RUH ROH: Now There’s a Problem With the 737 MAX’s Auto Pilot

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has a list of five items that need to be addressed before they’ll recertify the Boeing 737 MAX>

One of those items suggests a problem that hasn’t previously been disclosed about the aircraft: the auto-pilot apparently isn’t properly disengaging in emergencies.

EASA’s checklist includes a number of issues that have been disclosed: the potential difficulty pilots have in turning the jet’s manual trim wheel, the unreliability of the Max’s angle of attack sensors, inadequate training procedures, and a software issue flagged just last week by the FAA pertaining to a lagging microprocessor. But the agency also listed a previously unreported concern: the autopilot failing to disengage in certain emergencies.

Details on the conditions under which the auto-pilot won’t promptly disengage aren’t yet available. However crucial seconds may matter in an emergency and this item is listed among critical issues Boeing must address. The FAA is looking to re-certify in conjunction with other major regulators, so EU insistence effectively means that Boeing has to solve this problem before the plane can fly again in the U.S. as well.

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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, 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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  1. If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
    – Coach John Wooden

    Boeing rushed the Max into service even after early flight testing proved it was inherently unstable. Lives could have been saved had they done the right early on and redesigned its airframe.

  2. If these issues exist then it really raises the question about why these issues were caught before these planes were allowed to go in service. Maybe these regulators were sleeping on the job. Clearly Boeing or any airplane company can’t be relied upon to establish aircraft are actually safe to use. Plenty of blame to go around and none of them should get off the hook.

  3. Wait but I thought the only reasons the MAX crashed was because it was flown in developing countries! If this would never happen in big, bad Murrca, who cares!?

  4. “Stu” you’re kidding right? God I hope so

    I still think Boeing would be better off having AB private label planes for them.

  5. This is what happens when you denigrate and dismantle government. Industry will never self police, because profits and executive bonuses trump all else. And yet people keep voting for the fools who prioritize money over people.

  6. While analyzing the 737 Max, we have found out:
    –Boeing outsourced some of the the engineering development to lower cost engineers in India while firing experienced USA engineers.
    –Boeing outsourced the development of parts to parts manufacturers, just giving them specifications.
    –Boeing charged extra for the complete warning package for the 737 Max.
    –The software for the Boeing 737 Max was faulty in many ways. I wonder who developed the software.
    –The sensor controlling new MCAS was faulty. It makes me wonder whether the assemblers (still in the USA) have adequate procedures for testing the sensors before they are installed.
    –It also makes me wonder about the quality control in the manufacture of not only the sensors but the rest of the plane.
    –The recommended training for the Boeing 737 Max was faulty, as Boeing sold the 737 Max as being the same as previous 737s, therefore not requiring significant new pilot training.
    –Even after 346 died in two suspicious crashes, Boeing has been trying to rush the plane back into service, even suggesting that training should be done on Ipads rather than simulators.
    –Unfortunately, there is a lot more.

    Upper management has to go and Boeing needs to do a complete review of all policies and procedures related to safety and commercial airplane design. Someone needs to clean up the place. Disgusting.

  7. I think @ Lance is referring to the position many on the right espouse that government and regulation are inherently bad and reducing the amount of government and regulation is inherently good. The fact is that in their zeal to reduce FAA regulation of the aircraft industry the administration succeeded in throwing out the baby with the bath water.

  8. Now all of you just stop it. This is a business-friendly environment we are creating here in America. Those additional federal employees are to help business, not customers. And, of course, some of those federal employees are also hired to help themselves. Haven’t you heard?

    Any federal services improvement — and there have been some — have been done stealthily. It is definitely not a broad scale concerted effort.

  9. Regulatory review of the 737 Max started in 2015, first flight in January 2016, certification was obtained March 8, 2017, about 2 months into the Trump administration. Most of the review took place under the Obama administration. It is also not the Obama’s administrations fault either, since excessive cosiness between the FAA and Boeing preceded both the Trump or the Obama administrations.

    When someone commits a crime, it is not the fault of the police for not preventing it, it is the fault of there perpetrator. The perpetrators, Boeing’s senior management should be raked over the coals, except that such a punishment probably violates the eight amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.

  10. This was all about money and beating Airbus to that market space. They ruined the good name of Boeing all in an attempt to make a ton of money. Trust is everything in the minds of the flying public. I already told one of the 737Max carriers in the US that I would not get on that plane after it’s recertified until I see at least 2 years of safe flight. Boeing killed people knowing that there were major issues with the Max. The only way things change is if people do serious jail time and if the government and Boeing want people to trust the system again, then people need to go to jail for this massive aviation blunder.

  11. Mgmt reports to a Board of Directors. This board is elected by shareholders to regulate Mgmt. The BOD doesn’t work for Mgmt. The BOD should have told Mgmt to ground the planes after the first crash. After the 2nd crash also would have been better than BOD sleeping at the switch. Shareholders should replace the BOD. Boeing has to reprogram or recall the planes. My 10th generation smartphone still locks up and must be rebooted. Boeings older 737’s dont have catastrophic software issues. So, the new plane cannot easily be reprogrammed since the aerodynamics are so different and very poor.

  12. In the case of aviation safety, some of the consequences of a laissez-faire, anti-regulatory approach are now painfully obvious. It is the presently unknown effects of taking that approach to extremes (especially as it pertains to environmental and other regulations related to public health and safety) that should also be troubling. Do regulators and politicians make those calls with the interests of the public, big business, or their own self interest in mind? Or perhaps they are just philosophically opposed to regulation.

  13. I also posted at One Mile at a time to share my experience and thoughts on this topic

    We used to have indian engineers oversea to do our codings for our products at cheap costs; however, it was very often to discover their software with alot of bugs and needed to communicate back and forth many times to get them fixed. Sometimes phone calls over internet with their broken English and accents are not understandable. Therefore, we decided to get rid of them and got everything back and do software ourselves in-house here. Until this day, we still fix some of their horrible bugs that they created in the first place.

    These indian software programmers from India that I would classify them as farmers trying to do codings as programmers. These people often have only several weeks or months of short classes or trainings before taking their jobs as programmers. They do NOT have enough Engineering backgrounds and skill-sets like those engineers graduated in the US. Of course they can do codings just like those who can read and write in English; however, the quality level is not as the same as those engineers graduated in US have. They clearly have lack of deep understandings on many levels, from engineering knowledge to reasonably logic thinking.

    The fact that Boeing outsources software development to them is a very stupid mistake in my opinion. From our experience here at our company with Indian software programmers, I will NOT put my life at risk for flying with Boeing airplanes with software outsourced to India. That is my opinion and you take it or leave it. It is to you to decide to put your trust in their hands.

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