America Airlines – Canadian airlines bring grounded MAX fleet back out of the hangar – BC Catholic
Recently Canadian airline WestJet became the first carrier in the country to bring the 737 MAX back to service, and underscoring the significance of that first flight with paying customers was the onboard presence of the entire WestJet executive team.
It was a PR event of the first magnitude, coming as it did almost two years after the aircraft was grounded following two horrific crashes. That a PR event was even necessary underscores that at its core this was a story of technology run amok, a story of faulty sensors and software that overrode pilot actions.
The crashes occurred in remote parts of the world where training and maintenance are often considered factors in accidents. The fact that the planes were new and that both events occurred shortly after takeoff is what ultimately led to the grounding of the MAX.
That the 737 MAX has returned to service at all is a story unto itself. Sadly there is an argument to be made that had the crashes occurred in, say, Europe or North America, the existing planes might have been permanently mothballed and the thousands of orders in the pipeline cancelled.
Just why would airlines be eager to bring back a plane following two crashes? Ultimately it comes down to money. The 737 MAX is a very fuel efficient airplane, and although the industry is in a state of near-paralysis at this time, the companies want to be ready when the demand for travel returns.
As this column is written, flagship carrier Air Canada is preparing to bring its MAX fleet back to service in February, and no-frills carrier Flair, which operates out of Vancouver, Prince George, and Kelowna in the B.C. market, has announced it is acquiring 13 of the aircraft.
There are people eager to fly the MAX again, particularly those familiar with the plane. There are others who will never set foot on a MAX. The airlines are cagey on that front and so far have promised that no one will be forced to fly on the plane. American Airlines has already completed about 200 flights with passengers.
There are so many angles to this story, which has changed plane certification forever. Countries will no longer solely on the Federal Aviation Administration, the American agency long regarded as the gold standard when it came to aircraft certification.
Although both the FAA and Boeing mismanaged the certification of the MAX, in the end engineering has won out. At the heart of the MAX problems was a new plane built on a decades-old frame. Its highly fuel efficient engines changed the aerodynamics of the plane, ultimately requiring a special system, Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, to manage aspects of the plane’s flight behaviour.
In Boeing’s own words, the system was “designed and certified for the 737 MAX to enhance the pitch stability of the airplane – so that it feels and flies like other 737s.”
On that basis the plane was sold to airlines, with the rider that no additional simulator training would be required, so similar was the Max to the original 737, itself the world’s most widely used aircraft. That meant big cost savings, but it was also an outright lie.
Boeing then omitted the key change from the training manual to support their contention. No wonder pilots didn’t know how to turn off the MCAS system when it failed to perform as intended. It wasn’t in the aircraft manual.
Boeing now proposes that to be certified on a 737 MAX, a pilot “must either complete a 737 MAX specific type-rating course or, if a pilot is already certified to fly the 737NG, they must complete the NG to MAX Differences training.”
No one is going to jail for the crashes. A $2.5 billion fine settles the financial part of the case, and with Boeing supposedly making about $10 million from each MAX it sells, and with 4,000 or so orders on the books even with pandemic cancellations, the company will eventually easily cover the fine.
Is the plane now safe? Well, it certainly has faced more scrutiny than any aircraft flying today.
With Canadian airlines now suspending flights to sun destinations until April, and with mandatory three-day hotel quarantines for arriving international travellers, demand for the MAX will be further curtailed.
For now, let’s leave the last word on the MAX settlement to Peter DeFazio, chair of a U.S. House of Representatives committee that investigated the two crashes.
“This settlement amounts to a slap on the wrist and is an insult to the 346 victims who died as a result of corporate greed. Not only is the dollar amount of the settlement a mere fraction of Boeing’s annual revenue, the settlement sidesteps any real accountability in terms of criminal charges. My Committee’s investigation revealed numerous opportunities for Boeing to correct course during the development of the 737 MAX but each time the company failed to do so, instead choosing to take a gamble with the safety of the flying public in hopes it wouldn’t catch up with them in the end. I hope the DOJ can explain its rationale for this weak settlement to the families, because from where I sit this attempt to change corporate behavior is pathetic and will do little to deter criminal behavior going forward. Senior management and the Boeing board were not held to account, and in fact, the former CEO skated out with more than $60 million. Fortunately, Congress has already acted and I urge the Federal Aviation Administration to promptly and fully implement the ‘Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act’ so we can make sure what happened with the Boeing 737 MAX is never repeated.”
Joining the likes of failed ventures such as Google Fiber is Project Loon, the ambitious venture to bring cellphone service to remote parts of the world, as well as developed regions in times of natural disaster, through the deployment of massive high altitude balloons. Google parent Alphabet announced in January that it is wrapping up the project after finding it difficult to monetize.
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