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US refuses to ground Boeing 737 Max (bbc.com)
258 points by pierre-renaux 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 323 comments





As someone who flew a Boeing plane for a long time, if it’s true they released a stick pusher (automatic trim) that would dump the nose,[1] couldn’t be overridden by pulling back on the stick as in previous versions of the aircraft,[2] but only by disconnecting the automatic trim then manually trimming the aircraft, was tied to only one AOA sensor, and then felt this was too much information for “pilots”.[3] Wow. Seems like engineers on the ground and business leaders making decisions that ended up costing lives. Pilot error seems like a scapegoat here. Even a well trained pilot on a bad day might not handle a nose down situation after takeoff well, especially when the intuitive solution of pulling back on the stick had been disabled.

While this may not be the cause of the most recent crash, the Lion crash alone seems to indicate a problem with Boeing and the FAA’s relationship. This probably extends to Airbus and other regulators as indicated in another comment about his or her carriers safety incidents tripling due to flying two aircraft of the same “type” but not really.[4] At a minimum the MCAS changes should have been communicated to pilots and indicates a process problem at Boeing with insufficient pilot involvement and too much engineering and business input. And the FAA probably needs to be much stricter in the training and documentation requirements between models.

[1] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/u-s-p...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19077371

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18438607

[4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19376565


> if it’s true they released a stick pusher (automatic trim) that would dump the nose,[1] couldn’t be overridden by pulling back on the stick as in previous versions of the aircraft,

In the case of the 737MAX the elevator input cannot compensate for the trim wheel adjustment. I believe this was highlighted in the Lion Air case.


Some points from personal experience from working at Boeing, family working at Boeing, and a close friend on the flight line for the 737-8;

- not everything is back from the Lion Air incident, but internally there was strong confidence that a lack of pilot familiarity with the adjusted mechanics of MCAS contributed to the disaster

- reproducing these failures has been extremely hard and has required a lot of cooperation with other airlines and agencies, and that has been difficult

- training for the 737-8 and -9 was just short of non existent because in practice, these planes don’t fly differently.

- since Lion Air, Boeing has been in somewhat of a “panic mode” but confidence isn’t that the airframe and engine mechanics are at fault

- Lion and Ethiopian Air are near the bottom when it comes to maintenance and follow up with Boeing

- as of this morning, it sounded like there are more uncertainties with this incident given that the pilot indicated troubles after take off, but I’m find it hard to back up that claim in what’s already been published

This isn’t about greed or the FAA being in the pocket of Boeing, it’s that there were already adjustments made to fix MCAS and the investigation from Ethiopia isn’t in yet.


> - training for the 737-8 and -9 was just short of non existent because in practice, these planes don’t fly differently.

Have you read this complaint from an actual pilot?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19374386

Quoting the HN post:

"My post flight evaluation is that we lacked the knowledge to operate the aircraft in all weather and aircraft states safely.

The instrumentation is completely different - My scan was degraded, slow and labored having had no experience w/ the new ND (Navigation Display) and ADI (Attitude Director Indicator) presentations/format or functions (manipulation between the screens and systems pages were not provided in training materials. If they were, I had no recollection of that material).

We were unable to navigate to systems pages and lacked the knowledge of what systems information was available to us in the different phases of flight. Our weather radar competency was inadequate to safely navigate significant weather on that dark and stormy night. These are just a few issues that were not addressed in our training."


To me - having had a 25 year career in customer-facing systems engineering and support, this just reeks of dismissing the first-hand account of UX.

If the problem is lack of training, (or even "possibly maybe failing sensors") - and your failure mode includes "maybe killing 150+ paying customers in one shot" ... seems like a no-brainer, to me, to fucking ground the planes, and take immediate corrective action.

And again: just my opinion, it just reeks of someone who spends their days in a "spreadsheet-facing" position, making the decision to not ground these planes, not take their users' (pilots) reports seriously, and continue to risk hundreds of customers' lives (and thousands of their own employees livelihoods) on a daily basis.


> - Lion and Ethiopian Air are near the bottom when it comes to maintenance and follow up with Boeing

Another commenter mentioned that Ethiopian Airline is considered Category 1 by the FAA, and is a member of the Star Alliance. Surely that indicates a decent track record?

I'm not saying it _is_ the plane, but as the EASA Emergency Airworthiness Directive points out, while a connection between the two incidents cannot be established, neither can one be ruled out. And for that reason, they are grounding the planes as a prudent temporary measure till we know more.


Quite. That doesn’t pass the sniff test.

If it turns out this is Boeing’s fault, for the reasons suspected, and the FAA have staked their reputation on it - I fear for the future of airline safety.


I fear for the immediate future of the American aircraft manufacturing industry's global reputation.

This is totally fucked up. For an administration whose core-competency which was supposed to be "protecting American Workers" - they're sure trying like hell to get the airlines of the world to turn to Airbus and other foreign manufacturers for trustworthy aircraft.

I mean - holy shit - every engineering effort fucks up. But to refuse to admit it, and cover it up, that's a violation of trust. Who wants to do business with that shit? You can buy product from someone who occasionally makes mistakes, and when called on it, admits it, and does their damnedest to make it right and show you they're trying to fix it. But when someone blames the victim or tries to deny there's a problem, you take your money elsewhere.


It seems to be that the crash situations are way too complex to blame a single party. Since a chain of events (automatic systems, pilot actions) seems the be responsible for the crashes.

I imagine that besides what is being done to make sure this doesn't happen again, a lot of time is being spent on making sure that whatever changes, the crashes cannot be blamed on them.


> It seems to be that the crash situations are way too complex to blame a single party.

It seems to me like Boeing is very much intent on blaming a single party, ("3rd world pilots/airlines").


Of course they are. Any rational entity caught up in a situation like this will try to blame someone else. The cost of being liable for anything in today's society is very high so every party fights tooth and nail to make it 100% not their fault. This is especially amplified in a highly public case like this, the politicians will not rest until some entity has been punished, politicians are under a lot of pressure be seen "doing something". The incentive structure of modern society is simply not conducive to accepting responsibility for mistakes and is even less so when politics get involved.

We already know that crash #1 was caused by poor maintenance and communication (pilots not sufficiently aware of the implications of a questionable AoA sensor) of the plane's condition to the pilots combined with changes to how the plane responds to certain pilot inputs and how MCAS works which resulted in a situation the pilots didn't properly handle (Boeing and the airline's failure to train pilots combined with some amount of human error).

I will be very very surprised if the cause of the second crash is as simple as "yup, Boeing built a POS that fell out of the sky" or "yup, the pilots were idiots who flew into the ground".

Thanks to decades of incremental improvement we don't really have "single source" accidents in commercial aviation anymore.


It's worth noting that this particular plane was new. So 'poor maintenance' is not likely.

I don't think anyone serious literally thinks that 'Boeing built a POS that fell out of the sky', but there are indications that they built a plane that required substantially different handling and tried to abstract that fact via the onboard systems, which makes the pilots unable to handle the actual behavior of the plane when the systems were off for whatever reason, which to me does sound like a pretty big 'oversight' on the part of Boeing.

Now, perhaps the pilots could have handled the situation better, but it does seem like the FAA is trying to protect Boeing, (an American company with enormous lobbying power) and Boeing is sort of positioning this as "3rd world pilots" being at fault, the FAA potentially risking American lives here.

That does not look good to me whatever the cause is, (there's unlikely to be a single one and Boeing is unlikely to be completely clean here).


I would consider pilots not being made sufficiently aware of the implications of a faulty AoA sensor a maintenance failure.

Clearly people have fucked up because planes have crashed. We're basically just arguing over whether the responsibility split goes 33/33/33 or 20/20/60 or something else.


> I would consider pilots not being made sufficiently aware of the implications of a faulty AoA sensor a maintenance failure.

From what others have said, I gather there is a problem of this plane behaving differently than the rest of the family, which is being 'masked' by the on-board software so that it 'feels' similar to the other planes in a regular situation and thus requires minimal additional training. This however goes out of the window when the pilot cannot rely on the software and suddenly has to deal with how the plane 'really' behaves, which is substantially differently.

If that's the case, I'd consider the root of the problem to be significantly on Boeing's side.


>From what others have said, I gather there is a problem of this plane behaving differently than the rest of the family, which is being 'masked' by the on-board software so that it 'feels' similar to the other planes in a regular situation and thus requires minimal additional training

The problem that's (presumably) causing crashes isn't how the plane flies. It's perfectly flyable but has a tendency to pitch up more than other planes of the type. As a response, Boeing added functionality to MCAS to compensate.

The first crash likely wouldn't have happened had the pilots turned all the electronic nannies off and flown raw dog. The just didn't realize that was what they had to do for a combination of reasons.

Not knowing that they were flying with a screwy AoA sensor and what the symptoms of that would look like is a maintenance/communication/human systems failure.

The fact that a faulty AoA sensor can have those symptoms and the fact that the pilots didn't know about it well enough to make the connection themselves and disable the system is a failure on Boeing.

Think of it like having a crossover that wanders more than the comparable sedan at highway speed so the OEM silently turns on lane keeping when you use cruise control to compensate. There's a risk that if you're not paying attention it will find a lane that isn't a lane and drive you into a barrier at 70 and on this particular one the relevant sensor was faulty and more prone to doing that.


> - not everything is back from the Lion Air incident, but internally there was strong confidence that a lack of pilot familiarity with the adjusted mechanics of MCAS contributed to the disaster

Sure, if there's a probability you were involved in developing a potentially flawed system that killed hundreds, the natural reaction is to not accept this and blame someone or something else. And it's not suprising that "internally there was a strong confidence" – nobody there wants to be the one saying "uh, I think we messed up here guys". Boeing is a total echo chamber at this point.

It's interesting you mention the MCAS here since...

> - training for the 737-8 and -9 was just short of non existent because in practice, these planes don’t fly differently.

If this were true, the adjustment shouldn't even matter, since the sole purpose of it is to make the plane behave exactly the same way as the old 737, so that the pilots don't have to go through lengthy training for the new plane.

You were trying to patch up changes to the hardware by adding software, so the hardware would feel the same. You claim you have achieved exactly that. But at the same time, you blame pilots for not reacting properly to those changes you made to the new plane compared to the old one. What?


>Ethiopian Air are near the bottom

This is ignorance, Ethiopian have been flying for 70 years and have an excellent safety record on par with most western airlines.


Could there be more non fatal incidents that only manufacturers and safety regulators are aware of ?

Aviation doesn't work that way. If a moving plane screws up in any way (too close to another plane, wrong taxiway, botched takeoff/landing, etc) it will be noticed. The US also has the widely used ASRS system for confidentially reporting safety issues/lapses of any kind for everybody's benefit, and most other countries have similar systems now, although I can't vouch for Ethiopia specifically.

https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/


I'm not sure we understood each other. I understand aviation is heavily monitored by the field, but maybe only a few (when fatal or grave) sample of incidents gets to the public eye.

Unless walkingolof is also in the field and by 'track record' he meant even 'up to the slightest faults'.


All aviation accidents are reportable in most civilised countries, and the reports will be public. For an airliner (which these are) they'll invariably make the news. For little prop planes in GA nobody cares unless someone died.

Take an example from Ireland, an island near me. A crew screwed up and typed the wrong temperature into the computer, which calculated take-off thrust based on higher density air than was reality. As a result they had inadequate acceleration and smashed a runway light with their wheels because they took off far too late. Nobody died, nobody even needed a band aid, but that's a reportable accident and made minor headlines... even though it happened in another country miles away.

As your parent indicated, the US further has ASRS, so that not only accidents, but incidents short of an accident (situations in which something went wrong, but fortunately it did not cause an actual accident), are reported. These are anonymised to protect the reporter but you can see (anonymous) reports by aircraft type in a public system.


>A crew screwed up and typed the wrong temperature into the computer, which calculated take-off thrust based on higher density air than was reality

May I ask, why does the plane not have an external temperature sensor able to automatically input this data?


On the model of plane they were flying that isn't possible. There was a firmware upgrade which compares the input temperature to the temperature detected by a probe on the engine feed and if they're too different rejects the input temperature (which subsequently means the plane acts as though you didn't input a temperature at all, disabling auto-throttle) but their airline had not yet applied this optional firmware upgrade.

The larger answer to your question is Raymond Chen's standard explanation on the The Old New Thing. By default no features are implemented so by default that's why your preferred feature isn't implemented.

The accident investigation was more interested in the other thing, given that for whatever reason the plane's acceleration is inadequate, why don't we realise and abort before V1? Humans turn out to be bad at this, so not much use asking the pilots. Airbus have built planes that measure their own acceleration and warn if it seems too low. So maybe that's the future.


Aight, that's what I was curious about. Thanks

Have a look at http://avherald.com/ to see for yourself.

> - training for the 737-8 and -9 was just short of non existent because in practice, these planes don’t fly differently.

Except for, you know, that computer system that throws people into the ground if a probe malfunction, and that the "just short of non existent" training doesn't seem to cover properly.

I don't know how this part works, when a manufacturer says "this plane doesn't require full training but merely a small top up since it's the same as plane X before", I assume the FAA needs to validate this matches reality ?


Not only validate it matches reality when the plane is introduced, but continuously validating it via crew reports. This feedback needs to be a closed loop.

If a plane surprises an adequately trained crew, then it means someone missed something.


  > - not everything is back from the Lion Air incident,
  >  but internally there was strong confidence that a lack
  >  of pilot familiarity with the adjusted mechanics of
  >  MCAS contributed to the disaster
  >  <…>
  > - training for the 737-8 and -9 was just short of non
  >  existent because in practice, these planes don’t fly
  > differently.
Don't you think these two statements are at odds? If there is no difference in practice then why does unfamiliarity kill?

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice it is different".


Is this Yogi Berra or was he mis-attributed?

Why the fuck does the investigation need to be concluded __BEFORE__ they ground the goddamn planes??? That makes no sense it has horrible incentives.

Because its quite possible that grounding the planes would result in more fatalities. People may drive or get shuffled onto older, less safe aircraft.

With such a small fleet in service, for such a short time, with 2 crashes already, I fail to see what a "less safe aircraft" could be among those currently flown nowadays.

> but internally there was strong confidence that a lack of pilot familiarity with the adjusted mechanics of MCAS contributed to the disaster

> training for the 737-8 and -9 was just short of non existent because in practice, these planes don’t fly differently.

These statements contradict.


What are insider's views on the MAX being the new MD11 cargo, which had a similar software solution for stretching-induced aerodynamic instabilities?

https://www.pprune.org/rumours-news/619272-ethiopian-airline...


I understand the point that the aircraft itself is probably safe (up to the fact that we don't know what caused the latest crash), but there appears to be an inconsistency between these opinions (emphasis added:)

- not everything is back from the Lion Air incident, but internally there was strong confidence that a lack of pilot familiarity with the adjusted mechanics of MCAS contributed to the disaster.

- training for the 737-8 and -9 was just short of non existent because in practice, these planes don’t fly differently.

My best guess is that the latter refers only to the situation where things are working properly, and may also ignore the what-its-like-for-a-pilot issues raised in ASRS report 1555013, as mentioned by hnnmzh in another reply to this post.

Plus, at the time of the Lion Air crash, no-one had said anything to pilots about these 'adjusted mechanics'.


Saying these areas are near the bottom feels disingenuous. Boeing should make minimum safety requirements explicitly clear and not sell planes to areas that don’t comply. Not just ethically, but for business reputation.

Spare me. The pilots themselves have stated that they were completely unprepared to fly the plane safely in any condition with 0 training or warning.

"practice, these planes don’t fly differently."

Until they crash and kill hundreds of people.


I am still convinced there is a problem with the plane based on simple probabilities. These are brand new planes so they shouldn’t be in a phase where failures multiply, and maintenance should be irrelevant unless these planes were delivered faulty. It’s a very small fleet compared to other models. Two extremely rare crashes (plane crashes are rare in general) within months of each others, with the same model, same phase of the flight, what is the probability that it is not related to the plane? It has to be statistically insignificant.

Now it may be a lack of pilot training, but by Boeing’s own account a B737 pilot should be qualified to pilot a Max. Then how come a small, insignificant feature can result in the crash of the plane? It would have to be not insignificant at all.


Speaking as an engineer, we, sometimes, underestimate the relevance of a relatively minor system. We can't imagine all possible scenarios and that's why in every single decision with systems that are responsible for human lives there is a lot of people involved - because we rely on someone, at some point, imagining the scenario everyone else didn't. This reduces the odds of letting something important slip through, but it's not perfect and can't hope to be (and, sometimes, we have the grim reminders we aren't all-knowing)

We should not rush to conclusions, since one of the investigations is in its infancy, but, from all the pilot reports that have been accumulating since the introduction of these models, it looks like the impact of the differences between models in the 737 family on crews were underestimated and training for them was not as thorough as it should have been.


Quick question, and this is meant sincerely and not flippantly: have you worked as an aviation or avionics engineer?

The focus on error conditions is truly impressive during the development of these systems. I’ve spent plenty of hours writing requirements, and writing and running tests, for cockpit software, and the sheer variety of error conditions tested is very high. Not that they’ll catch everything, but the idea that a single AOA sensor could cause the MCAS to fail seems like something that would have been analyzed and discussed by the engineers working on this.


No. I worked in other embedded control settings, but nothing as sensitive.

I understand what you say, that the AOA sensor malfunction or misread should never cause MCAS to fail and that any such situation (misread, malfunction, excessive actuator response, etc) should have been spotted sooner, by someone among the many people involved in its design, all the way from sensor to servo, well before any passengers were carried in the aircraft but everything indicates otherwise if we assume good faith. It's very likely all flaws will be identified and corrected, but reality has a way to stress those vanishingly small probabilities.

It's not impossible that a lot of very smart people who are dedicated to think about corner cases all day long will, eventually, let something important escape. We are all human and, in the end, everything is human error.


Someone shared this on a different forums, it’s a recent NPR interview of a pilot for American Airlines.

https://overcast.fm/+nmn7rqq0/06:04

It’s a short interview but in short,

* Boeing left out info on the new flight control system in the pilots manual they trained with

* the training to fly the new planes was 56 minutes of PowerPoint presentations on an iPad

* he would not have known how to correct the system in the Lion Air crash had he have been the pilot


If he doesn't know how to correct for runaway stabilizer trim, then he probably should be decertified. It's a memory item: https://www.theairlinepilots.com/forumarchive/b737/b737memor... And the checklist is 4 items long. Item 3 disables MCAS.

I think the problem is he wouldn't have recognized the behavior pattern that keys "runaway stabilizer trim" in the extra conditions over and above what is trained for a faulty MCAS activation would result in.

If you're not aware of something, it takes a non-trivial amount of time to break out of your trained response envelope and to start thinking outside the box.

This is a problem with many training heavy disciplines where the general response upon "hearing hoofbeats" is to think "horse", and only to escalate to the more exotic "Zebra" conclusion as facts demand it. While it's generally a better response, in time constrained situations without the benefit of foreknowledge, it can be quite costly indeed.


Unfortunately, there's only 12 items on that list - and the reason that they're memory items is that they're "fix ASAP or bad things happen" items.

A: Aborted Engine Start

B: Airspeed Unreliable

C: Cabin Altitude Warning

D: Emergency Descent

E: Engine Fire or Engine Severe Damage or Separation

F: Engine Limit / Surge / Stall

G: Engine Overheat

H: Loss of Thrust on Both Engines

I: Runaway Stabilizer

J: Uncommanded Roll

K: APU Fire

L: Overspeed - Warning Clacker

From a quick glance, I can recall accidents caused by/involving at least 6 of those general categories (C, E, F, H, I, J, L) and several others (A, K) are primarily ground issues from what I can tell. If the pilot doesn't know one of them, what's the chance they don't know some of the others?

> If you're not aware of something, it takes a non-trivial amount of time to break out of your trained response envelope and to start thinking outside the box.

Unfortunately, the MCAS fix is one of the things written on the envelope - there shouldn't be any unpacking to do in the first place. Yes, the plane shouldn't put pilots in that position. But at the same time, pilots need to be ready to be put into that position - because sometimes things don't work for reasons outside your control. Like eating a couple geese on takeoff in both engines or something else equally unlikely.


I am curious regarding item 4:

  STABILIZER TRIM WHEEL - GRASP and HOLD
How does the trim wheel work? Is it mechanically connected to the stabilizer?

> How does the trim wheel work? Is it mechanically connected to the stabilizer?

On 737s, yes, the trim wheel is mechanically connected by cables. To quote the 737-800 FCOM:

"Manual stabilizer control is accomplished through cables which allow the pilot to position the stabilizer by rotating the stabilizer trim wheels. The stabilizer is held in position by two independent brake systems. Manual rotation of the trim wheels can be used to override autopilot or main electric trim. The effort required to manually rotate the stabilizer trim wheels may be higher under certain flight conditions. Grasping the stabilizer trim wheel will stop stabilizer trim motion."


Yes I believe it's mechanically connected.

Ok, so in the worst case you are still able to block the motor that does the automatic trimming with your bare hands. Which seems like a reasonable fall-back. Thanks!

Lots of jumping to conclusions going on in this thread, blaming the FAA, lobbyists, and politicians for being in the pocket of Boeing.

Nobody knows why this plane crashed. The flight recorders have just been recovered and so far there has been nothing in the news about what was on them.

The plane might be to blame. The airline or the pilots might be to blame, and by the way, that airline has a bad safety record. It might have been a bomb, or a fire caused by a passenger, or many other things.

The sudden rush to judgment on this case is unjustified by the evidence. If it turns out this was not Boeing's fault, a lot of people are going to have to eat their words, and millions of dollars will have been wasted for nothing.


> The sudden rush to judgment on this case is unjustified by the evidence.

It might not be justified by a theoretical formal proof. It irks me that a lot of the HN population seems to always want to reason using formal proofs like if it was a silver bullet.

In this situation, bayesian inference is appropriate, and tells us that grounding planes is highly justified. This succession of two relatively similar events in a new plane is enough to raise the probability of "this aircraft model has a problem" a lot, and definitely enough to justify grounding them.

Also, the risk / benefit ratio is not symmetric, what is better:

- Ground them for nothing and lose money

- Not ground them to save money, and see a third crash happen, killing 150 again

If you take into account those two effects, it's clear that grounding the planes is a sane option.

Finally ask yourself: would you board this plane today if you had a ticket? What would you think when there is turbulence after takeoff and the plane suddenly pitches down for a second? What color would your pants be?


And there is a perfectly plausible scenario in Lions air and preliminary data on the new crash point in the same direction (erratic altitude before the crash). It’s not like there is nothing, there are technical details that do match.

There are three scenarios, not two:

- Ground them for nothing and lose money

- Not ground them to save money, no crash happens before the cause is found and a fix is deployed

- Not ground them to save money, and see a third crash happen, killing 150 again

And that also doesn't consider secondary effects, like the loss of confidence from the public on that aircraft type, or the potential confusion from the public between 737-MAX8 and 737-800.


Those secondary effects are all part of the first point: "lose money".

I'd say it's the opposite: the first scenario (ground the aircraft type) would suffer less from those secondary effects. Once all the airlines on your region are no longer flying that aircraft type, people no longer worry about whether they're flying on a MAX8 or a non-MAX8; they know they're flying on the "safe ones", so they have less reason to memorize the name, to check the aircraft type on their tickets, to tell their loved ones "avoid that airplane", etc.

The third scenario is the worst case, if there's a third accident with the same cause (or at least perceived to have the same cause), the reputation of the 737-MAX8 will get tainted, and that taint could even spill to other 737 variants (less knowledgeable people don't know or care about the many variants of the 737, to them "737" is the airplane type).


Nobody knows why this plane crashed. The flight recorders have just been recovered and so far there has been nothing in the news about what was on them.

Yes. And the recorders have angle of attack data. We'll know within days if it's another AOA sensor problem.

Southwest, the biggest US operator of 737 MAX aircraft, bought the "AOA Disagree" option on their aircraft, and recently added an AOA indicator. Many operators didn't get that option; Lion Air didn't have it. If you have that, you get a warning that the flight control system is seeing bogus AOA data. It is somewhat less of a safety issue if you have the backup systems.

Why this aircraft was ever offered without "AOA Disagree" sensing is unclear. The single active AOA sensor can force the nose down. The pilots can switch to the other flight control computer and use the other AOA sensor, but at that point they're losing control of the aircraft.


> Southwest, the biggest US operator of 737 MAX aircraft, bought the "AOA Disagree" option on their aircraft...If you have that, you get a warning that the flight control system is seeing bogus AOA data

How can something that important be an option?


It's starting to seem like the plane is not safe to fly without that option (and potentially some other changes that haven't been finalized yet). I'm surprised; I thought that the "nothing at the expense of safety" ethos was still followed in the airplane industry.

> How can something that important be an option?

Based on other comments here and in other discussions, it seems like adding that feature would increase the training requirements for the pilots since it is an additional instrument in the cockpit. I don't know whether it was Boeing, Boeing's customers, or both who pushed for the instrument to be an option. Any combination is plausible, and I'm not going to rush to judgement like a couple of my sibling commenters just because it's the fun and popular thing to do.


Makes sense, thanks for the explanation.

Basically everything about this plane boils down to "it should require more training but it didn't"


> Southwest, the biggest US operator of 737 MAX aircraft, bought the "AOA Disagree" option on their aircraft, and recently added an AOA indicator. Many operators didn't get that option; Lion Air didn't have it. If you have that, you get a warning that the flight control system is seeing bogus AOA data. It is somewhat less of a safety issue if you have the backup systems.

This seems like an important factor. I wonder if that's the reasoning behind the FAA not grounding the planes and assuming most US airlines have this system in place.


Presumably the trim wheel spins/clicks when the mcas is doing its thing? Occasional weird electric stab trim behaviour has been a thing since the classic. I heard that 737 pilots are generally aware the electric trim can be switched off, or the trim wheel manually held for a more visceral solution. These things are not airbuses, the yoke is still connected to the elevators right?

> that airline has a bad safety record

Could you substantiate the above claim ? Whatever I have read indicates Ethiopian has a very good safety record.

e.g. The airline has a safety rating of six stars out of a possible seven on respected aviation site AirlineRating.com. Source: https://thepointsguy.com/news/despite-recent-crash-ethiopian...


> The sudden rush to judgment on this case is unjustified by the evidence. If it turns out this was not Boeing's fault, a lot of people are going to have to eat their words, and millions of dollars will have been wasted for nothing.

The prudent thing would be to err on the side of caution and suspend it until we know. What's millions of dollars (which I think is way exaggerated for a temporary suspension until the evidence is in) compared to a real risk of loss of human lives?


There is risk most any human activity. Your prudent thing would result in suspending any beneficial activity with any possible risk. The a prudent thing would be to err on the side of still receiving the benefits of 737 air travel.

Nonsense. This plane right now has two out of about four hundred that crashed, which for a new plane is more than enough reason to hit the 'pause' button for a bit until we know or least think we know what went wrong.

Thinking like that does not result in 'suspending any beneficial activity with any possible risk', it just suspends this activity with a roughly 0.5% risk of incidence until the causes are clear.

There are plenty of other aircraft in the world, also many non-Max 737's.


Nobody is talking about ground the 737 - a very safe plane used thousands of times a day

This is the 737-max, a new plane with very little history, barely used, and had been involved in two crashes with similar circumstances in the last 6 months.


Millions of dollars could save a lot of human life right now, even in America.

Who in their right mind downvotes this? I realize HN is not representative of America, but I think if you take a moment to notice all the homeless people you step over on your way to work in SV you'd reconsider.


Sure, then let's fly other unsafe planes types as well to save money, and hand the benefits to the poor!

Except, in which universe do airlines hands out their revenue to the poor ?


That's not the point. The point is that the comparison between people's lives and money is invalid.

Because scarce resources are a real thing, there necessarily should be a value to life, otherwise you are just ignoring reality.


I like how people downvote this, yet when stepping over homeless people in SV think "I only make $100,000+, and I need every bit of it, even if $20 could drastically improve this human's welfare.

Then when they board a flight on their own: "millions is not too much to spare! No cost is too great for my life!"

It is a double standard.


Did the E.U. ground the A320 when the Germanwings suicide pilot crashed the plane in the Alps, killing 150? Investigators didn’t know what brought that plane down for several days. Wouldn’t the prudent thing to do be to ground all Airbus A320s until the cause was confirmed? Did they ground the A320 after the Egyptair crash? They still aren’t sure what brought that plane down. But they didn’t ground the fleet. How about the Metrojet flight that crashed just a year earlier? At least 3 A320 crashes in as many years, but they don’t ground Airbus.

If it were a Boeing airplane, you can bet the EU would have grounded them. Given the E.U. has provided about $22 billion in subsidies to Airbus, it makes perfect business sense for the E.U. to ground Boeing 737s, but not ground Airbus when there are Airbus crashes.

In 2012, Australian safety engineers called for the grounding of the A380 due to significant structural cracks, in Qantas and Singapore airplanes, yet Airbus refused. Is it fair to say that the E.U. and Airbus cared more about profits than safety back in 2012? Has the E.U. ever grounded an Airbus plane ever?

Let’s not make the mistake of assuming benevolence that which is better explained by profit or politics.


> Did the E.U. ground the A320 when the Germanwings suicide pilot crashed the plane in the Alps, killing 150?

Was there a similar-seeming crash of the same model a few months before?


Your comment is a very nice example of whataboutism. Let's remain on topic about two crashes, with very similar characteristic, with two brand new aircraft of the same model. This is unheard of in this day and age of stellar aircraft safety. If that's not reason for concern, I don't know what is. Another commenter has said to err on the side of caution, that's something the US / FAA should do in this case, but somehow is not. You can give all the reasons you want, but the facts take precedent: ~350 people killed in the same model aircraft and in a similar way, the FAA should act.

Interesting that you mentioned Australia, who also grounded the plane. Clearly they're in the EU's pocked, right? Despite that Qantas' Boeing fleet is more than twice as numerous as their Airbus fleet.

> If it turns out this was not Boeing's fault, a lot of people are going to have to eat their words, and millions of dollars will have been wasted for nothing.

And if it turns out there is a fault, hundreds of lives can be saved. What losing side of the wager do you want to be on?


Let it be clear that even if Boeing is not at fault grounding the plane is the best course of action in front of the limited evidence. Insight is 20/20, but we don’t have it. There are 2 planes whose altitude was erratic before their crash and a plausible common scenario to explain them.

I have a hard time feeling bad for Boeing in this scenario — playing ball in aviation means assuming a huge amount of risk, and meeting a ridiculously high standard. In return they have a fairly captured market, and a huge amount of political power. Historically that means you ground a plane and take the loss until you figure out what’s going on.

Quite frankly I think it’s a bit sensationalist for people and the media to point fingers at the FAA for making “irresponsible decisions” and being beholden to lobbyists while conveniently ignoring their track record.

The FAA is notorious for their draconian ways which has become the impetus behind why air travel is now the safest mode of transportation today. In fact, there hasn't been a hull loss on US soil since 2009, a magnificent safety record.

The FAA is a very hands-on agency. There is an inherent difference to how planes are maintained that touch US soil vs. those in other parts of the world. For example, many planes that fly in South America would never pass FAA inspection and would never be considered airworthy. That means a flight itinerary of LAX-SCL vs. LAX-PTY-SCL are very different when it comes to safety since the plane that departs from Panama is not inspected by the FAA.

So not only is the FAA risking an insurmountable amount of fallout for making this statement, they also have the credibility and processes to stand behind it. With that said, I think it makes prudent sense for other countries to ground their 737 MAX planes since they simply don't have the FAA.


> there hasn't been a hull loss on US soil since 2009

Until 3 weeks ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlas_Air_Flight_3591


GP must have meant "hull loss of a passenger flight with mass fatalities". Asiana 214 was a hull loss on US soil, as was American 383, etc

> The FAA is a very hands-on agency

Under the ODA scheme, the FAA delegated testing and certification of the 787 and 737-8 ( Max ) to Boeing.

That's not hands-on, that's arms-length.


Is it possible that FAA has coasted on reputation? How do we know they have the stellar and true crew that they always did? Seems possible that regulatory capture has been occurring in the last decade and now we are seeing the consequences.

> With that said, I think it makes prudent sense for other countries to ground their 737 MAX planes since they simply don't have the FAA.

If a plane has enormous costs for maintenance then it should be justified for grounding or prevent them from buying.

This is very similar to cars. A car which is very costly to maintain but very reliable does not inspire much confidence for me when I am driving in remote areas. A car which is easy to maintain, reliable and with low costs and big service network with plenty of spare parts inspires a lot of confidence and I will take it anywhere.


The FAA rates Ethiopa at category 1 which means they can fly to and from US soil. In other words, this crash could've happened on US soil under the watchful eyes of the FAA.

Yes but the planes they use on US soil can be vastly different than the ones used on the ADD-NBO route.

From the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association statement released yesterday:

I have been in numerous conversations today with Southwest Vice President of Flight Operations Captain Alan Kasher, who informed me that the MAX aircraft has 17,000 recordable parameters and Southwest has compiled and analyzed a tremendous amount of data from more than 41,000 flights operated by the 34 MAX aircraft on property, and the data supports Southwest's continued confidence in the airworthiness and safety of the MAX.

I have also had conversations with TWU 556 President Lyn Montgomery, who represents Southwest Flight Attendants, AMFA National President Bret Oestreich, SWAPA Safety Committee and SWAPA Government Affairs Committee members, as well as leaders from other Pilot labor unions. I relayed to them that SWAPA is extremely confident that our entire fleet, including the MAX, is safe based on the facts, intelligence, data, and information we presently have. We fully support Southwest Airlines' decision to continue flying the MAX and the FAA's findings to date.

I will continue to put my family, friends, and loved ones on any Southwest flight and the main reason is you, the Pilots of SWAPA. We have lobbied hard for our training to continue to evolve and improve, and due to having the finest union Training and Standards Committee in the industry, that is occurring.

We now have Extended Envelope Training (EET) in addition to our regular annual training and since SWAPA and others have brought awareness to the MCAS issue, we have additional resources to successfully deal with either a legitimate MCAS triggered event or a faulty triggered MCAS event. SWAPA also has pushed hard for Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor displays to be put on all our aircraft and those are now being implemented into the fleet. All of these tools, in addition to SWAPA Pilots having the most experience on 737s in the industry, give me no pause that not only are our aircraft safe, but you are the safest 737 operators in the sky.

https://swaparesources.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets/pdf...

via https://www.swapa.org/


I don't get it. Airline workers, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney and democratic senators are for suspending it, which China, the EU and Australia have already done.

What's going on at the FAA?


All the listed people are in the legislative branch. The FAA is part of the executive branch. Short of passing a law that grounds the 737 MAX, legislators don't really have a say here.

Interestingly, Trump has also come out against the plane, but his uninformed Twitter ramblings are by and large (rightfully) ignored by the executive branch. And he's not against the 737 MAX for valid reasons, but for luddite ones.


Yep, Trump says a lot of really stupid stuff (like his comments about the electromagnetic launchers on the new Ford carrier). But in this case, even if his reasoning is stupid, it'd be better if the executive branch actually followed his lead and grounded the plane.

Just happened. Twitter ramblings rightfully go unignored, but a properly filed executive order does not.

Trump shares some blame here because he's never had, nor even appointed, an FAA commissioner. Maybe with someone confirmed in charge they would've been more proactive.


Boeing spends a lot of money on lobbying and the CEO called Trump after his tweet.

I came here to see if anyone was talking about this specific issue and I found your comment (downvoted of course).

Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/ethiopia-airlines-trump/trum...

Some background: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-airlines-trump/t...


If the Max was built by Airbus rather than Boeing, more likely than not the U.S. would have grounded it by now.

What I dont understand is why the airlines themselves (Southwest and American) are refusing to halt the planes - this seems totally irresponsible with what is known at this point.

It’s pretty safe to assume that at this point every fricking pilot out there knows about MCAS and how to deal with it if this specific problematic behavior occurs.

That's what everyone said before the Ethiopian Air crash as well

It's been happening during initial ascent, which is a very busy time of flight with little margin for error. Even if you are aware of MCAS, it takes time to recover, and you might not have that much time to spare.

But not if you have 20seconds to recover?

It's 2.5 degrees every 15 seconds. There's time to recover

"MCAS will trim the Stabilizer down for 10 seconds (2.5 deg nose down) and pause for 5 seconds and repeat if the conditions (high angle of attack, flaps up and autopilot disengaged) continue to be met. Using electric pitch trim will only pause MCAS, to deactivate it you need to switch off the STAB TRIM SUTOUT switches." http://www.b737.org.uk/mcas.htm



What is known at this point is that another 737 Max crashed for some reason, which might have been unrelated to the cause of the last crash, while being flown by an airline with a questionable safety record.

If this turns out to have been a terrorist attack or something like that, a lot of people are going to have to eat their words, and millions of dollars will have been wasted for nothing.


You keep saying millions of dollars will have been wasted. However consider an other option where it turns out to be a problem with more airplanes and hundreds of of lives 'will be wasted'.

Some countries take a more precautionary approach to risk than others where there is uncertainty, and I, personally, am happy to live somewhere that is willing to take the decision to prevent possible harm to human life instead of possible harm to (a relatively small section of) the economy, where there is uncertainty.


Not a questionable safety record. Can we please stop assuming that African countries and airlines are all the same?

https://thepointsguy.com/news/despite-recent-crash-ethiopian...


Actually a lot of African airlines do have dodgy safety records and Africa is the unsafest continent to fly.

That said Ethiopian is the shining exception and has, apart from a 70 year history, quite a stellar safety record.


It seems you’re directly agreeing with your parent comment’s point: not all African airlines are the same. Many are shitty; Ethiopian is not.

And if it turns out to be a fault in the max’s design, operation, or training procedures?

What does the US know that the EU or China doesn't which gives them such confidence? Any clues?

In short, the Max-8 ships with a shitty default configuration. After the first crash, the FAA and the major american airlines with these planes aggressively updated the instrument panel settings, warnings and processes to ensure pilots were aware if there was a sensor disagreement that could cause the MCAS system to accidentally stall. (I know this is true for Southwest, I assume the rest followed suit.) While the default configuration and the behavior of the MCAS system are both hideously awful, the FAA trusts their process to have fixed it, and I think their results back up the call.

"Shitty default configuration" I suspect this goes by another name: it's a configuration that focus on commonality with the previous generation

Because adding the indicator and how to handle situations will add training hours, this is not done.

But I'm glad Southwest is doing it.


You mentioned "know this is true for Southwest" do you have a source by chance?


Safety is always a priority, but it's never the only one: There's also an economical factor in the equation. Other nations have less to lose by grounding these planes, leading to a different result between 'risking human lives' vs 'causing financial impact'.

Finally, airplanes may have different configurations. I only skimmed some discussions and I'm not well versed in the subject so take what I say with a grain of salt, but there seem potential differences in configurations, e.g. AOA disagree indicators (which is related to the potential cause for both accidents); Some airlines (I think South West at least) also announced changes w.r.t. those systems after the Lion Air accident. That might also change the 'risking human lives' variable in the equation.


These other nations are staffed by people just like you and I who understand why the US (as in the regulator, head of the executive branch, the states, and the discretion of the private companies involved) would be incapable of doing the same calculus.

They know of the incestuous relationship with the regulators and private industry and its history, just as much as a US citizen is aware of an irrelevant country's corruption and that country's chronic inability to reform it.

So they just make the call: ground it, the US can't, but they will do a comprehensive investigation. Let it play out.


> Other nations have less to lose by grounding these planes

By what measure?


By financial measure. If Norway grounds the plane (by not allowing it in its airspace), it impacts their (and other nations) airlines. If the US ground the plane, it impacts their (and other nations) airlines, and their airplane manufacturer. (The impact for the latter is hard to measure, particularly for the long-term).

This is a very new plane, and most deliveries so far have been in the US or China. In particular, it's easy for EASA to ground it; there are only a handful operating in Europe anyway. Impact of the China grounding would be larger, tho.

They know Boeing makes up 10.5% of the Dow... [1] or it did before these crashes, currently under 10% due the the stock price dropping

[1] http://indexarb.com/indexComponentWtsDJ.html


Dow is a horrible index. It's price-weighted, i.e. higher priced stock has a greater influence than lower priced stock on the index. Apple at $180/share has 2+ times less influence than Boeing at $375/share on the index, and yet Apple's market cap is $850B, 4 times of Boeing's $212B market cap.

The Dow index is pure BS.


It boggles my mind that news reports feature the Dow so prominently given how much worse it is than the S&P 500. The Dow is pretty much unsuitable for any purpose save for historical comparisons dating back prior to the advent of the S&P 500.

The FAA was intentionally made independent of airline advocacy to avoid conflicts of interest that previous government agencies overseeing air travel in the past had. So it’s odd if it’s not based on the data.

> "The FAA was intentionally made independent of airline advocacy"

The FAA is currently lead by an airline lobbyist, so that's a fucking joke.


If it's based on data why not publishing it?

That's exactly the thing. There is no data to the contrary. You can't prove that the FAA is wrong, because we don't know why both planes crashed.

We have assumptions, and there's a public perception - but it may not be correct.


> You can't prove that the FAA is wrong, because we don't know why both planes crashed.

From an outsider's perspective is the FAA's task to prove that both those crashes were unrelated to each other, because for a very safe industry like aviation a slight correlation (two almost identical planes crashed in a span of 6 months in clear-weather conditions) is often times seen as causation by most of the people directly involved: potential customers, the general public that helps pay the taxes that keep both Boeing and Airbus making airplanes etc.


But we do have data: two airplanes of the exact same model crashed within less than 6 months, sure maybe that's just an outlier and not indicative of poor safety but at this point it falls on them to prove that.

Well they’re saying there is no data to indicate a systemic problem at this point, which at face value seems fair since very little is known. They tend to not jump to conclusions since they’ve had some pretty bad experiences in the past doing that.

So you are saying they don't have data to rely on, then? Finally it's the same information US and EU authorities rely on: Two incidents with planes in short order where the manufacturer withheld crucial information. I think it's fair to say that either the EASA or the FAA decision was politically motivated.

You can’t have a systemic problem based on withheld information after that information has been disclosed. It’s known at this point, so that means they don’t know what the issue is.

Boeing’s share price is currently 375

In December it was 316.

It’s lost 2 months of gains.


The cost of grounding.


They know that they have to protect the economic interests of their companies and if that means blaming everything on '3rd world pilots', (with the implied racism and all that), so be it.

Nothing. Boeing lobby power in US is exceptional. That's the only reason.

Our actual current Secretary of Defense spent 30 years at Boeing.

And that has zero relevance here as the FAA is Department of Transportation.

Right, and the departments are completely separated and don't work on a 'You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' basis, ever. /s

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> China clearly grounded ge planes for political reasons

Of course, it cannot be that they rather be cautious, right? After all, it's just Chinese lives at risk. Do you really think that?

Perhaps the FAA did not ground the planes due to lobbying.


Af447 immediately suspected the pitot tubes, as it was an ongoing effort to change them for a different model when the crash happened. A bit like in the Boeing case, it was hoped that the pilot would manually handle the issue if the freezing happened.

And A330s weren't grounded. Had there been a second crash for the same reason though....

Money.

787's were grounded in 2013 for battery related issues, when it was a new airplane make/model. There were emergency landings, but no crashes. Here we have crashes, and no grounding. At the time of the grounding there were 50 affected aircraft, lasting from January to April. Grounding 737 MAX 8's would be ~350 groundings, and ostensibly could include MAX 9's.

Looks like it only took two events for the FAA to ground them. I think they were instantly grounded because everyone knew the dangers of lithium-ion batteries catching fire.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-lithium-ion-b...


'But the FAA said that other civil aviation authorities had not "provided data to us that would warrant action".'

Pretty sure the data is that two planes crashed in five months in perfect weather conditions, killing everyone on board. Statistically, that's sufficiently improbable that it warrants investigation.


> Pretty sure the data is that two planes crashed in five months in perfect weather conditions

Not only that, but the data we have so far from the second crash (ADS-B data showing irregular vertical speed, see https://www.flightradar24.com/blog/flightradar24-data-regard...) is consistent with both accidents having a similar cause. Grounding all airplanes from the same model until preliminary data from the (already recovered) flight recorders can confirm or discard that hypothesis is prudent.


If it was a "similar cause", it is absolutely pilot error.

The MCAS system, at fault in the first crash, may be disabled via a cockpit control. In other 737s, moving the stick was sufficient to disengage it. For some reason, this was changed in the Max, and you must use the other control. However, any competent pilot would know every control in the cockpit. The captain of the latest flight to crash allegedly had 8,000+ hours of flight time.

If an aircraft begins behaving incorrectly, the first thing a flight crew should do is disable automation and try and fly it manually. That wasn't done if MCAS caused the crash. This was an emergency that developed over minutes, not seconds, and there's really no excuse.


There's a good hint at what's going on in a thread from yesterday about the 737MAX reports [1]:

> 1555013 is pretty damning in telling how the airlines treated the MAX as the same type as the 737-800:

> "I had my first flight on the Max [to] ZZZ1. We found out we were scheduled to fly the aircraft on the way to the airport in the limo. We had a little time [to] review the essentials in the car. Otherwise we would have walked onto the plane cold.My post flight evaluation is that we lacked the knowledge to operate the aircraft in all weather and aircraft states safely."

To provide a parallel to the software world, it kind of sounds like they released a "version 2.0" but called it "version 1.1", giving the sense this was a minor revision and anyone that already knows 1.0 will be fine.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19374386


> If it was a "similar cause", it is absolutely pilot error.

That's a very blunt argument to make. Do watch the below video - I'm not educated as much on these matters, but the pilot here makes a compelling point as to why it could be from the Lion crash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfQW0upkVus

He makes reference to the system for disabling not being included in the type training for the MAX, and given there wasn't an update on the fix for the issue (read that this is partly due to the US government shutdown meaning Boeing and the FAA didn't have as direct comms channels), it could still have been the same issue without the blame sitting on the pilots.


Unless I am mistaken, the regular 737s do not have the MCAS installed,just the MAXs (https://theaircurrent.com/aviation-safety/what-is-the-boeing...)

Additionally it has been suggested that documentation for this physical switch is not well laid out or presented in the manual because Boeing was confident that it would simply stay out of the pilot's way during flight.

Assuming pilot error would seem to be premature if these points are in fact true.


Either way "pilot error" is defined with reference to some "reasonable level" of competence with the aircraft.

If multiple pilots are making the same error the issue is with the aircraft changes, not the "reasonable competence".

Ie., its redesign hasn't been thought through properly


As far as I'm aware, the previous versions gave an audible warning when the flight parameters were exceeding limits. The new system attempts to actively take control and sink the nose. If you know the system from previous aircraft, you'd expect the same behavior in the new one. I'm certain they mention this in training, but if English is not your first language, you'd have to pay particular attention to this part or you're screwed.

There was no new training for this is what I've read. Boeing thought the new system was simple and similar enough that no retraining was required for the new model.

>However, any competent pilot would know every control in the cockpit.

Not if they tell you the plane acts the same, and then it doesn't! Did Boeing inform pilots of this change proactively? Was the pilot trained on the change, and perhaps even recertified?


Depending on the situation, disabling autopilot is not the correct thing to do. That was identified as a contributing factor in TransAsia 235 https://www.asc.gov.tw/upload/cont_att/9b051632-ebf6-427f-b0...

Through simulations they think a crash would have actually been avoided had autopilot been left on.


> However, any competent pilot would know every control in the cockpit.

Except it seems like many of them didn't receive training on what changed for the new model.


Most would even say statistically significant enough to order the planes grounded in their own countries...

> Statistically, that's sufficiently improbable

Is it?


Yes, it is. The 737 NG (700 series, 800 series, etc) has a hull loss rate of 0.27 per million departures[0]. I am having difficulty finding the exact number of departures for the MAX but 737s average about 3-5 departures per day[1]. Only 350 MAXs have been delivered and the first one was delivered on May 6, 2017[2] (676 days ago). So even being generous and supposing that all 350 aircraft were delivered exactly on May 6, 2017 and that each plane made 5 flights daily, that would be a total of 1,183,000 flights. Therefore the MAX line has a best-case hull loss rate of 1.69 per million departures. I.e. the MAX generation has a hull loss rate 6.25 times that of the NG line.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737#Accidents_and_incid...

[1]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274782362_Character...

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737_MAX


the question is if this difference is statistically significant

You are taking a commercial flight. You have the choice between 2 different aircraft which are essentially identical but you are more than 50 times more likely to crash in one of them. Which do you take?

EDIT: I have learned that I was far too generous with the flight numbers. The MAX series has only logged ~150K flights. Therefore it's hull loss rate is roughly 13.33 per million making it almost 50 times more dangerous than the NG line.

Yes, the difference is statistically significant.


Will this basically be negated by enough other countries grounding it though? It seems to me that if the EU, China, the UK, and other major countries are all grounding it then many others are likely to follow suit basically making it irrelevant if there are one or two holdouts (even if one of them is the U.S.)

There are a ton of these aircraft flying in the US domestically and on US-Canada routes.

Got it, can states/airports decide unilaterally not to serve them? I imagine if the highest volume airports banned these flights it would ground the vast majority of them

No? FAA makes these decisions.

Yes, an airport could reject any flightplan filed with type B38M or B39M citing operational reasons. The exception to this in the USA is when the airport is in receipt of FAA improvement grants, when they are obliged to accept all compatible traffic.

Or more subtly adjust landing and handling fees to astronomical levels for those types. That's how Gatwick in the UK discourages small turboprops, for example.


I wonder pilots are feeling about it?

It will cause a very big stink if one crashes in the US.


At that point, not only will Boeing be at fault, but heads at FAA as well.

On the other hand, FAA is known to be very strict when it comes to safety. So, I feel like they must think that US pilots are trained for what the alleged issue seems to be (MCAS).


Still, that wouldn’t help foreign planes crashing into our cities.

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It's ridiculous to think that just because they've trained their own pilots for this, and that the issue can happen in foreign territories, they can wash their hands off of this

> It will cause a very big stink if one crashes in the US.

And people will die and families will suffer.


Pilots will do what the union (ALPA) does. So far I just see condolences. https://twitter.com/WeAreALPA (Edit: We can also see that another pilot union for AA is confident in the plane: https://www.alliedpilots.org/News/ID/6769/Allied-Pilots-Asso... )

From a customer perspective I would have appreciated a joint approach of the major aviation agencies. The way it is handled right now, I can’t judge whether the EU is reacting shortsighted or if the US is too careless. One seems to be true?

As a customer, what stake do you personally have in this plane not being grounded? Isn't it always better to be cautious, like the EU/China seem to be?

You mean, personal odds of being on a plane that crashes, vs having to deal with having flights cancelled, rescheduled, and the fallout of that (missed connections, meetings, ships, etc)? Even those who were not originally scheduled on 737MAX would be affected by that.

None, US politicians are looking after their self-interest. Lobbying strikes again!

well this would also mean EU authorities are looking after their self-interest too, even if that self-interest happens to mean that it more likely preserves lives.

It's easier for the EU, they don't have many MAX planes. It's likely too early to say something definitive and in times of social medial pressure one conformes if possible.

The US doesn’t have many MAX planes either.

Southwest have 35/755 planes

American 22/956

Norwegian by comparison have 18/163 - a far higher proportion (of course Norwegian isn’t an EU airlin but they have EU subsidiaries included in that total)


Norwegian is technically an EU airline because despite the name they're also headquartered in EU countries. This is so because being EU-based they're free to use all EU airports to base flights out of, which they use to good extent to make flights between the US and the French Caribbean islands, something that would be impossible had they been solely HQd in Norway :)

Check out this video about it (Norwegian starts at about 10 minutes in): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thqbjA2DC-E

edit: turns out they're registed in several countries, not just Denmark.


There are only 350 of these planes in service. Or more precisely 348. Nobody has a lot of them.

Can someone with flight experience help me with this question?

So, MCAS is watching the AOA sensor and dipping the nose to prevent aerodynamic stall. When activated (and altering the pilots loudly) what would happen to airspeed in the valid-AOA and borked-AOA sensor states? I would have thought in the bogus-AOA case, airspeed would be increasing MUCH faster? Is this factored into regarding validation of the AOA input? Or are airspeed indicators unreliable near aerodynamic stall? Or ..? It just feels like MCAS should be able to detect the contradiction state from other variables without requiring the pilot to act.


Airspeed and angle-of-attack are different measurements, whether the AoA is borked or not would make no difference to airspeed measurements, and vice versa.

Without AoA though, airspeed alone is not enough to determine a stall. If one or both sets of probes are incorrect or inoperable, detection of stall conditions would be unreliable at best, either reporting a stall when there isn't one, or failing to report one that is valid.

As for MCAS, it would likely be able to see that two AoA probes disagree, but would be unable to choose the "correct" probe. A third AoA probe _might_ address that, but I never saw that kind of configuration on aircraft I worked on, and it isn't on the MAX. Regardless though, from what I've read, MCAS only applies gradual nose down trim, so ignoring whether or not MCAS even knows enough to disable itself in abnormal conditions, the pilot/first officer should have more plenty of time to react to it (I believe it was something like 2.5deg of trim every 10s). Either the pilots in these situations are not aware that it is a trim issue, which seems very unlikely, or they are overloaded and don't remember in time to set the stab trim to cutoff which would disable those inputs. Very much still on Boeing in my opinion, but it isn't like the aircraft is just diving into the ground the second MCAS starts nosing down.


It is all PR and public perception at this point.

I feel that the US have lost in reputation here while, e.g. China has gained. It didn't have to be that way.

China was the first to ban the 737 MAX. When they did it people could counter that it was political. But since so many countries, including some of the US's closest allies, have followed suit then they have come out as being serious and safety-conscious.

On the other hand, by refusing to ban the US are seen as putting corporate interests above safety.


Personally, I think the least risky/safest approach is for the FAA to follow its normal procedures.

Changing them on-the-fly leads to ambiguity up and down the line, which leads to mistakes and gaps.

Of course, I don't know for sure what that actually means in this case. But I'd guess if the lobbyist head of the FAA were blocking a grounding recommendation, that would leak in about a millisecond, so I'm guessing the FAA is investigating this normally.


I think the FAA needs to do a better job explaining why every other aviation authority in the world seems to be grounding the plane, but they’re not.

Does anyone know if this system could just be safely turned off? It seems to be a system that automates the stall avoidance when the plane hits a stall warning. It seems that all pilots should know how to avoid stalls and how to deal with them when they happen. As long as the stall warning still happens, I don't see an issue with turning off the stall avoidance system.

The issue is that the system is necessary to make the plane self-certifiable. I.e. Boeing has to show that the aircraft is not essentially different in flight characteristics from the original airframe it was based on. This allows them to avoid the very costly retreating and type certification they would be required to do otherwise with a 'novel' airframe.

Frankly, as soon as the Erodynamics changed sufficiently that a new automated system was required to maintain parity with older airframe's flight characteristics, I think the case should have been made for requiring a new type cert, or at least far more extensive change notification/documentation update requirements.


The indications are that Boeing didn't include this information in the type training, and also an important instrument needed to see if there was a problem with this system was made optional.

It looks like the US has reversed its position and the 737 Max is being grounded. [1]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/13/business/canada-737-max.h...


Boeing suffered more than 10% drop in the stock price because of the recent crash and Lion Air (an Indonesian airline) plans to drop a $22 billion order. Boeing failed to address the numerous complaints and FAA is reluctant to ground the 737 Max 8 putting lives at risk.

they stopped flying 737 Max even in Russia. That is in the country where drunk (not to mention heavily hanged over) pilots isn't something out of ordinary :)

Anyway, reading for example this https://theaircurrent.com/aviation-safety/what-is-the-boeing... for a layman like me it sounds like making 737 (statically stable plane) into the Max Boeing produced a kind of F-16 - a statically unstable (and thus a great dogfighter) plane which cant be flown manually and requires constant controls adjustments by software.


2 crashes in less than 6 months for a plane that's been in service less than 24 months, yet "no systemic performance issues". Somebody's going to die so US companies can make a some extra profits. Business as usual here.

If you are a pilot for one of these American airlines, would still stand your ground and not fly?

no because everyone is aware of what the issue is and how to overcome it.

I'm hoping that we aren't seeing a situation where acting FAA administrator Elwell's past service as an Aerospace Industries Association VP and company advocate is biasing his reasoning towards the interest of industry players over public safety.

Nothing that another crash and huge human toil can't fix.

It’s scary to think how complicit the FAA was in granting Boeing’s wish that this 30 year newer plane with substantially larger engines only required 2-3 hours of new training and said training was able to miss covering entire systems like MCAS. Now 350 people are dead, all the FAA can be thankful of is the dead are foreigners so it’s unlikely they’ll be held properly accountable.

It isn't just the FAA and Boeing.

Where I work many of us have a "common type rating" between the A330 and A350 (-900 and -1000). While I commend Airbus for making them similar they are in no way common enough to justify the minuscule training course.

Flying the A350 you get lots of brilliant features like brake-to-vacate, auto wing leveling during a crosswind landing (when you de-crab), differential flap setting in the cruise for CP control and better fuel efficiency. And so on. However, coming back to the 330 after lots of 350 flying it's very easy to forget just what you have and don't have.

Both have very different cockpit layouts. Even something simple like cockpit lighting is totally different. They have significantly different limitations, speeds and procedures for dealing with abnormal situations.

Additionally, the A350 still has a fair share of teething problems. The list of Temporary Abnormal Behaviors is quite long and hasn't shortened much in the last couple of years.

Throw some fatigue into the mix and it's not much fun. My company's error rates have increased on the "common fleet" by almost triple.

Yet our regulator thinks it's all good.


I'm curious to hear more. I understand that common type means that much less training is required to fly the new plane for the first time.

But once you are trained for several kinds of aircraft, does the airline treat them differently? For instance, will they happily schedule you to fly anything you are type-certified for, tomorrow? Or do they keep you on one type for a block of time, perhaps with a simulator day to remember before switching?


They treat them as the same type with only a few conditions regarding recency. For example, out of three simulator checks you need to do one in each type (330/330/350 or 350/350/330 for example).

Also need to do at least one takeoff and landing in each (in addition to the three takeoffs and landings in 90 days), in 60 days.

Otherwise they treat them the same. I routinely get rostered to fly one type on a short sector, get in, change aircraft to the other type and fly it somewhere else.

Literally only an hour to adapt to the other type.


>Both have very different cockpit layouts. Even something simple like cockpit lighting is totally different. They have significantly different limitations, speeds and procedures for dealing with abnormal situations.

This sounds like a UX design problem. Things that are the same should be the same, things that are different should be different.

The most dangerous thing from a UX perspective is always the slightly different, especially in sequences. Everybody knows if their way to work and way to the store is partially the same it's easy to take the wrong fork when you want to go to the store.

So if the things are slightly different, it often makes sense to make the sequence different from the beginning. Otherwise people often make these common path mistakes.


> My company's error rates have increased on the "common fleet" by almost triple.

That is Terrifying. It seems like the FAA has optimized for allowing the Manufacturers and Airlines to streamline changes and operations while slowly letting safety deteriorate. Perhaps these accidents will force what seems like a needed change in type ratings.


From GP's comment, it appears that s/he is not referring to the FAA.

"It isn't just the FAA and Boeing."


It isn't the FAA.

It's a country in Asia to give you a hint. If you google for the fleets mentioned you can probably work it out!


"they" is a historic and accepted gender neutral pronoun.

Temporary Abnormal Behaviors, now there is a nice piece of jargon

My favorite: Controlled Sunlight Blocking System (CSBS)

aka: window shades


> However, coming back to the 330 after lots of 350 flying it's very easy to forget just what you have and don't have.

Yeah that seems to be an important issue. You easily "get used" to a feature and I wouldn't be surprised if a pilot used to the 350 got in a bad situation on the 330.

Are those error rates taken from FOQA? And is the company raising the issue?


They come from a regular internal audit and QAR data. They can set triggers on certain items. For example, certain configurations (or lack of) at certain altitudes can trigger a data point for the safety department.

While you may end up being entirely correct, it is too early to start finger-pointing before the investigations are finished.

Neither Lion nor Ethiopian had stellar safety records, e.g.

* https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/asia/lion-air-crash...

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_Airlines_accidents_a...

The training hours should also be looked in the context of the total hours flown on that specific model - a pilot who just sat through the short training session would have a different perspective than a pilot who sat through the same training session but has also flown the plane for hundreds of hours.

It's also not a brand new airplane - it's a modification of 737, so the training is transitional. It's not like Boeing took a freshly minted Cessna 152 pilot, gave them a 2-hour seminar, and type-rated them for the 737 Max.


Nonsense.

Ethiopian airlines is rated Category 1 by the FAA and can thus fly direct to the US and they are a member of the star alliance.

Just because they are the largest carrier in Africa does not imply dubious safety or maintenance.


They had a 200 hour pilot flying in the right seat of the crashed airplane. Star Alliance or not, who in the hell defends a low-time student pilot flying right seat in an airliner? In the US, that would be illegal as a first officer has a 1500 hour requirement along with significant multi-engine turbine training. That copilot wouldn’t even have enough hours for a commercial certificate, let alone ATP.

You conveniently forgot to mention that the captain of the flight was highly experienced with 8'000 hours of flight time.

[flagged]


>Why is this being down-voted

Because you're making a claim with absolutely no evidence that the captain sat by and watched a rookie crash a plane and kill everyone on board and the captain did nothing to intervene and save his own life.


>Because you're making a claim with absolutely no evidence that the captain sat by and watched a rookie crash a plane

Care to show me where I made that claim? All I said was that given the (good) conditions it was more likely (than any average minute of flight) that the less senior pilot was controlling the aircraft.

>and the captain did nothing to intervene and save his own life.

You mean like what happened the on the Air France A320 that wound up in the drink a few years back? It's perfectly possible that one pilot started fighting the MCAS system and both pilots actions in their attempts to deal with the situation combined in a way that resulted in the crash.


For ET that is a captain only airport

We don't know which pilot was the flying pilot on this takeoff.

That should not be relevant at all.

During the critical phases of flying both pilots will be engaged with the operation. While it's true that the first officer may execute the take-off the captain will be at the controls, alert and ready to intervene at any time.

Later during cruising the responsibilities may be split. For example: The captain may deal with administrative stuff while the first officer is actually flying the plane.

Especially since the crew knew that the plane can potentially behave in an erratic manner you can bet on the fact that an experienced captain is standing by and observing very closely what's happening.

Source: I had the oportunity to sit in the cockpit during an entire (short haul) flight, when that was still possible. Both pilots were always engaged during all critical periods of the flight and very specifically during take off and landing. Even when the first officer executed the operations.

As a sidenote: It's not like driving a bus up there. Both pilots were focused, concentrated and busy during the entire flight (this may be somewhat different on a long haul flight ).


It is relevant because MCAS is tied to the AOA sensor on the side of the active flight computer. Even if the Captain intervened, he may not have thought to switch flight computers to rule out a malfunctioning AOA sensor.

I'm well aware of cockpit procedure; my brother is a 30-year captain, now retired and our family has been flying since before I was born. One of my earliest memories is of using the barf bag in a 172 while my father was shooting landings.


Let's assume it was the FO. Do you think the captain was just watching it all play out as the plane lost altitude?

You are aware of the MCAS being tied to the single sensor on the side of the active flight computer?

I'm not interested in arguing for the sake of disagreeing : to refresh the context of this thread, here's a recap of the thread root:

>> They had a 200 hour pilot flying in the right seat of the crashed airplane. Star Alliance or not, who in the hell defends a low-time student pilot flying right seat in an airliner?


8000 hours on type? Or 8000 hours on safari tourist drops. He was only 28 years old. The sums barely add up, and only then as an exceptional case

I refer to Patrick Smith as my source[1]

The captain of the doomed flight ET302, Yared Getachew, was a graduate of the highly competitive Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy, and had more than 8,000 flight hours — a respectable total. “Yared was a great person and a great pilot. Well prepared,” a former Ethiopian Airlines training captain told me.

Doesn't sound as if he acquired his 8000 + hours on a crop duster.

In addition: Your statement that he was 28 doesn't quite jibe with what the NYT has to say about him[2]

By the time he was 29, Yared Getachew was the youngest captain at Ethiopian Airlines. Despite his relative youth, he had spent a decade with the carrier, eventually piloting wide-body jets that crossed continents and oceans.

[1] http://www.askthepilot.com/ethiopian-737max-crash/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/business/ethiopian-airlin...


@CaptainZapp

Thanks for that information. I was having trouble crediting a 28 year old with 8,000 flight hours...

That said, it's very likely a big chunk of that wasn't on 737s, or even large commercial jets.


200 or 20 000 hour doesn't matter because the pilot called back the airport that he has issues taking off. This indicate a problem with plane, anything that happened after might a pilot mistake but 100% you have confirmed plane issue.

> They had a 200 hour pilot flying in the right seat of the crashed airplane. Star Alliance or not, who in the hell defends a low-time student pilot flying right seat in an airliner?

So do European airlines and they have great safety records.


FWIW Malcolm Gladwell's business bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success has a chapter devoted to explaining the superior safety record of American major airlines compared to foreign carriers: "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes". Gladwell comes to the conclusion that foreigners are unsafe because they are ... foreign. They have a strange and defective culture that prevents the first officer (copilot) from speaking up and pointing out problems to the captain. If only everyone were American, the world would be a better and safer place. This article explores an alternative explanation: foreign airlines do comparatively poorly because their first officers have almost no pilot-in-command experience.

https://philip.greenspun.com/flying/foreign-airline-safety


Rather important is that it was in fact considered to have substantially different enough behavior to warrant a required type rating for pilots, obviated due to the software abstraction provided by MCAS. However, this abstraction is effectively disabled when setting stabilizer trim to cutoff which is one of the later steps in the normal troubleshooting sequence. OK? So the airplane is in an emergency situation, with a flight characteristic normalizing software routine disabled, thereby making it possible for the airplane to exhibit the very behavior that pilots were never informed of, never trained for, and not required to have a type rating for, that MCAS existed for in the first place.

I think that's quite a lot more relevant than airline safety records. Ethiopian Airlines has a good recent safety record anyway. And the outcry, upon MCAS being publicly revealed, among the U.S. pilot community I also think demonstrates important relative concern.

And, quite a concerning story about U.S. 737 MAX pilots using the anonymous aviation safety reporting system to communicate their concerns, whether instead of or because of the normal channels for doing so.

https://www.dallasnews.com/business/airlines/2019/03/12/boei...



> It's not like Boeing took a freshly minted Cessna 152 pilot, gave them a 2-hour seminar, and type-rated them for the 737 Max

This ASRS report almost makes it sound like that https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19374386


The author of that ASRS report almost surely holds an ATP, a 737 type rating, and has passed the -MAX differences training.

That's quite a stretch from a 4-cylinder single engine, 110mph prop plane transition.


What is with this argument? Why the hell is it "carry on business as usual until we nail down exact causes" why is it not OMG two goddamn planes (brand fucking new of the same type) fell out of the sky under similar circumstances better ground them until we nail down exact causes. Like the longer the fucking mystery goes on the longer these death bombs stay in the air? That is an idiotic argument.

There are always things going on in the background. Boeing is a major US company so the FAA may be more reluctant to ground them.

For most countries "better safe than sorry" was an easy option. At the end of the day its airliners who are left holding the bag, but with some logistical wizardry everyone can still go on holiday.

There was just no reason for China, Singapore, the UK and the EU not to ground these planes. The airline industry has to deal with public perception.


> The airline industry has to deal with public perception.

Yes and I think that is what is at stake here as well. The airline industry at the end of the day is an industry. We forget that sometimes because it feels like a monopolistic or oligarlistic industry, but we are their customers, and if people start demanding that they not ride a 737 Max, and start to refuse to purchase routes that are serviced by a 737 Max, you'll see some changes really quick. I for one have told every loved one, and every person I know that travels frequently to not board these planes, and they agree as well. I additionally informed my boss and clients that if they need me to fly, it will absolutely under no circumstances be on a 737Max. I am 100% certain I am not alone in this.



> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_Airlines_accidents_a...

Oh cool 5 events in the last 23 years. That sounds like a stellar safety record to me.


What other airlines are you comparing it to?

[flagged]


And per aircraft flying hour?

American lives have been claimed in these incidents as well.

I'm unsure about what you are implying here.

Near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — At least eight of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash were confirmed Tuesday to have been Americans, including Melvin and Bennett Riffel from Redding, California.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ethiopian-airlines-crash-victim...


How is that relevant in FAA's decision not to ground the planes? Do you think they'd ground the planes if the majority of the victims were American?

The original post in this thread said:

> all the FAA can be thankful of is the dead are foreigners so it’s unlikely they’ll be held properly accountable

and that's what the answers are responding too, saying it's wrong and there are American victims as well.


If both of these crashes happened on US flights, they would most definitely have grounded these planes, but I don't really think that's a surprising or significant observation.

Interesting Reddit comment below. If true, this means the AoA probe does not need to fail for the MCAS to trigger, but be caused by transient bursts of high AoA. If this is true -- a big if of course -- and Boeing knew about it as early as August 2018, it's pretty damning.

https://www.reddit.com/r/flying/comments/b08h03/737_max_mega...


Does the FAA set the rules for Indonesia? Did the FAA tell Lion Air not to repair the broken airspeed indicator that crashed plane experienced during the flight before the crash? Also, did the FAA tell the pilot to turn off the anti-stall system in the Lion Air plane? Because that’s what happened, a pilot turned off that system due to the unrepaired airspeed indicator. In the US, no airline would have allowed that plane to fly, but Indonesia’s airlines are operated like they’re flying bush planes and not technologically sophisticated airliners. People are dead, a lot of them, because of a history of third-world style seat-of-the-pants duct-tape piloting and maintenance. Look at Lion Air’s safety record and compare it with Southwest Airlines. Flying similar planes, but vastly different outcomes. The FAA must be doing something right. Lion Air wasn’t a failure of the airplane, but a failure of the airline. This isn’t the first time Lion Air crashed a 737 either. Considering Southwest Airlines has flown over 40 years with only a single air mishap fatality, it’s pretty fair to say that Lion Air is horrific by comparison, considering their fatal crash record over just the past 10 years.

If we want to start complaining about the FAA, considering more people have died in Indonesian and Malaysian air crashes in the past 10 years than have died in American crashes despite the US flying several orders of magnitude more flights. Lion Air wasn’t even allowed into the E.U. until 2016 because of safety. The FAA and NTSB are among the best agencies in the world when it comes to aviation safety and the data supports it. If anyone should be held accountable for the Ethiopian Air crash, the airline itself should be at the top of the list: the copilot only had 200 total hours! That FAA you are complaining about requires 1500 hours of experience to sit in the right seat. But apparently in Ethiopia, a 200 hour student pilot is good enough to fly right seat when over a hundred lives are at risk.


>did the FAA tell the pilot to turn off the anti-stall system in the Lion Air plane? Because that’s what happened, a pilot turned off that system due to the unrepaired airspeed indicator

Do you have a source for this? This sounds anachronistic, or you've got parts confused with some other flight. If by anti-stall you mean MCAS, if it was disabled then what caused the erratic pitching, unstable vertical speed, and the eventual nose down and dive? MCAS is already implicated in that flight the question is whether it was disabled at all prior to the accident, which would have been the normal procedure. Yet you're suggesting that disabling it was wrong, on what basis?

Also MCAS takes angle of attack, altitude and flap setting as inputs. It doesn't take airspeed as an input. Further there are three separate airspeed sensors, each with their own airspeed indicators, as separate systems. A inoperable indicator is a deviation that will be evaluated by accident investigators, and it might be a cause for confusion and delay in making decisions if the pilots didn't know about the problem in advance. But if they knew about it advance as you're suggesting, they'd just placard the bad one, make a log entry and fly on.

There's no evidence flight experience is related to the crash. It's really common in most of the rest of the world, including Europe, and used to be common in the U.S., to pair very experienced pilots with less experienced pilots - which happens to have been the case with Ethiopian Airlines flight.

The whole bush plane, third world, and "apparently in Ethiopia" commentary sounds ignorant bordering on racist to me.


The current head of FAA appointed by Trump was a lobbyist for Southwest, AA, United Airlines. No wonder he doesn't ground the Boeing 737 Max. Southwest alone operates the biggest 737 Max fleet in the world, with 280 planes. They'd lose a lot of money if their former employee grounds the plane https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Elwell

> Southwest alone operates the biggest 737 Max fleet in the world, with 280 planes.

Incorrect, they operate 35 Max8's, and have 237 total firm orders for Max8 and 30 for Max7.

https://www.planespotters.net/airline/Southwest-Airlines

http://www.southwestairlinesinvestorrelations.com/news-and-e...


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