American Airlines CEO Doug Parker: His Boeing 737 MAXs Are Safe Today – Other Airlines’ May Not Be

After two Boeing 737 MAX tragedies we’ve come to learn a tremendous amount about the aircraft, how it was developed, and how it gained certification.

Engineering compromises were made to make the legacy Boeing 737 more efficient in a cost-effective way on an aggressive timeline. Boeing wanted to create a new fuel efficient airplane but one that still ‘counted’ as a 737 so that it was cheaper and faster to bring to market, and so it would be easier for existing 737 operators to fly.

To compensate for aerodynamics issues created by moving the plane’s engines, Boeing created Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software that could address an issue where the plane’s nose would pitch up, triggered by the aircraft’s angle of attack sensors.

The system was being engaged based on data from a single angle of attack sensor. When that sensor generated a faulty reading, the software kicked in and forced the plane’s nose down – in two cases combining with a number of other factors to create disastrous consequences.

Many MAX pilots around the world didn’t know about or understand the system, so didn’t understand what was happening when the system triggered. Perhaps surprisingly some didn’t know how to counteract it. Some of the plane’s safety features were inexplicably optional add-ons. And these issues weren’t caught during certification.

However American Airlines CEO Doug Parker says that the plane is safe to fly today – with American’s 737 MAX and using American’s pilots – suggesting that the delay in bringing the plane back into service is so that it’ll be safe even when operated by other airlines.

American’s 737 MAXs are Safe – But the Rest of the World’s May Not Be

Answering questions at an employee forum last week, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told a pilot that the 737 “is safe for American Airlines pilots to fly, and we could be flying it today.”

American’s pilots are better trained, with more experience – the argument goes – than those of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines, and perhaps many of the other MAX aircraft operators around the world. Moreover their MAXs have safety features that Boeing deemed optional add-ons.

He explained “I have always believed – because you all have told me, I’m not capable to make this assessment, but the pilots of American Airlines have told me from the beginning, we kept flying it after other countries have grounded it, we have pilots ferrying them around today without a new software fix on it” American’s pilots were confident flying the plane before it was grounded, and continue to be confident flying it today without any software changes or additional training that may be required.

However “[w]hat seems to be quite clear is that it’s not safe for all pilots to fly.” He went on to explain,

There’s other airlines in others parts of the world have different training procedures and different qualification levels than American Airlines does. So that needs to be addressed.

Although he believes American Airlines could safely fly the Boeing 737 MAX today, he thinks it’s “not good for our industry” for anyone to be flying the plane until it’s possible to be “”sure it’s an airplane that’s safe to be flown everywhere around the world.”

Whether Politics is Delaying the Return of the 737 MAX

Back in May and again in June Parker suggested that politics was delaying the return to service of the MAX. Last week, though, he said “I don’t want to make anybody think that I’ve ever said that the FAA is being remotely political here.”

Previously he had suggested that the FAA was trying to get regulators from around the world to re-certify the plane at the same time, but that some of those regulators had political reasons for delay. Last week though he offered “When they tell us it’s their decision that they will make irrespective of what other countries may or may not decide to do. I think they would like other countries to come to the same conclusion at the same time, but they – and I’m saying anything they haven’t said publicly – that they have their own criteria for determining when that airplane is going to be safe to be re-certified again.”

The Most Likely Timeline for the 737 MAX’s Return to Service

Parker, as head of an airline with 24 Boeing 737 MAXs and many more on order, is well-brief on the status of the plane by Boeing and the FAA. He says that Boeing is close to a final fix to satisfy regulators, which should be submitted this month.

That software fix..my understanding is they were rather close, that that fix addressed the issues that had been raised about the aircraft software, about the MCAS system, but in testing that system another issue arose that they were asked to go back and address in the software. That was the second delay.

That’s where we sit today. They have gone back they have not yet provided the FAA with a new package of software that addresses yet again that next issue, but we’re told they expect to do that sometime by the end of this month.

Assuming that Boeing proceeds as planned, and their submission passes muster with the FAA, American’s decision to cancel flights using the aircraft through December 3 should be the last delay.

The airline has had talks “including [at] the highest levels of Boeing and the FAA [and] they gave us their belief, and their belief was it was rational to assume that those airplanes could be certified early in the fourth quarter.” Assuming an early or mid-October re-certification “depending on what the training package is” then American “can get enough pilots trained and flying those [24 737 MAX] airplanes to serve our customers in early December.”

However he acknowledges that the timeline might not hold, “given their history..we shouldn’t count on that.” However an early December return to service is “what we believe at this point.” And if they’re wrong making changes to schedules in early December won’t be as disastrous as doing it during peak holiday travel later in the month.

Parker’s Full Comments on the 737 MAX

Here are American Airlines CEO Doug Parker’s full comments on the Boeing 737 MAX, offered at an employee question and answer session last week.

The airplane, I have always believed – because you all have told me, I’m not capable to make this assessment, but the pilots of American Airlines have told me from the beginning, we kept flying it after other countries have grounded it, we have pilots ferrying them around today without a new software fix on it – …in large part what I’ve heard from American Airlines pilots is that airplane is safe for American Airlines pilots to fly, and we could be flying it today.

What seems to be quite clear is that it’s not safe for all pilots to fly. That’s not an indictment of the piloting profession. There’s other airlines in others parts of the world have different training procedures and different qualification levels than American Airlines does. So that needs to be addressed. Until it is I don’t think any of us want to have it being flown, because that’s not good for our industry. Even if it’s totally safe for all of us to be flying it, we want to make sure it’s an airplane that’s safe to be flown everywhere around the world.

…The FAA by the way I think has been outstanding on this. ..I don’t want to make anybody think that I’ve ever said that the FAA is being remotely political here. The FAA has been what you all know the FAA to be, which is the arbiter of safety. All they’ve cared about from the start is that that airplane is safe to fly when, again they came to the decision to put them on the ground after other countries had, but the decision to put them back up is their decision. When they tell us it’s their decision that they will make irrespective of what other countries may or may not decide to do. I think they would like other countries to come to the same conclusion at the same time, but they – and I’m saying anything they haven’t said publicly – that they have their own criteria for determining when that airplane is going to be safe to be re-certified again. That criteria included putting new software on.

That software fix..my understanding is they were rather close, that that fix addressed the issues that had been raised about the aircraft software, about the MCAS system, but in testing that system another issue arose that they were asked to go back and address in the software. That was the second delay. That’s where we sit today. They have gone back they have not yet provided the FAA with a new package of software that addresses yet again that next issue, but we’re told they expect to do that sometime by the end of this month.

..We didn’t make this December start date decision without talking to everybody we possibly could including the highest levels of Boeing and the FAA..they gave us their belief, and their belief was it was rational to assume that those airplanes could be certified early in the fourth quarter. That’s early mid-October, or even late October, depending on what the training package is the 24 airplanes that we own that are on our certificate we believe we can get enough pilots trained and flying those airplanes to serve our customers in early December.

.. If indeed that turns out to be incorrect..because they don’t hold that timeline..which again given their history I agree with you we shouldn’t count on that. That’s what we believe at this point. If indeed that’s the case, Vasu and team unfortunately have gotten really good at isolating these airplanes, taking flights that have been sold and re-accommodating customers, particularly in the first couple weeks of December..and isolating those airplanes and pulling out lines of flying in ways that should not be enormously disruptive.

…The real important thing here is getting the airplanes flying again. It will happen. We know that’s the case. And when it does happen what I know is if an American Airlines pilot is ready to fly it everybody is. ..If the FAA says it’s safe to fly, and an American Airlines pilot says it’s safe to fly, it’s good to go and we’re all looking forward to that day.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Does anyone remember Hogan’s Heroes’ Colonel Klink. Once Hogan was defusing a bomb. There were two wires. He asked Colonel Klink which wire to cut. Klink chose one color, Hogan promptly cut the other color on the theory that Klink was always wrong. The bomb was defused. Everyone lived.

    I have a similar viewpoint of Parker. If he says the Max 737 is safe, that makes me think the Max 737 is a flying death trap. Why? Because common sense tells me that opposite of what Parker says is true 99.99% of the time.

  2. WSJ headline from yesterday: “Indonesia to Fault 737 MAX Design, U.S. Oversight in Lion Air Crash Report”. I have not seen a wholesale firing of senior management at Boeing and forced corporate culture (like what happened at BP after the Gulf Spill). I trust Boeing at this point about the same as Parker.

  3. The piece in the NYT of last week is well worth a read: utterly scathing in respect of ALL those involved in the Indonesian crash ( Lion Air, Indonesian regulators, Boeing). The FAA gets a serve as well.
    Regardless of what AA wants, the thing is not going to fly anywhere internationally until the other countries sign on. But given that there is now an active plan to store the planes in the Australian desert, that looks a long way off.

  4. @Other Just Saying

    So you trust the findings of one of the most corrupt governments (with a vested interest in blaming Boeing) which reportedly has not even allowed US investigators full access to cockpit voice recordings… whose airlines have one of the worst safety records around? Like AirAsia which “trains” its own pilots cadet-style and puts them behind the seat with minimal hours and experience compared to US carriers? Uhhh…I’ll take Boeing. And suggest you read the New York Times Magazine piece this week on what happened to the Max.

  5. Parker really should have shutup on this topic. All he should have said was “we will fly the 737MAX once all of the approvals have been received and any needed training is complete”. It is not reassuring to customers to know that their safety is mostly dependent upon the skill of the pilot rather than the systems and design of the aircraft.

  6. There are a number of very good articles and video from people with knowledge of aircraft about the 737Max situation. The New York Times last week published one of the best.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/magazine/boeing-737-max-crashes.html

    The long and short of it comes down to airlines expanding so fast in the budget category that pushes maintenance to unsafe ends. But even more the need for pilots, even with a lot of flying hours, have next to no ability to natural flying ability outside of flying via a checklist and putting on the autopilot.

    If anything it shows Airbus was right when it as a company policy designed aircraft to eliminate the pilot from the equation of aircraft safety as much as possible. They call it reducing the pilots work load but in reality is removing the pilots ability to easily cause and accident.

    Neither of these accidents would have happened it the pilots would have switched off two switches that are the first item in a 737, any generation, training check list for an event related to trim.

    The Lion Air aircraft when the pilots boarder the aircraft on that morning had those two switched switched off. The flight the day before, the flight immediately before this last flight, had the exact same problem. Thus the switches being off. Before that flight, after proceeding flight (3 before the accident) the sensor that inputs to system in question was replaced with a used sensor that the maintenance dept claimed to have checked before releasing the aircraft to fly.. That used replacement sensor failed immediately after takeoff. It likely was never checked before installation and infant was likely non-working when purchased used from a third party supper of salvaged aircraft parts. In fact similar complaints had been filed mulitple times about that system in prior flights of that aircraft. Each of those instances had Lion air maintenance just rest the warning and not replace or check the sensor that was producing conflicting information.

    The Ethiopian Air craft aside not never doing the fundamental disconnect of auto trim, by those two switches, the pilots had never lower power from for full takeoff power. The aircraft even in the period it was in level flight because of this was flying beyond its maximum speed.

    The fundamental problem with the 737 is it relies on Pilots actually know how to fly instead of just rely on computer adjusted inputs and automatic pilot.

  7. @Potreroflyr: LOL. Indonesia is an non-white Moslem country. Or course I trust them.

    More seriously, I have been reading Boeing President’s Dennis Muilenburg comments, and press releases from Boeing. I do not need the New York Times to tell me what to think. Boeing started outsourcing its engineering and production beginning with the 787. The Max 737 problems are where “all the chickens came home to roost.” Boeing shows no signs that they plan to change their corporate culture of sacrificing safety for cost, outsourcing of engineering, and global sourcing of essential parts. Instead they have been releasing absurd comments about how their employees really “care” about safety. Until they change their culture, more problems are going to arise.

  8. @lOther Just Saying

    Lol. Clearly you don’t need any reliable information to reinforce your pre-judgements. I prefer to trust a respected journalist/pilot. To each his own.

  9. @Potreroflyr. Seattle Times (9/6/19) reported: “Boeing’s new widebody jet, the 777X, suffered a setback Thursday afternoon during a high-pressure stress test on the ground when one of the airplane’s cargo doors exploded outward.” The occurred during FAA certification testing. No doubt, you are going to blame this failure on Indonesia’s government as well.

  10. Sorry, cannot resist one more comment. Not aimed at anyone.

    Do you guys remember when the 787 was catching fire while parked in airports. The whole Boeing 787 fleet had to be grounded until the problem was fixed. I still remember seeing TV pictures of a plane burning in Heathrow. My trust in Boeing is not very high.

  11. Do Boeing 737 MAX have issues, yes. Would well trained and experienced pilot be able to handle it, yes. Does Lion Air have a spotty (okay, bad) safety record, yes. Did Ethiopian and Loin Air forgo safety to get the airplanes cheap, yes. Would properly equipped, experienced or properly trained pilot have an issue flying a 737 Max. . NO!

    In short, Boeing should have made all the safety features standard, they should have had both sensors working and no pilot should be looking through a manual while in flight to figure out what a plane is doing. The facts are the facts . . . you may not like Parker, but he is spot on here.

    NOTE: check safety records of foreign airlines before you book on one of them. Some discount airlines in Asia and Eastern Europe are especially questionable.

  12. I love all the AA (and Parker) hate on here. Even when he says something that is correct he gets bashed!

    The AA Max planes are safe for them to fly (and have always been). First of all AA paid for the optional safety package (which apparently other airlines weren’t even aware of) and also the AA pilots (like ALL US airlines) are better trained than the pilots of the 2 airlines that crashed. There was a response, even without the optional safety package, that would have prevented the crash but the pilots weren’t trained on it.

    Not to diminish the crash rand the fact Boeing did cut corners to roll out the Max (and making a safety package “optional” was a huge mistake). Agree heads should roll at Boeing and the FAA. However that doesn’t mean what Parker said was wrong. The head of the AA pilots has said basically the same thing.

    Led by gary this is an AA bashing dog pile even when not warranted. How about just shutting up for once all of you!

  13. @Gary

    You’ve taken a few click-baity liberties with the headline and introductory paragraph(s) on a topic that is very serious and easy to misconstrue. Was that your intent? Because the way this reads to the average reader is that Parker was making some very dumb statements in a poor effort to gain a competitive advantage.

    But that’s not what he’s saying. In fact, given the entire context of his statements, I think they’re dead on.

    Fact is, the FO in the Ethiopian crash had 350 hours total time. That’s nothing. Right now, the FAA will not let you touch the controls of a passenger-carrying aircraft without a minimum of 1500 hours total time. The inexperience of the pilots of these foreign operators is real, and is an inarguable fact. Pilots at AA and SWA have thousands of hours of flight time, and the experience that comes along with.

    I do not get the warm fuzzies knowing that some of these pilots flying technically advanced aircraft have so little flight time. Whether that’s Boeing’s fault, the FAA’s fault, or the fault of the regulators of the various countries in which the airplane flies, I have no idea. That is, as we say, a political problem.

  14. @Other Just Saying

    So what’s your point with the 777X having some issues during testing? That’s the whole point of testing! To find stuff going wrong!

  15. II AM NOT A PILOT OR HAVE ANY CONNECTION TO ANY AIRLINE OR TRAVEL BUSINESS AND READ WITH INTEREST THE OPPOSING COMMENTS ON THE MAX . MY ONLY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH. THIS MATTER IS SPENDING A FEW HOURS AS A PASSENGER ON A WESTJET FLIGHT TALKING TO A WESTJET PILOT WHO WAS DEADHEADING TO VANCOUVER.HIS COMMENTS WERE IDENTICAL TO THOSE OF PARKER AND I WOULD BE TOTALLY COMFORTABLE FLYING ON A MAX WITH A MAJOR NORTH AMERICAN AIRLINE, SOME OF THE SMALLER COUNTRY AIRLINES, NOT SO MUCH.

  16. @AC. I am a former Executive Platinum until Parker wacked (I mean devalued) the program. I am not unbiased. I am going to bash Parker (fairly or unfairly) until I lose interest. Luckily I am not a lifetime elite. If I was, I would never lose interest. Just think about it this way, I have a serious case of Parker Derangement Syndrome (“PDS”) and it is justified.

    By the way, Klink (in Hogan’s Heroes) is a good analogy to Parker. He crashed a plane in the First World War that sent the Blue Baron (like the Red Baron who was an Ace German Pilot that kept on shooting down Snoopy in Peanuts) to the hospital. Now, I do not think Parker flies 737 Max jets, but if he did, he would crash for sure.

  17. @Dan. What am I suggesting:
    –Boeing probably fired experienced engineers at Boeing and outsourced the 777x engineering to engineers in other countries without sufficient aerospace experience.
    –Boeing since 787 has been outsourcing the development of parts to the third party suppliers of those parts. It would not surprise me if the doors and door seals were developed by the supplier instead of by Boeing.

    On inspections:
    (1) A company cannot fix shoddy work with more inspections. Why? Because it is impossible to think of everything that might go wrong, much less inspect it.
    (2) Boeing should have done good enough work on a show plane to prevent an embarrassing test result by the FAA. Airplane doors and door seals are not exactly new technology.
    (2) Can you imagine how many doors would have been faulty on a roll out if the FAA had not caught this particular error by happenstance? Maybe I should start paying more attention to the oxygen masks info by the flight attendants at the beginning of every flight.
    (4) What has the FAA not thought to test that might be a big problem in the future.

    At the end of the day, I will let other people fly the 777X plane for a couple of years to test it out, before I fly one.

    LOL, maybe I will buy an umbrella factory and start a new business of selling micro one-use parachutes to antsy Boeing flyers. I might even sell them to myself. Could be big, very big.

  18. @Dan – You’re supposed to have things like doors inadvertently blasting off the plane out of the way before you invite the FAA in for certification. Boeing has has a lot of missteps on a lot of their recent planes, so it’s not just the MAX catastrophes. Remember the first round of 787 problems with the batteries? Plus the new 787 engine problems that still have some planes grounded? 777x engine trouble? In fact, between the MAX, 777x, and 787, what major platform does Boeing have that hasn’t had major issues? This does not inspire trust in Boeing.

  19. I believe everything Parker says to be true since coming on board
    They have the best premium cabins in the world,the most wonderful restaurant level cuisine in the sky,the most comfortable economy seats globally,committed mechanics always willing to go the extra mile,and generous saver award availability for award redemption’s.The most rewarding program with low cost partner awards and have treated lifetime Platinum’s wonderfully by creating Plat Pro
    Just look at how warm friendly,helpful and caring every American FA is or how spacious the lavatories are on board..And anytime there is a problem the folks from American bend over backwards to make it right
    And did they say they could fly the 737 safely even before they found anything wrong with this perfect plane and software? Of course no doubt .I’ll bet they could fly with no engines and parachute down to the ground
    Best airline in the world and they are going for great folks (applause)
    Why is my nose growing like Pinocchio?

  20. @Christian. Have you missed the fact that Airbus is having engine issues as well — maybe worse than the 787. It’s not a “Boeing” thing.

    @other just saying
    “Can you imagine how many doors would have been faulty on a roll out if the FAA had not caught this particular error by happenstance? “

    The test was at pressures well beyond the normal operation of the aircraft — that’s what a stress test is. But, obviously, your aerospace engineering insight and expertise lead you elsewhere. After all, you’ve read all the press releases.

  21. @Dan @AC I guess you missed the video of accomplished pilots showing that the procedure for trim correction Boeing prescribes is physically not possible at higher speeds? Flipping the cutout switches “works”, but the trim wheel is physically not possible to move since it requires too much force.

    @AC The safety package Southwest also bought that didn’t actually work? The safety package that Boeing knew didn’t work but didn’t inform airlines or the FAA for a year?

  22. As an aviation outsider and as a person who flew ET both the day before and the day after the crash, I think there is plenty of blame to go around. I hope this experience results in fixing all culture of cutting corners and looking for cheap shortcuts, whether it comes to production and certification of aircraft, or training of pilots. And no more “optional” safety equipment.

  23. @James

    What video? William Lagensheit (spelling) in the NY Times has a rather long essay on the MAX issue, and the pilots he talks to all say that run-away trim is an issue well understood by experienced.

    And you do have AA pilots backing the MAX, which I doubt they would do if run-away trim could not be resolved.

    So yeah, I missed the video, and so did a lot of other people.

  24. @gary

    And fair enough. But it’s 100% true that pilots at major US-certificated airlines are far more experienced than those at Lion Air and for that matter Ethiopian. It is an inarguable fact that the pilots at the major North American airlines have far more than the 350 hours total time that the ET FO had. Period. This isn’t spin or some other “careful interpretation” of the facts. Lion Air and Ethiopian have inexperienced pilots.

    Parker shouldn’t be faulted for saying that, because experience matters.

  25. @Other Just Saying

    Where do you think the FAA was “invited in” to this test, and that the failure happened by “happenstance”? Looking at articles by CNN, Seattle Times, and Reuters, there were no mention of FAA personnel on site. They do mention that this was part of a “certification test”. Which means this wasn’t a “happenstance” test, but an intentional test. So nice one with the trolling, you made me look.

    We can exchange jabs on the internet all day long (what fun!) but if you want to be serious for a moment, this is the part we all need to be worried about, be it Boeing or Airbus or whoever:

    “(4) What has the FAA not thought to test that might be a big problem in the future.”

    This is the problem. As aircraft become more and more automated, and things become safer and safer, it takes esoteric combinations of things going wrong to cause an accident. Which means the permutations of things to test shoots way up. Who decides how much gets tested, and what combinations of things need to be tested for certification?

    Then there’s that whole training thing, which is a bigger deal than most people on this forum need to acknowledge. No US airline is putting low-time pilots in the cockpit of these things. Foreign carriers do. Is the FAA responsible for setting certification standards based on how US-certificated airlines operate these things (and the corresponding 1500 hour minimum flight time limit) or foreign carriers?

    FWIW, William Lagenscheit (sp) posits that Airbus aircraft are easier for low time pilots to fly. Boeing designs aircraft expecting pilots to fly them, Airbus does it expecting computers to fly.

  26. @Dan The problem is that it’s *not* identical to runaway trim (at minimum because runaway trim doesn’t repeatedly fight you).

    Here’s a Seattle Times article detailing (from Boeing flight-control engineer Peter Lemme) how at speeds and high trim the 737 (this is not a problem new to the MAX per se, just when it can become a problem is new) the aerodynamic forces make it physically extremely difficult to move the trim wheel: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/boeings-emergency-procedure-for-737-max-may-have-failed-on-ethiopian-flight/?amp=1

    Article detailing more of that: https://www.satcom.guru/2019/04/stabilizer-trim-loads-and-range.html?m=1

    And long form article including information on an expert showing a video of that physical difficulty: https://newrepublic.com/article/154944/boeing-737-max-investigation-indonesia-lion-air-ethiopian-airlines-managerial-revolution

    It’s true that training requirements etc. in other countries are real potential concerns that need to be separately addressed. But blaming it on the crew just isn’t sufficient when you have a incorrectly designed feature on the airplane. And it’s just not true that the AA planes were better since the AOA disagree alert *didn’t work and Boeing didn’t tell anyone*.

  27. @Dan Also as Dan Carey — former APA head at AA — pointed out to Congress, this isn’t the first time Boeing has had a design flaw on the 737 and worked very hard to blame pilots only to later find out the airplane was to blame.

    I don’t trust Boeing’s PR machine on this one bit. They have a long history of claiming their own problems couldn’t be design flaws. It happened with the 737. It happened with the 767. Now it’s happening with the MAX.

  28. @Dan. Notwithstanding the facts (which we are still arguing about), if Boeing cannot convince countries like Indonesia that Boeing planes are fault tolerant enough to operate safely in their countries (whatever the issues are in their countries), Boeing is finished as a global supplier of aircraft. I do not think Boeing is making any friends among potential customers by blaming pilots or or mechanics in other countries. Boeing’s stock price is $377.03 at close today (9/23/19). I wouldn’t touch that stock with a 30,000 foot pole. [I chose 30,000 because planes often fly that high.]

  29. @James

    I don’t trust anybody’s PR machine, as everybody has a “six” to cover. So we all get to sit around and watch the finger pointing and judge from the sidelines.

    These are machines designed by humans and operated by humans, and as such, are susceptible to human failure in many ways.

    The reality is this is a system failure on many fronts. The airlines put the squeeze on Boeing to deliver something on the cheap and fast, and BTW please continue to leverage the criteria developed in 1967 so we don’t have to spend a mint on training, ThankYouVeryMuch. Boeing put the squeeze on congress to allow the FAA to delegate some certification authority back to Boeing, which I don’t actually take much of an issue with. *CONGRESS CAVED* (and as a legislative body, they need to own that). Boeing can’t be too loud about blaming Lion Air, because they can’t throw a large customer under the bus. And Lion Air gets plenty of blame for this, make no mistake.

    I’m not “buying Boeing’s PR spin” by latching on to the training issue. It’s real. These foreign operators are shoving low time pilots in a very large, sophisticated aircraft. For sake of conversation, one of the fallouts from the Colgan Air crash in BUF several years ago is now all pilots (including the first officer) flying commercial airliners in the US must hold at least an ATP, which requires 1500 hours of total time. Ethiopian had a dude in the cockpit with 350 hours total time. Seriously, WTF? Whose fault is *that*? Boeing’s? Again, FAA won’t let you in the cockpit without 1500 TT.

    Who gets the blame is a legal and political argument. IMHO, there’s plenty to go around.

  30. @Other Just Saying

    Well, it’s possible that Boeing is finished as a global supplier of aircraft then. And I’m not being snarky when I say that. Because it’s not clear to me that pilots with 350 hours total time belong in the cockpit of these machines, which is what the Ethiopian FO had. So if the market demand is for a a transport category aircraft that a 350 TT pilot can fly, well, a Boeing airplane may not be for them.

    Believe it or not, this isn’t a knock on Boeing. This is the reality of the 2019 global aviation marketplace — growth is worldwide, and the global supply of pilots has very little experience.

  31. I personally hope the plane stays grounded forever. The 60 year old design has been pushed beyond the limits and it will never be as safe as he original 737. This is what happens when they prioritized profits and shareholder payouts over actually designing and building a proper new plane. I do not feel bad for Boeing. I do not feel bad for AA (they are chief at punishing paying customers). I feel bad for Boeing employees. I feel bad for any other workers who have been harmed by this greed.

    Boeing should admit defeat and convert these in to 737-800s like they should have been all along.

  32. @Dan. Now I am going venture into a topic I actually know nothing about it. Should hours of flying really be the benchmark? Shouldn’t it rather be the quality of the pilot as tested? I loved the movie “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise. But his character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell probably did not have thousands of hours in flight time.

  33. For what it’s worth I have a basic understanding of the issues. I am not a MAX pilot, I’ve only flown it in a simulator. I am not an engineer, but a reasonably intelligent layperson who can follow the basic engineering issues.

    I actually do think that Parker is right, that with the ‘optional’ features installed and with pilots who do have more ‘real’ experience than pilots in some other parts of the world I think that the aircraft if perfectly flyable today.

    That doesn’t mean it is operating the way that it is supposed to. Boeing has designed the MAX so that the machine largely flies itself. I remember my first time sitting down in the sim – and I haven’t done it that many times – shocked at how easy it was to fly under normal conditions. Auto throttle? Wow!

    There *is* a difference between the pilot experience that comes out of flying for the military, or flying much less advanced regional jets for several years, before joining a major airline and coming straight out of a program that teaches checklists and puts you in the cockpit of an advanced aircraft. 99.9%+ of the time flying by checklist is fine, which is why I will get on an Asiana or Korean Air plane without hesitation.

    It’s in that rarest of circumstances that you wonder whether you’ve got a Sully Sullenberger or someone like him up in the nose of the plane, and there are a lot of Sullys out there at major airlines.

    The point is that there aren’t supposed to need to be, which is why Boeing is having to go back and address issues with the MAX.

    So I largely agree with Parker, though probably wouldn’t be quite so cavalier about it.

  34. @Other Just Saying

    Yes, but what that number should be is a subject for debate, and now we’re getting into politics, because there’s no bright line requirement that everybody can agree on.

    First things first, remember that the FAA requires an ATP and 1500 hours total time to get into the cockpit of a commercial airliner in the USA. Prior to the Colgan Air crash in BUF, that number was 250, although most operators had higher minimums. I worked for an airline that would staff regional jets with pilots with 600 hours TT. Some airlines really would take you at 250 TT, but I’m talking for spots on the Beech 1900 or Saab 340, which are relatively simple planes with little automation and don’t go that fast. Nonetheless, it’s 1500 TT across the board now, and that’s to get into a turboprop. (The Colgan crash was a Q400.)

    There is an experience level that comes with “total time”, at least to a point, and total flight time is a better proxy for experience than mere age, which is what we do for other things in the US. So now we have to talk about the fact that the FAA requires a commercial airline pilot to have 1500 hours TT to fly a turbo prop, yet somehow can allow the certification of a much larger and complex jet that can be flown by pilots with just a few hundred hours. Which is it? You either need 1500 TT to be safe, or you don’t.

    One thing that’s very hard to teach is real world failures. It’s sometimes said that flying is hours of sheer boredom punctured by moments of sheer terror. One can go thousands of hours “flying the line” without having much go wrong, and when things do go wrong, they’re completely unexpected. And that surprise factor matters. The flip side is, when going through training, the failures are rote and routine. If something fails “just like the sim”, you’re golden. If something fails and you’ve never dealt with it before, you’re probably screwed… unless you’ve got that experience to rely on.

    Sully was the “hero” that he was because of his experience. Single engine failures (e.g., from a bird strike) are something regularly trained for. They don’t train for dual engine failures. Al Haynes (RIP) the captain of UA 232? That’s experience.

    Hopefully, we don’t need that experience, and a vast majority of the time we don’t, although sometimes we do. The question is whether the risk of not having that experience is worth it. (Gary is pulling a number out of his arse with his “99.9%”.) But the biggest problem with experience is that despite all of the automation on the MAX, Boeing’s design philosophy still respects the human above all else, and expects that when push comes to shove, the pilot will *fly* the aircraft. Airbus has a different philosophy that relies more heavily on automation. In William Lagenscheit’s (sp) piece in the NY Times, he says that Airbus is more friendly to these low time pilots. I’ve never flown that aircraft, but I can’t disagree with him.

    All in all, I’d rather be in an A320 flown by an inexperienced pilot than a Boeing plane. When push comes to shove, Boeing wants a pilot to fly, and when your pilot is experienced, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if my pilot doesn’t have much experience and has to fly by computer, I’d rather be in an Airbus.

    As to what you said above, yes, I think Boeing will have some long term challenges in the global commercial aviation market. First, the 737 as a product line is probably done (although the MAX will fly. It’ll be the end of it.) And Boeing will need to figure out how to keep their planes safe in the hands of low time pilots, and that’s going to require a paradigm shift from their current model.

  35. On another topic, I know that the 737 Max 8 is assembled in the USA. I cannot find any information about the percentage of parts that are manufactured in the USA.

    Hmm. Educated guess. Manufactured in China and India. Imported to Mexico. Then transported under NAFTA with low tariffs for assemble. Anyone know?

  36. @Dan

    Note that I already agreed with you that training is a factor, so you can stop trying to convince me it is.

    But I’m disagreeing that better trained AA pilots in AA MAXs would have handled the situation in a way that guaranteed a safe outcome. Here’s why:

    1. The AOA disagree light was broken and Boeing hid it.
    2. Even if it weren’t, it didn’t function until a certain altitude.
    3. Above a certain speed, manually adjusting the trim wheel is physically difficult (to the point of almost impossibility).

    Notably you haven’t interacted with any of those points, particularly the last one which I provided no fewer than 3 articles about.

    Pilots need more training, yes. But I don’t think that’s the highlight for these incidents unless you can disprove all 3 points above.

    Well, and even if you could, intentionally undocumenting a new system that can repeatedly and additively push the plane down sharply, as well as not even telling the FAA or internal pilots about that system’s abilities is pretty damning.

  37. @James

    Since you really want a response:

    1. Where do you get the idea that “the AOA disagree light was broken”? I really can’t find it in the three stories you linked. So point for me I guess?
    2. What am I supposed to do to “disprove” this? My argument has to do with more experienced pilots, not a light in the cockpit. I’m pretty sure the light has little to do with any of this. Regardless, I never said anything about a light.
    3. As for the pressures on the stabilizers and trim tabs making the trim too difficult to manually manipulate, this isn’t specific to the MAX (reference the New Republic story, see last sentence of this quote):
    “In accordance with the prescribed fix for an alert they were getting on the flight control computer, the pilots had been flying extremely fast, and above the speeds of about 265 miles per hour at which the manual trim wheel became unbearably heavy. This issue wasn’t specific to the MAX; it was a well-known bug in the 737 generally.”

    My argument isn’t that AA pilots have better *training*, it’s that they have more *experience*. I did, however, use the wrong word in my earlier post, and I apologize for the confusion. But it should have been clear from context that I wasn’t referring to a few hours of extra sim time (which is what training is for the most part), but more far more overall experience.

    And since the manual trim wheel issue “was a well-known bug in the 737 generally” I’m going to wager that experienced pilots with the 737 (of which AA had many) would have been aware of this, and have been a bit more diligent about preventing an aircraft to get into this state. Sometimes being a good aviator is less above stick and rudder skills and more about exercising good judgement and recognizing when things are going wrong before it’s actually too late to do anything about it.

    Also, your Seattle Times link allows for this: “It’s possible the Ethiopian pilots, hyper alert after the Lion Air accident to the possibility that MCAS had activated, jumped straight to the end of the procedure checklist and hit the cut-off switches before attempting even to counter the nose-down movement with the thumb switches on the control column.”

    As I mentioned earlier, I don’t buy anybody’s PR spin, because they all have a six to protect, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.

    I’ll repeat this, sorry: My personal belief is that a 350 hour total time pilot (the Ethiopian FO) has no business on the flight deck of an airliner of this size and complexity. And currently, in the USA, the FAA agrees with me. They will not permit a pilot with less than 1500 hours total time on the flight deck of a commercial airliner in the USA. This was a regulatory change in 2013 in response to the Colgan Air crash in BUF.

    Why is it ok for such a low time pilot to fly this thing overseas, but not in the US?

  38. Interesting to see the interest raised by this paper!

    To try to better understand the things, a couple of questions:
    – why did Boeing never inform the pilots (even the American ones) of the MCAS?
    – why did Boeing never consider a possible faulty behavior of this added hidden software?
    – why did Boeing (OK, pushed by Southwest and the agreed penalty…) never consider simulator training for the pilots when a major flight control system was fully different from the ones of previous B737 models?
    – why were FAA pilots – although fully briefed on the MCAS and the accidents – not able to recover the aircraft when simulating the same events as the Lion Air and Ethiopian ones?
    – according to Boeing, the software fix was almost ready at the end of 2018 (two months after the Lion Air accident): why is it not yet delivered to the FAA and other authorities worldwide?
    – why did Boeing already perform 500 test flight hours for the “small software fix”, i.e. more than the number flown before the model was certificated?

    There would be other ones but honestly replying to these ones may leave to think that the problem is a bit more complex than Mr Parker – and some comments here – considers it is….

    KR

  39. @ Potreroflyr

    Would you be referring to the United States? BTW, Lion Air (which I am flying on in a couple of days) is, as befitting its name and logo, Singapore based.

    ps. Reading the comments, this situation calls for appointment of a commission to fact-find and I nominate Rahm.

  40. @Dan

    The AOA disagree warning (the extra safety upgrade AA and SWA paid for) didn’t work, and Boeing knew it didn’t work but didn’t tell anyone (another article says they didn’t plan to fix it until 2020). See: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/long-before-first-737-max-crash-boeing-knew-a-key-sensor-warning-light-wasnt-working-but-told-no-one/

    That matters because it means more experienced pilots wouldn’t have had a way to know not to get et into this situation at high speed. The warning they would relied on didn’t work. So they could have easily made it to a speed where the trim wheel was impossible to turn. Also, how didn’t you know about the warning not working? That’s been repeatedly part of reporting on this. It seems like you’re rushing to pin everything on pilot experience without even being informed on the facts of the issue.

    Yes, the trim wheel “hard to turn” issue isn’t new to the MAX, I already stated that (even though you bring it up in reply as if you’d found some gotcha in what I said.)

    But what’s different is that non-MAX aircraft didn’t have a system that would repeatedly and additively push down the trim leading to the need for manual correction in this way at high speed.

    In fact US pilots in simulators simulating the scenario of the ET flight found it difficult to recover: https://aviationweek.com/commercial-aviation/ethiopian-max-crash-simulator-scenario-stuns-pilots

    That’s a far cry from Parker’s “it’s safe with our pilots”.

  41. @James

    “It seems like you’re rushing to pin everything on pilot experience without even being informed on the facts of the issue.”

    Dude: Did you not read the following statement, which I’ve written multiple times?

    “As I mentioned earlier, I don’t buy anybody’s PR spin, because they all have a six to protect, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.”

    That is *not* blaming *everything* on pilot experience. And Parker’s statements are presumably within the context of what we know now and the technical (software) fixes applied. He did *not* say (best I can tell) that the airplane never should have been grounded in the first place.

    If you want to get into his most recent statement more in depth, he says that they need to make sure it’s safe for *all* pilots to fly, worldwide. And to which I raise the question: Does a 350 hour total time pilot belong on the flight deck? In the United States, the FAA says no.

  42. @Dan

    I read you to be saying that AA pilots in AA planes would have been fine in the scenario. Is that misreading you?

    I was responding under that assumption (which Parker seems to be implying), because I don’t think that’s true. Rather I think that the design flaws would have meant that the problem would have likely resulted in a aircraft loss regardless of carrier, pilots, or additional features purchased.

    Again, the experience concern is still valid, just as far as I can tell not the primary issue in this particular incident.

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