FAA Not Worried About These Death Plunge 737s, No Sir!

Updated: see end of story. Following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 over the weekend, aviation authorities in Europe, the UK, China, Australia, and India, as well as several other nations, have all grounded the Max 8 until it can be determined what caused the accident. The crash, in which the airliner's crew reportedly had trouble maintaining control after takeoff, appears similar to another crash of a 737 Max 8 off Indonesia in October. Not that US regulators are worried, no way! The Federal Aviation Administration has decided to keep the planes flying, because the Max 8, Boeing's newest model, is very very popular and safe! Grounding it would be terrible, especially with the big summer travel season coming. Everything's fine, and it's downright irresponsible to compare Boeing execs and the FAA to the mayor in Jaws, no matter how great his awful suits look in a photoshopped pic.

Besides, Boeing is just about ready to roll out a software fix that should clear up an autopilot glitch that may have contributed to the accidents. Please don't make too much of the fact that the updated software was delayed by at least five weeks by Donald Trump's government shutdown, OK?

Rachel Maddow led her show Tuesday with an extensive story on reports that the 737 Max 8's flight-control system may have contributed to the two recent crashes, which killed 157 people aboard the Ethiopian Airlines flight, and 189 people on the Lion Air flight out of Jakarta five months ago. Prepare to be very GRR:

Trump Admin Assurances On Plane's Safety Ring Hollow Abroad | Rachel Maddow | MSNBCwww.youtube.com

Yes, yes, both crash investigations are still ongoing, but the focus has been on the planes' Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS feature, a system designed to prevent aerodynamic stalls. The system may have kicked in at the wrong time, forcing the noses of the planes down and causing the pilots to lose control. The Wall Street Journal explains early results of the Indonesian crash investigation suggest that "erroneous data from a single sensor, which measures the angle of the plane's nose, caused the stall-prevention system to misfire. Then, a series of events put the aircraft into a dangerous dive."

When a plane is actually in a stall -- caused by insufficient airflow over the wings to maintain flight -- putting the nose down is necessary to stay aloft. But when there's no actual stall and the automated system erroneously forces that nose-down maneuver, that's not good. Following the Lion Air Crash, the FAA issued an alert, called an Airworthiness Directive, warning pilots that erroneous input from the sensor might lead the flight control system to perform

repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer. This condition, if not addressed, could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane, and lead to excessive nose-down attitude, significant altitude loss, and possible impact with terrain.

Aviation Today reproduced this helpful graphic from a 2014 article on the 737 MAX "published in a magazine internally distributed to Boeing employees"; note that it advises turning off the autopilot system altogether.

Citing a story in the Dallas Morning News, Maddow noted that's what US flight crews said they had to do to deal with unwanted nose-down jitters that occurred during normal climbs, when their 737 Max 8 was definitely not stalling. The reports come from an anonymous FAA database (administered by NASA as a neutral third party) that encourages pilots to report problems without fear of consequences from their airlines or regulators. One 737 Max 8 captain called the flight manual "inadequate and almost criminally insufficient":

In another report, a first officer said the plane's nose started being pushed down, with automated stall warnings, immediately after engaging the autopilot system:

Both reports were from November 2018, the month after the Lion Air crash and the FAA directive.

But there's good news, as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday! Boeing is just about ready to roll out a software fix for the system that seems to be wonky! Instead of relying on the data from a single sensor, the revised system will monitor several different flight data sensors so that incorrect data from a single sensor is far less likely to cause the system to think the plane is stalling when it isn't. The FAA is "expected to mandate the change by the end of April" and updating each 737 Max 8's systems should only take about an hour of staring at a progress bar that says "loading."

Oh, hey, and did we say something about the government shutdown? Well yeah:

A software fix to the MCAS flight-control feature by the FAA and Boeing had been expected early in January, but discussions between regulators and the plane maker dragged on, partly over differences of opinion about technical and engineering issues, according to people familiar with the details. Officials from various parts of Boeing and the FAA had differing views about how extensive the fix should be.

U.S. officials have said the federal government's recent shutdown also halted work on the fix for five weeks.

The FAA concluded the delay was acceptable because its experts agreed with Boeing that there was no imminent safety threat, according to one person briefed on the discussions. The FAA also determined that steps taken after the Lion Air crash to inform pilots world-wide about the system's operation were adequate to alleviate hazards.

So yeah, just a little five-week delay so Donald Trump could talk about how imaginary Mexicans are invading America, to win a WALL that won't make anyone any safer. Not like that had any serious effects, huh? Not to worry! Maybe the software upgrade could have prevented the crash; or we might never actually know. The important thing is that those who died were mostly from shithole countries, like the three Kenyan women, all specialists in caring for children with cancer, who died on their way home from a conference in Egypt. So there's that.

The takeaway here definitely is NOT that there was a failure of industry and regulators to keep people safe. Nah, the real solution, according to President Sciencebrain, is to get rid of computers altogether so airlines won't need regulation.

Bring back the good old days before complexity and computers, like maybe 1973, when 2,429 people died in commercial aircraft accidents, the all-time record. Oh, or maybe we could actually not cut regulations, make damn sure aircraft systems are safe, and, not incidentally, keep the government running. Hell, maybe Trump could at least finally name someone to be the permanent, not acting, administrator for the FAA.

UPDATE: Donald Trump has announced the FAA will ground all 737 Max series aircraft.

That's it, every country has now grounded the things for now.

[Guardian / WaPo / WSJ / Aviation Today / Dallas Morning News / Forbes / CNN / MSNBC / Update: NYT]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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