilots Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles worked together to glide a US Airways flight down to New York's Hudson river after it hit a flock of Canadian geese on takeoff, saving all 150 passengers and crew.
Meanwhile, 10 days ago an American Eagle flight from Chicago to Columbus had an emergency when one of the two pilots became incapacitated. The co-pilot was able to gain control of the plane, declare an emergency, and safely land back in O'Hare.
The last Boeing 747 will be delivered in October to Atlas Air bringing the curtain down on the production of the world’s most iconic commercial jet.
The last 747, a -8F is the 1574th built of a production run that has spanned 55 years.
Atlas Air, the world’s largest operator of the 747 has 57 of the giant jets in both freighter (52) and passenger configurations (5).
It is just over 50 years since the 747 entered service with Pan American on a flight from New York to London.
But the first passenger service got off to a rocky start with engine problems and was delayed by six hours and a substitute 747 was used.
The birth of the 747 was also rocky and was to bring dark clouds to the leaders in commercial aviation at the time and almost bankrupted all three.
Ironically, the 747 wasn’t supposed to carry passengers for very many years as the world looked to supersonic travel with the Boeing SST and the Concorde.
Giving life to the aircraft that changed the world was a challenge that brought the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing, the then biggest engine builder Pratt, and Whitney and the legendary Pan Am to their knees.....
FedEx Asks FAA Permission To Add Missile-Defense System To A321 Freighter.
By Gabriele Petrauskaite
American cargo airline FedEx is seeking permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install a laser-based missile-defense system on its cargo aircraft.
In the filing dated January 7, 2022, the Department of Transportation of the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that FedEx had asked permission to modify the Airbus A321-200 aircraft by installing the system.
In the document, the FAA stated that FedEx applied for a specific type certificate, which would allow the company to modify the commercial transport-category plane in October 2019. At the time, FedEx asked permission to install “a system that emits infrared laser energy outside the aircraft,” the FAA filing reads.
There have been a number of incidents in recent years where civilian planes have been targeted by man-portable air defense systems. As a result, laser-based missile defense systems began to be installed on aircraft in order to protect them against heat-seeking missiles.
However, the FAA shared safety concerns about the implementation of such a system.
“The FedEx missile-defense system directs infrared laser energy toward an incoming missile, to interrupt the missile’s tracking of the aircraft’s heat. Infrared laser energy can pose a hazard to persons on the aircraft, on the ground, and on other aircraft. The risk is heightened because infrared light is invisible to the human eye. Human exposure to infrared laser energy can result in eye and skin damage, and affect a flight crew’s ability to control the aircraft,” the American aviation body explained.
It continued: “Infrared laser energy also can affect other aircraft, whether airborne or on the ground, and property, such as fuel trucks and airport equipment, in a manner that adversely affects aviation safety.”
The FAA, which is the largest transportation agency in the US, also outlined that it could approve design features on the Airbus A321-200 jet and allow FedEx to install the modifications if the system is equipped with “means that prevent the inadvertent activation of the system on the ground”. The company will also need to ensure that the operating the system during the flight does not pose a risk to other aircraft or people.
In the meantime, the FAA is also required to place the laser system safety-related information at the location of the laser installation as well as to provide necessary instructions and warn over hazards associated with exposure to laser radiation.
“The airplane flight manual supplement (AFMS) must describe the intended functions of the installed laser systems, to include identifying the intended operations and phases of flight. The AFMS must state: CAUTION: The operation of the installed laser system could pose a significant risk of injury to others while in proximity to other aircraft, airports, and populated areas,” the FAA determined.
However, FedEx does not currently operate any Airbus A321-200 jets. The recent FAA filing could imply that the airline is planning to purchase aircraft of this type.
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.