Like many aviation professionals, I have found the coverage of the Boeing 737 accidents pathetic. The media is very weak on most technical subjects, but aviation is always a topic they forget their journalism on and resort to inflaming public fears for ratings.
Their entire narrative is about Boeing, totally ignoring to completely obvious factor: The 737-max 8 is one of the most advanced machines mankind has ever made, yet foreign carriers are operating these this crews who don’t have enough flight experience to qualify for giving a sight seeing flight in a Cessna 172 inside the US. CNN has reporters trying to explain ‘fly by wire’ controls, ( Oblivious to the fact they are describing an Airbus not a Boeing ) and never mentioning that the Ethiopian Air Co-pilot had only 200 hours of flight time total, and very questionable training. Few people commenting on this aircraft understand that many foreign pilots are very, very reluctant to ever try to hand fly any element of this planes flight envelope, and they are discouraged from trying it, and this makes them very reluctant to turn off the autopilot, even when it is in error. The Ethiopian Air co-pilot would not have been allowed anywhere near the flight deck of a US operated 737, with good reason. Thinking you can be safe by having very sophisticated machinery, and ignoring the training level of who is flying, is insanity.
Good thing no one in Experimental Aviation thinks that way, right?
Look at the picture above, remember when you had 200 hours of flight time, and ask yourself if you would have been comfortable walking onto the flight deck of this plane, with the lives of 100+ people behind you, and taking off. That is exactly what the ownership of Ethiopian Air did, and now they offer emotional commentary about Boeings alleged poor judgement.
We are a week away from Sun n Fun 2019. I have been going there for 30 years. Wander through the endless displays and you can see a dazzling supermarket of things for people in Experimental aviation to buy. Ask any salesman if the product he is selling is ‘safe’ and without any doubt he will say it is. Notice how tiny the segment of products are which qualify as direct training: Books, companies offering flight training and transitions, training on engines and systems. It is as if the management of Lion Air set the priorities of US homebuilders. How well do you think that will work out?
I have spent 30 years teaching builders about the engine that powers their plane. This wan’t done so they can save money like most people first guess. This was done because I know that training in aviation is paramount, and without it, no machine can be considered reliable nor safe. Salesmen, ( and the ownership of Lion Air )would try to tell you otherwise, but that is like trying to argue that you could replace Chesley Sullenberger with a 200 hour pilot and expect the same outcome on the Hudson River.
You don’t run Lion Air, nor Ethiopian Air, but you are CEO of your own aviation enterprise, and you also will decide what portion of your budget will be for supposedly ‘safe’ equipment, and what portion of your program, in both time and money, will be devoted to learning, training, understating and mastery. Choose wisely, physics chemistry and gravity judge inadequacy without a trace of mercy.
PS; If you see me as an aviation grease monkey from Florida, perhaps out of his element commenting on International air transport, keep in mind I’m a graduate of the worlds finest aviation university, most of my close friends are aviation professionals, and the chief person I ran this past before typing this happens to be a current 25,000+ hour ATP qualified in both Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Anyone can question my perspective here, but if they are driven to do so, perhaps for the sake of their future passengers, they should ask themselves why they are downplaying training.
Something humorous: How you know ‘journalists’ are a joke today: Boeing has more than 5,000 737s on order today, that is 10 years worth of production, it is the most successful airliner in world history, more than 10,000 of them have been built. This particular aircraft is the #1 threat to Airbus. About a third of Airbus is owned by European states. Journalists are completely blind to how quickly and why European entities condemned the 737, these people have a very strong vested interest in seeing how many of the 5,000 Boeing orders they can get canceled. Notice how not a single news reporter questioned the flight data recorder being sent to France for analysis. It’s all a big charade. Just make sure your own aviation program has a lot more integrity that this circus, because you do have a vested interest in that story.
23 Replies to “The vital element of Safety: Training”
Very good analysis, but Boeing did screw up in sliding over the extra training the MCAS would require – even US pilots were surprised there was no training or additions to the flight manuals. Now it will be up to the lawyers and corporate treasurer to pay the piper…..
Hi William. I don’t disagree with your analysis of the Ethiopian copilot, but a brief analysis of the 737 system in question would leave you a little surprised about that part of the equation. MCAS was installed to placate the certification inspectors during Boeing’s effort to have the plane certified for operation under the same type certificate as the NG’s. The more powerful engines and their particular nacelle shape result in pitch forces becoming very light as AOA increases. The system, during clean configuration manual flying (autopilot disengaged) trims the stab down for 9 seconds. If the AOA threshold is still exceeded five seconds later it commences another nine seconds of nose down stab trim. If instead the AOA has reduced below the threshold it trims the stab back to its original set point. If the stab trim is manually activated during this process the set point is RESET, and if the threshold AOA is still exceeded another nine seconds of nose down stab trim begins.
The two really strange things about this flight control system are that it only uses either the left or right AOA inputs, it automatically switches between them from ONE FLIGHT TO ANOTHER (why?), and has no miscompare or annunciation. The second strange thing is that Boeing didn’t reveal the existence of the system to operators, including US operators, prior to the Lion Air crash.
While I would like to think that a well trained US crew would have reacted differently I would also recognize that under this strange set of circumstances that is not a foregone conclusion. In both accidents the crew were hand flying most likely because they were encountering strange flight characteristics. Perhaps they should have recognized that this was similar to a runaway trim situation, and had they disconnected the trim system EARLY ON the problem would have stopped. Disconnecting the trim would also have prevented them from retrimming to neutral, so maybe wouldn’t have saved them when the nose down became uncontrollable.
So I disagree with the part of your analysis that suggests the criticism of Boeing is part of a conspiracy to rob their sales. Owing made some really poor engineering and management decisions on this one. Of course, that copilot? That is almost unimaginable…
Back to the workshop. All the best, Gordon
HUrrah for a reasonable analysis.
Gordon, you know a thousand times more about this subject than I do. I didn’t mean to come across as a conspiracy person, I was just pointing out that it’s a farce when CNN interview the PR rep for airbus and introduces him as an ‘aviation expert’ rather than a guy who is from Boeings only global competitor; It’s a farce when Fox broadcasts the CEO of Ethiopian saying ‘safety is his only concern’ without anyone saying “You are putting 200 hr warm bodies in the place of a critical flight crewman, you are full of shit” and its a farce when MSNBC has people on, who know the final story of Air France 447, saying its the machine, has nothing to do with training. Boeing may have done some dumb things, but I seriously doubt it is pure raw coincidence that these issues bit non-US carriers. A few days ago I said to an acquaintance that US pilots and those employed by 3rd world nations in Africa are not interchangeable in skill, standards, experience or performance, the response was to tell me I as a xenophobic American nationalist. I tried explaining that it is merely training and our resources and willingness to use them. No dice, they were sticking with the “Its one happy world, and every airline is the equal of any other” mentality. …….. Thank you for your specific detailed insight. ww.
“Good thing no one in Experimental Aviation thinks that way, right?”
That’s a good one!
“physics chemistry and gravity judge inadequacy without a trace of mercy….”
Today journalists only care, for the most part, about their personal career and getting their names out on the media…so they don’t care that 1) What you said, 2) Foreign Air does not need to comply with any ADAs 3) Right after training in importance comes 4) Maintenance – and un- regulated ‘Foreign Air’ bean counters may cast a blind eye on using counterfeit replacement parts which mean all Boeing’s historic expertise just got nullified 5) and un-regulated Foreign Air may alter factory recommended maintenance intervals. It is unexplainable stupidity to blame an American manufacturer for other countries’/cultures’ un-regulated use of American genius as represented by commercial aircraft. If a Parisian crashes his Ford into the Arc De Triomphe, and dies, do we hear a hue and cry directed at Ford Motor Co? Not ‘exciting’ enough, apparently. I’m sure there is a set of ‘Cliff notes’ for journalists to choose what to write about, something like: The 10 Most Terrifying kinds of events to ensure an American craps his pants upon reading this headline:————. (All honest and ethical journalists out there, God bless you…this is not directed at you.)
Lion Air changed the AOA probes on four previous flights on the accident airplane. Clearly they were making a dedicated effort to maintain their planes.
I don’t feel that the people I fly for would be equally well off with the least expensive option from someplace else, but I do think it is better to take a clear hard look at accidents and make fact based observations about what went wrong and perhaps could be improved. I have observed in many cases excellent Pilot’s from unexpected origins.
Foreign airlines are better operated than you are suggesting, for the most part. It’s a small world these days and any airline that flies international routes is complying with ICAO specifications.
Gordon, your two notes here have contained many times the actual information that I have seen total from all the media outlets. I grew up in Asia, went to school with people from all over, and I realize my comments are generalizations, and I’m mostly trying to say pro-training and lobby for the media to sound more like your comments here. I don’t want to come across as trying to run the investigation from my kitchen table either. I was mostly just annoyed that Boeing was getting tried in the media and judging was being done with the assistance of their competitor. I still think that the US system produces better aviators, and to make my case I offer you as my primary evidence.
What few “ethical” journalists there are
Hmmmmm. Well, nobody ever said your judgement was perfect. Anyway, yes, a well trained American who is doing what he or she was free to dream about as a kid is hard to beat.
As mentioned by Gordon before, even some US pilots were not aware the MCAS was installed on the Max aircraft, and there was no new training or even new manual pages to alert them to the operation of this trim system. Nine seconds is a long time at low altitude for a trim system to lower the nose forcefully enough the crew could not override it….. Regrettably, with less training, an emergency situation can quickly shut down higher-order thinking, heading for the rat brain in the medulla and basically blowing off high-level training. I suspect Boeing will pay a lot for deciding they didn’t need to conduct new training or modify the manuals. I worked on NATOPS and manuals at LTV, for all models of the A-7 light strike fighter, and the idea of changing a system and NOT introducing changes to the books or existing training would, at best, not have been well-received. British Petroleum had their own moment of corporate economy in trying to cheap-shot a test of an oil well plug in the Gulf of Mexico. They saved $50K on the test, but blew up the well. The last figure I heard about what BP had to pay out for this fiasco was $ 27 Billion….. Not the greatest ROI I’ve ever heard of – Wharton probably won’t be using this one as a positive example…..
Bruce, just out of curiosity, is there a now understood method of cutting the auto trim system off in the max 8?
All Boeing’s from 707-720 thru 737 max 8 have stab trim cut out switch’s mounted on the center pedestal. To be used in case of a runaway stabilizer. Also the trim wheels move any time the stab is moving to give flight crew visual indication of trim.
That rolling elevator trim wheel is VERY obvious. I’ve told my family and friends we’ll have a better idea what happened when the investigation is done, not from media reporters who are largely clueless. Sadly, Indonesia has cancelled a very large Boeing order due to all the speculation and media hype.
You are quite right in your frustration with them, William.
Sadly, another case of a corporation shooting itself in the foot to save a few bucks….. I have no doubt the Max is a great airplane (unless you get jammed into a steerage seat), but now Boeing has allowed its reputation to be damaged and opened itself to great financial liability, and for what…..? The revelation that safety related equipment (oxygen masks for the crew?!) is available only as extra cost options is going to hurt them in court, as it will undercut their argument about being vitally concerned with safety. There are just some things that should be sacred – and certainly the lives of the people who have entrusted themselves to your airplanes are up there.
I agree with William, It appears to be poor training in a response to an equipment failure.
William, yes, the video showing the MCAS shows the pilot flipping two toggle switches in the center of the pedestal, probably the same switches that have been in the Boeings from the beginning, as Keith Rhodes says. This is purely a training failure – as you mentioned, the crew would probably have been very reluctant to disengage the autopilot and fly manually, and that killed them.
While not anywhere near expert, I have more accident investigation training than anyone would have known if they ever met me. After hearing about the second accident, my mind turned to Scandinavian Airlines Flight 751 (flight crew unaware of an automated system) and Air France 447 (over reliance on technology and not knowing how to “fly” an aircraft)
Every accident has a long chain of circumstances. Lets see did the lion air accident have Management issues YES, Training issues YES, Inexperienced Pilots YES Technologically advanced aircraft YES Lack of simulator time in type YES
When I read the article with captain Sullinberger’s comments stating the co-pilot had 200 hours of time I about fell over. This accident will have probably the longest chain of factors that will ever be seen in a crash investigation – cant wait to get my hands on the report when it eventually comes out.
And I agree with the point of this post by WW- our Media outlets SUCK. Vilifying Boeing is not the way to prevent additional accidents
I have less than 200 hours and would be comfortable on the flight deck. I would be taking pictures of it until I was discovered and thrown out.
One of my pilot friends flys these exact aircraft for a major U.S. carrier. He stated, quite directly, that it’s training pure and simple. There is a checklist on his glareshield that he has committed to memory. The checklist is exactly the same in the NG as it is in the MAX. It’s quite obvious when the stabilizer is moving as the trimwheel on the console moves. If that trimwheel is moving and it wasn’t commanded to, the solution is the stab trim cutout switch right on the pedestal. Could be the trim system running away, or the mcas, etc. it doesn’t matter. The correct response is the stab trim cutout switch. Period. End of story. Apparently the mcas system is one of several that are capable of moving that trimwheel. But the solution is always the same, stab trim cutout switch. The mcas is detailed in the MAX manual he had sitting on his desk. Now if Boeing is guilty of anything, it’s the AOA sensor reliability.
The sad fact is that the decline of journalism in the US, particularly print journalism, means that most papers these days do not have the subject matter experts they used to have. My local paper lists all of their reporters as “staff writers”…..and they are not usually conversant with the specifics of most of the stuff they write about. Google can take you only so far. We geezers have absorbed huge amounts of data in comparison, but we are the past, and “not with it”….. But the general lack of technical knowledge means that such “staff writers” tend to take the company’s word for things if it sounds reasonable – they do not have the time under their deadlines to check out every detail unless it seems suspicious, and they often do not have the knowledge to know what might be “suspicious”.
since the advent of the world wide interweb, cabol tv, and the 24-7-365 news-cycle, the art of journalism has decended to the level of fingerpainting with mud on a dirt road. I have mentioned to my 96 year old mother, many times, since my retirnemt, that Walter Cronkite was the last journalist [that I respected]. fortunately. the truth. has a way of coming out. eventually. even though the newsworthy ideology seems to be based on ‘if it bleeds, it leads’, and ‘death toll’, flavored with hate-fueled politiks. Happy Easter, and God Bless.