What’s Up Wednesday 3/13/19

Is It Too Little Too Late for Boeing?  I Sure Don’t Want to Fly on One.

Three cheers for Boeing.  And three cheers for the United States government and what’s beginning to look like its bagman organization, the FAA.  As Europe takes measures to ground Boeing’s 737 MAX airliners after two serious crashes (and approaching 400 dead – maybe these liners should be called Boeing’s fleet of 737 MAX flying turkeys – get it, turkeys have wings but they can’t actually fly), the American flying public should take great solace in the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anyone guarding the public trust here.  At least maybe not until a crash on U.S. soil or featuring a U.S.-based carrier results in dozens more (Americans this time) dead.  If you’re one of the flying public, your only option may be to reschedule your flight on a safer airplane (one that doesn’t have a history of two major crashes with no survivors in the last six months).  You need to take charge of your own safety because the federal government regrettably won’t – it’s supposed to, in theory.  At least there are a handful of senators – not red-state senators in case you were wondering – calling for the grounding of these preposterous turkeys now – we’ll see how much of a difference that reality makes.  Be consoled – there is one comforting bit of news: if you’re aboard one of these MAX 737s and you don’t crash shortly after takeoff, the rest of your flight should be reasonably safe.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has taken the extraordinary step of suspending all European flights of Model 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX airliners until their airworthiness can be independently verified.  The suspension also includes flights involving these two popular airliners (these are Boeing’s most popular models ever produced) into and out of locations in Europe by third-party carriers (such as those involved the two recent high-profile crashes – on October 29, 2018, a Lion Air flight – Lion Air is a low-cost carrier based in Jakarta, Indonesia – from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta to Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang, the capital of the Indonesian province of the Bangka Belitung Islands – crashed into the Java Sea just 12 minutes after lifting off; after this incident, Lion Air canceled a $22 billion (that’s billion with a capital B), and they’re using the March 10 crash to help justify the cancellation of those orders.  It seems unlikely that Boeing has a strong case, not after this latest tragedy.  Flight 302 of Ethiopian Airlines was to travel from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya – it crashed six minutes after takeoff, killing everyone on board (the deadliest airline disaster in the history of Ethiopian Airlines, supplanting the carrier’s fatally-hijacked flight 961 back in 1996 (which smashed into the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel), a dubious distinction for any accident to achieve to say the least).

What is the presumed problem with these anyway?  The Lion Air crash, it’s believed, was a result of faulty sensors that fed erroneous information to the autopilot, giving the computerized navigation an impression that the aircraft that was entering a stall.  If there’s a maneuver that you prefer not to encounter when piloting an aircraft, stalling has to be at the very top of the list.  According to critics, the issue centers on an aspect of the autopilot referred to as the MCAS (stands for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) – in conjunction with the engines that these MAX-length aircraft use.  These fuel-efficient engines necessitated a redesign of their placement on MAX-length planes (as compared to a standard 737 non-MAX jet) and in the process, the center of gravity of these planes was affected.  In essence what happens is that with the new weight distribution, these airliners have a natural tendency to tip nose upward in flight, a condition that can result in a stall (an aircraft stall occurs when there isn’t enough lift being generated underneath the wings to keep it airborne).  A stall at a high altitude is handle-able.  Both the jets which crashed in the last six months did so shortly after takeoff (twelve minutes in the first case, six in the most recent), where lower altitudes mean that there’s less room for error (also cuts down on the amount of time available for pilots to diagnose a problem with the airliner and to take preventative actions).  The MCAS is intended to automatically correct a nose-up attitude which could produce a stall.  But it remains at question just how well (if at all) pilots have been trained to recognize a malfunction of the MCAS system that could bring the plane down (apparently what transpires in some instances is that the MCAS system actually throws the jet into a dangerous and steep descent – the cause, so far only speculated, of both MAX-airliner crashes).  Part and parcel of this is that Boeing has apparently been reluctant to concede that its MAX-length aircraft were based upon a faulty design that is subject to an undesirable nose-up attitude.

It seems to depend on who you ask just how significant the issue is – and how potentially dangerous.  Boeing apologists (located principally in this country, as you expect) insist that there’s nothing wrong with the design of the aircraft – and the fact that its center of gravity is off – the reason that Boeing trotted out this MCAS in an apparent effort to combat what’s an inherent design flaw.  In an interview with Newshub, an aviation expert who makes Australia home is very direct in his criticisms of Boeing – for the low-key effort the giant aircraft manufacturer turned in to alert pilots to this potential deadly problem (never mind advocating training techniques that pilots may need in how to override a MCAS malfunction if it occurs).  Not his least intriguing piece of evidence in support of this thesis is that the strongest-in-the-world airline pilots unions here in the states were never advised in a pointed fashion about the MCAS problem in Boeing’s MAX-length airliners.  After the October, 2018 Lion Air crash, Boeing was forced to admit that a potential MCAS malfunction existed, but the company chose to do so with the least amount of fanfare possible.  Because of this, it can be argued that just under two hundred new victims have been claimed In Ethiopia.  Hewshub’s expert sure sounds spot on.  This reeks of a cover-up by Boeing.  The fact that the manufacturing giant felt it could get away with this (risking more innocent lives as a result) may speak to the number of American politicians that Boeing has bought and paid for with its blood money.

So what’s happening in this country?  Boeing is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (would that be the same Federal Aviation Administration which just proved that it’s going to plant its head in the sand like an ostrich when it comes to protecting the public interest – and would that be working with the FAA on an aircraft that this manufacturer and its pathetic network of well-bought apologists insist – blindly – has no issues in the first place; if these aircraft truly have no issues, then I’d love to know what the hell these morons are working together on).  As a matter of fact, in a March 13 piece, the New York Times seems to draw into question the FAA’s assertion that there’s no evidence that these matchbook-cover designed junkers are a threat to pilot and passenger safety (the article mentions that at least two United States-based MAX airliner pilots have filed incident reports with the federal government that raise serious questions about the safe operation of these aircraft – while faulting the poor or nonexistent training that should have helped them to counter unexpected and in fact unsafe operational issues.

If you’re scheduled to fly on one of these deathtraps, then I’d encourage you to change your reservations – apparently the bottom line is the only motivation that these miscreants understand.  Let the bought and paid for politicians, the Boeing executives, and the incompetents who designed these piles of junk (and who blindly insist that they’re safe) travel on them if they’re so inclined.  They should send their wives, their children, their elderly parents, their best friends to fly on these appalling things.  Maybe Boeing engineers believe that this is a third-world country problem – that in third world countries, pilots just don’t know how to fly airplanes right.  On the other hand, maybe here in the United States, manufacturers don’t know how to build aircraft right – or they’re just a little too quick to cut corners in the name of the almighty dollar, needlessly putting all of our lives at risk.

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