Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Canada grounds Boeing 737 Max 8 (cbc.ca)
226 points by found_reading 43 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 291 comments

The discussion has moved to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19381931, since there is new information.

And then there was one.

I do wonder if we can halt and revert the deterioration of the Civil Service before the whole "civilization is two days worth of food and water" scenario arrives. If it does, I think it'll be through something that generates a disproportionate amount of fear and anxiety in people resulting in a significant impact to the economy in a sector where middle to upper class folks are heavily exposed to.

I think back to the government shutdown earlier last year, ended because 10 air traffic controllers couldn't come to work at LaGuardia, resulting in a domino effect of backlogged air traffic across airport hubs and airspace restrictions (including for private jets), resulting in POTUS making nice with House Speaker a few hours later.

So if you're concerned because Boeing's CEO is a Mar-A-Lago member with direct access to POTUS (who wants his club fees), and the Secretary of Transportation is the Senate Majority Leader's wife who is also lobbied by Boeing, and the FAA hasn't had an official administrator for two months, and the FAA can't approve safety fixes by Boeing due to government shutdowns, and aircraft manufacturing consolidation means Boeing is "too big to fail", I would just say "we" do have more power than we think.

Call me a partisan hack but the fact of the matter is this situation is murkier politically than a lot of other similar controversies. There is a direct conflict of interest between our president and the CEO of a major American multi-national country and due to an amazing lack of transparency we have no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes.

President's divest from their holdings upon taking the office for a very specific reason, the fact that Boeing's CEO is a customer of one of the president's properties really should be scrutinized heavily. If these crashes happened on our soil there would be no doubt in my mind that this plane would be grounded.

It's a conflict of interest of course. The good thing is that it hurts a lot of people, especially people with disposable income with the power to change things, and especially people with stores of capital/influence. It's like a SaaS product, where sales/marketing (the most important division of a company) literally cannot do their jobs if engineering-provided services go down. It's much less easy to gouge engineering in such a situation than say releasing a waterfall build, and having it fail after the sale.

If POTUS & Co. restrained themselves to separating children at the border and disappearing them into pedophile rings that they may frequent later (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/nyregion/children-separat...), people may not be as outraged, because it doesn't affect them. Instead, they flaunt their power in our faces, in a way that may affect our physical safety. They don't whisper, and that's good.

What would be really concerning is if people think this is okay, and the people with means realize the only way to really stay safe in a world where laws don't mean too much is to become part of the government, like in Russia. Then you have things like ambulance limos (https://jalopnik.com/ultra-rich-russians-hire-fake-ambulance...). I wouldn't know how to work backwards from that.

> and the Secretary of Transportation is the Senate Majority Leader's wife who is also lobbied by Boeing

When Mitch McConnell's wife Elaine Chao got assignment as the secretary of Depart of Transportation, Mitch McConnell should resign already.

Additionally, FAA's no-action silent "we don't know if 737Max8 is not safe" approach as oppose to "we know it's safe" is unacceptable.

> So if you're concerned because Boeing's CEO is a Mar-A-Lago member with direct access to POTUS (who wants his club fees), and the Secretary of Transportation is the Senate Majority Leader's wife who is also lobbied by Boeing, and the FAA hasn't had an official administrator for two months, and the FAA can't approve safety fixes by Boeing due to government shutdowns, and aircraft manufacturing consolidation means Boeing is "too big to fail" ...

Sure corruption is something we need to avoid but another way to look at this is that sure the high functioning successful people you want running the government are naturally going to have connections to high functioning successful people in the private sector. It is not in and of itself a bad thing.

I think that's true to a point, but we are way past that point. We're at the point where when the government works with the private sector, a worse result is created than if the government had created it alone, or if the private sector had created it alone, where you could form a total ordering. There is no recognizable gestalt, and whole point of public/private cooperation is to generate those gestalts.

Another way I look at this is, "what needs to be true for this situation to be the best possible situation for the parties involved? How does this make sense?". When I look at it this way, the FAA not grounding this plane doesn't make sense if you follow a path benefiting the general public, barring some extenuating private knowledge. It seems to be a long path of short-term optimizations.

A fundamental problem with regulation of an industry is one needs to have experts in the industry create and enforce the regulations. But how does one become such an expert? By working in the industry.

The alternative is having incompetents doing the regulation and enforcement.

The problem, I think, is there's no established protocol in this situation. Congress leaves entirely too much decision making up to the executive branch. How hard is it to write a law such as "If the same (public) commercial model plane crashes with fatalities more than once in an 18 month period, that model plane shall be grounded indefinitely until a root cause is established and mitigated"

This would have some interesting knock-on effects such as maybe airlines would value diversity in the fleets just a little bit more.

> How hard is it to write a law such as "If the same (public) commercial model plane crashes with fatalities more than once in an 18 month period, that model plane shall be grounded indefinitely until a root cause is established and mitigated"

The problem is if you write a law like that, then even if the FAA still otherwise nominally retains its existing power, the mere fact of the "2 in 18-months" rule in statute will have an effect of discouraging groundings with less than two crashes, or with 2 crashes more than 18-months apart. So, unless Congress is going to replace the FAA's decision making role and manage the details of response to each incident, which I think we can all agree would be a disaster itself, its probably not a good idea.

EDIT: Which is why Congress' role of executive oversight and accountability is as important as its role of writing legislation; sometimes there is no good safeguard available through more statutory rules, the best you can do is assure competence and dedication in the executive and apply consequences if there are shortfalls.

> will have an effect of discouraging groundings with less than two crashes, or with 2 crashes more than 18-months apart.

I don't see why this is necessarily the case. Clearly, there should be some established baseline to prevent regulatory capture by the industry.

> Which is why Congress' role of executive oversight and accountability is as important as its role of writing legislation

I think it's fair to say that object executive oversight has gone completely out the window in the last 20 years or so.

> I don't see why this is necessarily the case.

It is not necessarily the case in the sense of logical implication. Its just almost certainly the case, in the way in which laws effect implementing behavior in the real world.

Legislation which is mindful only of logical implication and not practical implication is a good way to screw things up.

> I think it's fair to say that object executive oversight has gone completely out the window in the last 20 years or so.

It is, and that's a problem that should be fixed. Asking Congress to micromanage by legislation rather than fixing the problems with executive oversight is not a solution, however.

>airlines would value diversity in the fleets

aka much more money to certify pilot crew, aka more expensive fares, aka less experience for any given pilot with some particular aircraft type.

Also on the upside, we now have a list of countries that place more value on consumers than the US.

There is a downside to consumers to grounding those airplanes. Since there are lot of those airplanes in service, it'll result in delays, difficulty booking flights, and significant ticket price increases.

So, all of them?

FWIW, Trump just ordered the 737Max to be grounded, not sure whether it's despite of FAA decision or overriding them.

Having read many commments on HN and elsewhere since the crash, I know I’m in the minority here when I say this but to me it seems like the US airlines and FAA are following their procedures, the same procedures that make the US airlines the safest in the world, while the rest of the world is, I don’t quite want to use the word panicking, but at least giving into pressure from people who aren’t aviation safety experts.

I don’t think it’s a simple as saying the US airlines and FAA are simply being greedy and placing profit over safety. The obvious easy thing to do from a PR perspective is to ground the planes. That they aren’t doing so in the face of immense pressure tells me that they base their decision on facts and procedure, not what-ifs and public scrutiny.

Let the downvotes begin.

The level of certainty required for an action changes depending on the downside risk of action vs inaction. For example, if I am 20% certain that you have a pulmonary embolism, the correct action is to start treatment immediately; the risks of treatment are low relative the harm of waiting for further testing.

The FAA and NTSB are rightly very conservative and cautious with respect to approving new designs, since the risk of premature approval is high and the harm of waiting a bit longer for more information is low. But this is the opposite scenario - the risk of grounding planes is operational inconvenience, versus the harm of another plane crash.

The correct move here is to act even if they think the certainty is low.

>The correct move here is to act even if they think the certainty is low.

What is the correct action though? The root cause of the first crash is understood to be a complete lack of training on a single aspect of the flight control system in a particular set of circumstances (one that happens to occur in the most dangerous part of the flight envelope). From what I understand about this issue, the correct action is to institute an immediate crash course (pun intended?) to train pilots on how to recognize and manage the actions of this subsystem unless further, currently unspeculated issues with the sensors and software are discovered.

>(T)he risk of grounding planes is operational inconvenience

I think you're overlooking the risks involved in adding significant pressure to flight schedulers (who have to get planes in place to make up for missed routes), maintenance crews (who have to provide more flight hours for the remaining fleet to make up for the missing planes), and pilots (who will have to fly something different than what they've recently been flying).

Think of how many opportunities for a mistake to happen would arise from changing something like the route, time, and (sometimes) vehicle used for the daily commute by every worker in a 2,000 person company. Tighter timetables, increased flight hours on the remaining fleet, and the need for pilot's to shake the rust off their skillset flying an airframe they haven't been in for a while are all significant risk factors that have played a part in the vast majority of flight accidents in the modern era of air travel.

Who will be responsible for a crash FAA Boeing or the airline. Even if FAA doesn't ground them airlines might start doing it themselves although these are the same airlines that manhandle overbooked passengers out the plane so cant be sure they would.

> the risk of grounding planes is operational inconvenience

I disagree. The EU grounded planes returned to their starting point, and will have to fly yet another leg: a double dose of flight risk.

How will airlines fill the gap from their MAX8 fleet? By dusting off their parked planes. Why are they parked? They could be lemons or reduced safety (e.g. Minimim Equipment Lists).

Or by deferring maintenance, which is done to keep planes safe.

Health care is trying to reduce its unnecessary testing habit: if they cost money and time without value, then resources are taken away from other life-saving interventions.

> How will airlines fill the gap from their MAX8 fleet?

Europe will probably be fine. Unfortunately here in the states, the Airlines colluded with "capacity discipline" [1]. If you've been on a US flight recently, you'll notice that a whole plane canceled would require another entire plane to be found. And since airlines don't seem to invest too much into their workforce, well they just don't have the extra captains and crew to run extra-hour flights late into the evening either.

1: https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-antitrust-airlines-la...

American passengers, assisted by SV technology, have been encouraged to be and demonstrated that they are totally indifferent to anything but price and will book with whichever carrier is least expensive. So don't complain that in order to stay in business, airlines are cutting costs to the bone and not carrying extra capacity anywhere that it's not essential.

You're not cutting costs by colluding with other airlines, you're keeping prices artificially high by ensuring you don't undercut each other.

But consumers are probably getting better pricing thanks to various platforms (Google Flights, Skyscanner, Flighthub, Expedia, etc.).

An up-start airline cutting fares can become ramen-profitable much quicker than ever before.

Signed, a Canadian that salivates at the pricing the American consumers can get for domestic flights.

> the risk of grounding planes is operational inconvenience

Is it possible there is a safety risk to grounding the 737 Max that outweighs the risk of allowing it to fly?

Yes, if the alternative is even less safe. This is important when the alternative might be driving, as driving is orders of magnitude more dangerous. Safety measures that annoy people too much can end up with a net loss of life because of this.

If there are other airliners that can be put into service to take up the slack, though, they’re very unlikely to be more dangerous.

By the way, the difference between the safety factors of driving and flying are not quite so straightforward. This is one of my favorite charts, which shows that per-mile, flying is safer, but per-journey, driving is safer (which makes some sense, since flying journeys are much longer, but 80% of accidents happen in the 5 minutes during takeoff/landing, so really in some sense, takeoff and landing are more dangerous than driving to work).


Also, note the final entry in that table: Space Shuttle. Per-kilometer, it's hardly that much more dangerous than driving. But per Journey....

Those numbers are for the UK in the 1990s. Commercial aviation is much safer today.

The fatality rate per journey for US airlines over the last ten years is approximately 0.14 per billion journeys, several hundred times better than the number from your link. (Roughly 700 million journeys per year on average, one fatality during that period.)

Cars have gotten safer too, but not nearly as much.

Is there a point at which the statistics are too muddy to be useful? We have had 1 fatality in the last ten years, but in the last 10 years, 1 month, and 1 day we have had 51 fatalities.

Definitely! If you take the fatalities for the last ten years and convert that to a risk estimate, the result will have gigantic error bars. We can be confident that the real risk is greater than zero, and it's pretty clear that it's small, but the exact number is pretty much impossible to know.

The farther back you look, the less noise you get in your data, but you also incorporate data that's less and less relevant to the current environment. Ten years seems like a decent cutoff, although it is a cutoff that happens to have had a wild swing recently.

My original point still stands if you want to take the data back a bit further: even if you include Colgan, the resulting number is way below the 117 per billion listed on that Wikipedia page.

It is therefore important to use each statistic in a proper context. When it comes to a question about risks associated with a particular long-range travel from one city to another, the most suitable statistic is the third one, thus giving a reason to name air travel as the safest form of long-range transportation.

Also, for many (?) to most (?) people, flying is unnecessary, added risk, while for the same group of weasel word identified people, driving is an arguable necessity.

EDIT: Added more weasel words.

So the argument is to ground the Max because there is a known MCAS issue and have people fly on proven older equipment. But Southwest hasn’t seen the MCAS issue in its fleet and its own pilots union feels its prepared to handle an MCAS issue should it occur. Could the reasoning be the Max is believed to be safer with US pilots at the helm than flying on the older equipment the Max is replacing?

If the argument is that this is just about dollars and inconvenience to the airline, what would a 737 Max crash, now, cost Southwest in law suits and reputation? Maybe SWA is weighing this against the likelihood of another flight 1380 type incident.

The rationale could be that it’s still safer with a pilot who knows what to do. Given how safe other aircraft are, it seems unlikely.

As for financial damages, it’s human nature to underestimate risks that have a large cost to mitigate. Even if grounding the Max is more cost effective, I wouldn’t be confident in them reaching that conclusion.

There's an additional confounding factor: Now that this has happened not just once but twice, causing hundreds of deaths, every pilot on the planet is acutely aware of this issue.

Instead of Boeing publishing information about the systems and requiring pilots to receive training in the new models, the pilots themselves have essentially come up with their own pilot training course, and used the tragedies plastered across global news as the change notification system.

I think it's a fallacy that people compares chances of death/injury like a computer would. Things like being in control of your own fate matter too.

People in general do not, but agencies like the FAA absolutely do, and that’s what I’m talking about.

I doubt that enters into the FAA's calculus here. It is more likely that there is not enough information to show that the plane is unsafe (a sample size of 2 is not statistically significant). The FAA has already approved this design, and to say that there is a design flaw would cast a shadow on their own approval process, and by extension their authority.

Of course, over the last 10 years or so the FAA has delegated much of the approval process to the corporations themselves. Perhaps the system really is rotten?

No, it doesn’t enter into this decision because there are other planes that can step in, and grounding this type won’t encourage more driving. That was just an example of how safety measures can potentially backfire.

The FAA absolutely does consider this in general. For example, this is a major reason they don’t require child safety seats: their analysis is that the extra expense would shift some travel to cars and ultimately kill more kids than it saves. https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?conte...

As for two crashes not being significant, I don’t buy it. Against such a low background rate (2017 recorded zero fatalities across all jet airliners of all types, for example), two crashes of the same type in a few months is huge. Six years ago, two non-fatal battery fires aboard 787s was enough for the FAA to ground the type until a fix could be made. In hindsight, that seems to have been the correct action. This 787 Max problem appears to be far more severe.

If I had to hazard a guess at the logic behind not grounding the Max it’s something like this:

We believe there may be an MCAS issue due to the preliminary Lion investigation but we haven’t seen it in our fleet and our pilots are confident they are prepared for it anyway. We don’t yet have enough data to draw any conclusion on the Ethiopian crash and so we’re currently treating it as an independent incident and a single incident doesn’t warrant grounding the plane.

Would I personally feel safer on a new Southwest Max or on an older Southwest 737? I don’t know. Statistically, there have been no 737 Max crashes in the US.

People are most likely going to be shuffled around to other planes. 737s use to be for a lot of short haul flights, but they're being used increasingly for mid and even long haul flights.

They're often far enough it's impractical to drive, and at least in the European market, trains are always a more expensive, but available alternative. If the FAA took action, in the US people would probably just postpone trips unless they had the personal days to drive instead (or a lot of personal days to AmTrak instead).

Most people will be shuffled onto larger flights to hubs with connections via smaller aircraft; so they'll be switching to airplanes with proven safety records. It increases demand for the seats and may raise cost, but safety would actually go up if it turns out there is a problem with the 737-max8.

Flying American or Southwest is going to be an absolute shitshow in the coming weeks, if they are truly losing such a large portion of their fleets it's going to be hard to accommodate so many passengers at once.

You skipped a step: demonstrate that the risk estimate is real, and not merely a guess.

I can’t help but draw the parallel to anti-vax logic: ”if it’s at all possible that my child might be seriously injured from a vaccine, then I must avoid vaccines!”

Setting a standard of “any risk is unacceptable because the downside risk is absolute” is also incorrect.

- We have a preliminary report from Lion Air, including a Emergency Airworthiness Directive and a Airworthiness Directive suggesting MCAS (w/faulty single AOA sensor) was closely tied to the accident.

- The Lion Air flight had a certain aerial profile before the crash (a wave, as MCAS fought the pilots).

- The Ethiopian Airlines aircraft has the same tell tale aerial profile

It would be better to have the black box data from Ethiopian Airlines, but the local authorities have said they're going to take weeks. In the meantime given the facts we have, there are reasons to suspect that Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines had a similar cause.

Additionally Boeing has also implicitly admitted there are issues, they're actively working on improvements to MCAS due out in April.

At least according to Southwest’s pilots union SWA has seen no MCAS issues in its fleet (edit: this may not be correct - see reply from antsar) and its pilots are prepared to handle any MCAS issue were it to occur.[1]

I think a worse scenario is if the Ethiopian flight crashed due to some other not yet known issue specific to the Max.

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

Southwest is also a unique case, as they had their Max 8s fitted with a sensor and warning to indicate problems with the AOA sensor that it implicated with MCAS.

So Southwest's position is rational, but doesn't scale well to other airlines using the standard Max 8.

It’s kinda absurd that a single sensor malfunction can lead to an accident like the lion air one. It’s also kinda absurd that critical sensor failure monitoring be sold as an up-sale.

> SWA has seen no MCAS issues in its fleet

I don't see how your link supports this. Closest I found in the text:

> 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.

That doesn't preclude having experienced MCAS issues while remaining confident in their pilots' ability to overcome the issues.


Would you please stop breaking the site guidelines? And start posting civilly and substantively, or not at all?


The number of times I have seen "why is this being down voted" over the past week or so is absolutely insane. More so when most of the subjects of the downvoting complaints aren't actually below 0.

People need to chill about about voting. The guidelines even say "don't complain about votes".


WaPo's lead fact checker who covered FAA for four years as a journalist disagrees with you:


Quote: "I covered airline safety and the FAA for four years, and I cannot remember a time when the FAA was so alone among world regulators on a serious safety issue. "

Neither viewpoint is supported here. The anomaly is that there is a disagreement between the FAA and the other aviation authorities, but no evidence has yet surfaced that would vindicate either party.

> no evidence has yet surfaced that would vindicate either party.

Except for two brand new aircraft crashing within five months of each other with all souls lost.

But you're right, other than that, there's nothing.

at least quote it all please, "When a major accident like this happened, global aviation authorities conferred with the FAA -- which took the lead."

Because that part of the quote it not only pointless, it's nonsensical.

The FAA DID take the lead by immediately issuing a notice in support of the airworthiness of the plane. Other aviation authorities then decided to contravene the FAA and ground the planes in their own airspace.

There is an irrational assumption that has been injected into this argument, which is that all of a sudden the FAA's judgment should be subject to abnormal scrutiny (at a time when there hasn't been a single fatal accident on a commercial US airliner in 10 years), and the judgments of other civil aviation authorities should all of a sudden be held in higher regard.

immediately issuing a notice in support of the airworthiness of the plane

But the FAA has no idea right now what caused the crash. So this notice is nothing more than reminding everyone that it was previously determined to be OK. Nobody thought the 737-8s were flying around without an airworthiness certificate, so no new information is on the table.

If you run up to me and say 'Bad Thing just happened, what do' and I respond by saying 'I have previously determined that Bad Things are very unlikely' would you say I am being responsive to the problem?

Maybe this is a reflection of the recent loss of respect the U.S. has been facing in the last couple years. Other countries are feeling less inclined to defer to our judgement.

That journalist is not disagreeing, they are simply stating that they don’t remember a time like this in the 4 years he covered them. That is very different from what you are implying.

lead fact checker? Who fact-checks the lead fact checker, I wonder?

"I covered airline safety and the FAA for four years"..."and I can't remember"... it's not a fact tweet, it's an opinion tweet.

> WaPo's lead fact checker ...

That's not the type of fact I would lead with.

Also, it's a bit ironic to blame the FAA for other countries not following it. The mistakes of other nations are theirs to bear.

My father used to work for Transport Canada (Canada's version of the FAA), and I've found it rather dismaying how little faith people seem to have in the FAA/NTSB despite many years of evidence as to their competence. They're probably the best independent regulator the US has at the moment.

Ironically, if you were to dive into a thread about "Urban Air Transport", a hot topic in Silicon Valley, you'd likely see people decrying the FAA for being too conservative and stifling innovation.

What would it take for you to change your opinion of them? How do we know they're not current asleep at the wheel?

The FAA is not some singular, autonomous entity. It's real live humans with biases and potentially some level of political influence. No regulatory body is above suspicion.

There's no way for them to know at this point what caused the second crash. It might actually be a critical defect, something that was overlooked or blame mis-applied on the first crash investigation. We simply don't know at this point, and neither do they.

> They're probably the best independent regulator the US has at the moment.

Aren't most of the safety statistics they publish basically fake? If you look at the star ratings they give for crash tests, there is an asterisk with fine print saying that they only compare vehicles within 250lbs of each other. Which means that when you're trying to figure out which car is actually the safest, a car that gets a 3-star crash rating might actually be safer than one that gets a 5-star crash rating.

NTSB isn't the NHTSA, totally different agencies.

NTSB also is not the FAA, just to be clear. The NTSB is one of the most respected safety and accident investigtation groups in the world.

Aviation safety is written with blood, a high cost for every safety measure conceived. It is one of the areas where it's better to be wrong and safe.

Aircrash investigations take a lot of time, and sometimes, well, sometimes you have to act on preliminary information or even guesses if it is on the safer side.

> the same procedures that make the US airlines the safest in the world

Citation needed?

> Let the downvotes begin.

Bracing for impact doesn't invalidate the cause of it.

> Citation needed

You’re probably asking for a citation that the US airlines are safest due to their procedures and not for other reasons. I don’t have a ready citation for that. But as to US airline safety:


> Bracing for impact doesn't invalidate the cause of it.

Fair, I should have left that out, but I won’t ninja edit it on you now. (And I have no idea why you’re downvoted. I’ve upvoted your comment.)

That link does not support your statement. There are countries with the same safety record and with a higher percentage of their airlines ranking higher in safety than US airlines.

Lumping the US versus 'the rest of the world' together does not compare single countries against each other.

The US is safe for air travel, but that does not show that it is the safest.

My link may not be correct but it does say: the U.S. continues to have the lowest accident and fatality rates of any aviation market in the world

The primary reason is likely due to training requirements:


Those requirements are due to US regulations.

Wouldn't something like this suggest that Europe and North Asia was safer in the period leading up to that forbes article?


And that greenspun article from 2009 is just special.

Your link does not really help prove your point at all. Do you have a real source proving your point?

Countering my own claim about the FAA I’ll link to this piece from 2010 that doesn’t make the FAA look so great in that decade:


> the US airlines the safest in the world

Where do you people _get_ these ideas?!

It's partially true: Qantas held the accolade of AirlineRatings' world safest airline from 2014 to 2017, but took joint honors in 2018 when the website chose not to rank its top 20. For 2019, Qantas is singled out as the best, while the remaining 19 safest airlines haven't been ordered and are instead listed alphabetically. The top 20 are: Air New Zealand, Alaska Airlines, All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, EVA Air, Finnair, Hawaiian Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Scandinavian Airline System, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, and United Airlines and Virgin group of airlines (Atlantic and Australia). Source: https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-safest-airline...

Maybe from the fact that the last fatality in a US airline crash was over ten years ago?

Unfortunately I think Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 in 2018 counts as resetting that streak. It wasn't a crash but it did result in a death. I think your point still stands though. Very few of the incidents on this list are US airlines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_incident...

That's hardly a unique thing about US airline safety. You're building one heck of a fragile claim there to superiority, a number of other countries can make similar claims, including countries that have similar or better safety records.

Just out of a quick wiki trawl over the last ten years:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UPS_Airlines_Flight_1354 UPS airline plane crashed in 2013, killing all onboard.

In the same year, a commercial flight by Rediske Air crashed in Alaska, all 10 people on-board died.

While not technically a crash, there was a fatality involving US airline just last year, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southwest_Airlines_Flight_1380, making the US airline safety record worse than a good number of countries.

Are you really going to use a UPS crash as an argument here? You actually raise some good points but I can’t get past that one.

"UPS Airlines Flight 1354 was a scheduled cargo flight from Louisville, Kentucky, to Birmingham, Alabama"

  U.S. Airline
  U.S. origin
  U.S. destination
  European aircraft (A320)
Seems that the cause was problems with American trained pilots, so it's a strong refutation to the assertion "Maybe from the fact that the last fatality in a US airline crash was over ten years ago? "

Despite the name, UPS Airlines is a cargo company, not an airline. If you want to quibble over semantics, just pretend I specified “passenger airline” since that’s what I was talking about and that’s the relevant category.

Cargo companies come under the same regulations. You can't ignore them just because it's detrimental to your narrative.

The regulations are considerably less strict for cargo flights, and they’re notorious for being significantly more dangerous. I’m ignoring them because cargo safety is irrelevant, not because it’s inconvenient.

As far as I could find, there were no Canadian airline crashes in the same time frame. Unless you include small charter-airline type crashes, which would mean some american crashes would be counted too (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Rediske_Air_DHC-3_Otter_c... )

With less than 1/10th the number of passengers, that’s significantly less meaningful. It does indicate they’re about on an equal footing, though.

That means nothing. All airlines based out of France and Germany are ISOA certified, never had a fatality, and are rated 7/7 by AirlineRatings [0] (industry leader on airline safety ratings), for example.

[0] https://www.airlineratings.com/safety-rating-tool/

Sure, because extended suicide by pilot was excluded, but as a passenger I don't care much whether I die because there was a mistake somewhere or because the pilot was criminally insane.

It's downright comical to list Germanwings as "Fatality Free".

That web site is nice but it does not correctly rate US-only carriers.

Also, Air France 447 was less than ten years ago. So your data may be suspect.

I assume you mean they haven’t had a fatality in the last ten years, not that they’ve never had a fatality?

AF447 was less than ten years ago. So OP is mistaken either way.

Care to offer evidence to the contrary to support your incredulity?

There has been one death in the past decade of US commercial flights. One in a decade of over 90 million flights.

But if you extend the time frame by a month and a day, it's 51.

I otherwise agree.

Yes, because that was the exact crash that led to a number of improvements in air safety in the US...

I understand and agree that we don't want knee-jerk reactions on the part of regulators.

I'm only an aviation enthusiast and by no means an expert, and fully admit that I could be wrong, and even with my natural inclination to reserve judgement, to me it seems obvious that grounding is warranted purely from a statistic viewpoint.

Compare the release of the 737 MAX 8 with the release of other recent-ish models like the 777 and 787. It was 14 years before the 777 suffered even a single hull loss, and 20 years before a crash of the magnitude of the 737 MAX 8 (loss of all souls). The 787 is almost a decade old and has zero hull losses or fatalities.

The 737 MAX 8 is less than a few years old and already has two catastrophic crashes? I know that it's hard to draw too much information from just two data points, but that's pretty compelling to me.

Also, don't forget that the 787's were also grounded when they were new for their battery problems: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_787_Dreamliner_battery_...

It's a bit of a different situation, but they were grounded for a problem that I don't believe caused a single fatality, but had more incidents in a shorter time period.

By this argument, all Boeing 777s should have been grounded after the loss of Malaysia 370 and Malaysia 17. Same plane, both incidents within 5 months of each other.

Ignoring the fact of MH-17 having been shot down by missile (which took time to prove but was suspected from the outset) really hurts your argument.

Only if you consider the total amount of time during which the plane has been in business an irrelevant detail.

Which it is not, of course.

That's a deceptive argument. We know the reason why Malaysia 17 was lost. So we positively know that there is no reason to ground them.

> I don’t think it’s a simple as saying the US airlines and FAA are simply being greedy and placing profit over safety.

No. It all comes down to as simple as "better safe than sorry" philosophy. FAA have generally very conservative about air safety tolerance as they should. The normal response should be "we know 737 is safe", because we have data showing that over 10k+ deliveries and less than 3% had hull loss. Can FAA say that to Boeing 737Max8 today?! So instead of being conservative they are being bold and saying "we don't know if 737 Max is not safe because investigation has not been concluded." You see the difference now?

More and more evidence revealing that FAA/Boeing are placing profit over safety. Do you think FAA have a problem grounding AirBus planes with non hull loss accidents? Absolutely Not! In fact, they did exactly that in 2018 to AirBus 320neo [1]

> Let the downvotes begin.

This is the behavior to directly violate the HN rules. But having a minority opinion doesn't.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-30/pratt-sai...

Let the downvotes begin.

HN guidelines ask that you don't bait people this way, it's toxic to discussion.

While you're trying to field a rational argument, doing so using pejorative language (panicking, giving in to pressure) preemptively delegitimizes other points of view and thus undercuts your own credibility. Certainly facts and procedure are great but it's also a fact that a large number of people just died in circumstances that are uncertain; you're essentially arguing that the uncertainty should not be considered absent a causal mechanism.

Why is it so important not to adjust our course while investigations proceed? After all we have an elaborate financial services industry devoted to the mitigation of economic risk, so why shouldn't we allow that to operate? Voluntary risk-bearers (insurance and reinsurance firms, option issuers etc) can do their thing and shoulder the financial burden of the disruption rather than expecting passengers to shoulder vital risks which they're not qualified to assess.

I didn't see any comment that countered the narrative that the 2 planes that crashed had an erratic altitude before crashing.

We have a natural and simple scenario to explain both, and a serious reason to suspect that any left side angle of attack indicator could have a mishap because those things happen and it's normally not a big deal.

Even if the investigation deem that the root causes are different, it is the most natural explanation of those accidents absent more information, and it is even a nominal chain of event that was planned by Boeing.

I agree and I don't think you deserve the downvotes. The FAA is an institution with a deep sense of safety first and independence from (and even dominion over) private industry.

They are also a body of experts, with more collective knowledge than any other similar body of domain experts in world.

If we believe in institutions of experts who study and make recommendations regarding complex systems, we owe it to the FAA to trust they are charting a prudent course based on the evidence they are gathering and analysis they are doing.

It's interesting you put it this way. I just heard on NPR this morning that the FAA and NTSB is actually in partnership with private industry (like Boeing and the airlines) for cooperative self regulation because the FAA and NTSB just doesn't have the resources to provide adequate inspections without their help. I'll see if I can find that interview.


I listened to this interview and it's interesting the way you put it:

Steve Inskeep rephrases a statement that Goelz makes to make it seem like the FAA is short staffed and that airline compliance is on the honor system.

Goelz then says what he means is that there cannot be an independent FAA inspector in every single corner of a manufacturer or maintenance shop, but by then it's too late because the seed has been planted listeners mind.

So here you are saying the "FAA and NTSB just doesn't have the resources to provide adequate inspections" and that the overall compliance model here is "cooperative self regulation" which... I guess barring the FAA having a 1:1 staff for every employee in the airline industry we are indeed going to have "cooperative self regulation".

Regulatory capture happens. Top level leadership starts overruling career professionals and then that dominion gets reversed. Not saying that's what has happened hear but boy did Boeing pull one over on the Faa with this planes release. And Faa leadership has incentive to hold the line. Faa fucked this up long ago.

An attitude of “damn the regulations, we need to help business” flows from the very top of this administration, too. That, and blatant corruption. How much has Boeing spent at Trump properties in the last few years?

The FAA should be independent but it doesn’t always work that way, and this sort of thing can tip the balance.

The FAA is great, and I'd agree it's probably better than any other individual agency in other countries. But better than all of them together? Maybe, maybe not.

To turn your concluding argument around, what is imprudent about grounding these planes until we have a clearer answer? It's going to cause some economic loss, but this seems like a much lower priority.

The thing people aren't looking at is the condition of the planes. Both crashes happened with planes of third-world nations, and might not have been held to the same rigorous standards. I'm glad America is trying to get the black box, because I'm not sure I'd trust the Ethiopian govt not to tamper with it just to protect their image (and their tourism industry).

Lion, maybe, (I don't know anything about them to say), but Ethiopian Air is a top-rated airliner.

Last I heard they are looking for a European country to analyse it, because they don't trust America to fully and honestly investigate.

That's pretty unheard of. But I can't blame them.

It's kind of ironic that this story is on front page at the same time as the one about internet mobs shutting down researchers. It really feels like internet mobs are succeeding in pressuring regulatory bodies to ground the airplane, even though those bodies have determined by their normal evaluation criteria that it's not necessary to do so.

At this point that is a regulatory 'body', singular.

They have more than 5000 orders for this model of aircraft. Each one costs approx 120million. Which means there are approx $640 billion dollars on the line. It is imperative that Boeing keeps it's reputation and grounding flights would destroy it.

Would grounding it really destroy their reputation? Grounding it doesn't mean indefinitely.

If anything, it's a huge positive if they grounded it until they knew for certain what's wrong because then it's a double win. Firstly, on the ground the plane has a 0% chance of killing anyone (unless someone decided to jump off the top of a parked plane and commit suicide, etc.), and secondly Boeing's reputation goes up because now people have a chance to think "ok finally, they actually care about safety instead of profits".

Also, Southwest is the largest US flyer of this plane and it only makes up about 5% of their fleet, so it's not like the entire world's flight traffic gets disrupted. Lastly, I would think most people who are scheduled to fly on one of these planes will cancel or demand a plane switch, so the delays and flight traffic issues are still going to happen to some degree.

Currently, all I'm reminded about from this situation is how insanely corrupt the US govt is (I'm from the US btw) and how little Southwest cares about people because they won't even let you cancel without paying out of pocket, which is totally insane. You only have 1 life.

Had Boeing grounded the fleet in the hours following the second crash (we're confident there's no problem however due to the highly unlikely coincidence we are proactively taking this step out of an abundance of cation), sure. When the truth comes out they'd be respected regardless of the outcome.

Too late now though. If the truth comes out and it's not a Boeing problem, their reputation suffers for "what might have been". If it is, their reputation suffers for "profits over safety"

Southwest, for what it's worth, were offering free changes of ticket for those on a max. American weren't.

At first I didn't agree with your "too late now" remark but now that the US grounded them, you were spot on.

Now it feels more like a calculated reaction based on profits (ie. enough people cancelled MAX flights or asked for a flight change that grounding the plane is now a better decision financially).

In any case, it's a good result that they are grounded until everyone knows what happened during the crash and have an iron clad solution to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

Another 737 Max crashing in the face of the current scrutiny would destroy it even worse, wouldn’t it? Is that just a calculated gamble?

It is a calculated gamble. We've seen this so many time in so many industries.

Is that just a calculated gamble?

Yes, because by now, every pilot still flying that plane has been trained to deal with the issue.

That was the Lionair aftermath.

If this issue did occur again (and that's not proven), the question is why didn't the pilots deal? Were they operating past their limits for whatever reason, like with UPS1354? Or is it that the problem isn't something that can reasonably be dealt with.

As were, I'm guessing, the Ethiopian pilots.

See, and I thought the aviation industry’s stellar safety reputation has been built on their willingness to ground planes at the smallest glimmer of a problem. It’s what tells the public, “hey, we don’t mess around.”

>The obvious easy thing to do from a PR perspective is to ground the planes

I don't think that is the case. The FAA and Boeing both said this plane is safe and approved it for use. They would look like complete idiots if they now turn around and say they were wrong and it would put a lot of focus on why and how they came to that initial conclusion that the plane was safe.

They are doubling down on their safety claim and are refusing to admit they could have made a mistake at the expense of potentially hundreds of lives.

There is reason to believe that the FAA has bad actors. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Elwell

Trump has appointed people in various areas of the government based on their contentious views with the departments they would oversee. This makes many in the international community question Dan Elwell's position and influence at the FAA.

They claim this is based on new "validated" satellite tracking data they received this morning showing similar altitude fluctuations to the Lion Air crash. Somehow every internet forum had this figured out within hours of the crash using public flight tracker data. I find it worrying that it took them so long to come to the obvious conclusion for lack of "validation" of widely known information, and that it took so long to validate this information given the potential risk to every passenger every time one of those planes takes off in the meantime.

It seems clear that safety is being weighed against level of disruption, which may be justified, but they haven't been transparent about this calculation.

>I find it worrying that it took them so long to come to the obvious conclusion

Aviation regulators and internet forums are literally at the opposite end of the spectrum with regards to jumping to conclusions.

Frankly, it hasn't even been a week. Thousands of flights happen every day, and these two accidents were 5 months apart. If it takes 2 weeks to make the decision, that actually sounds quite rushed. In the meantime every pilot on the planet is probably paying attention so they know what to do if they find themselves in the same situation, so likely the risk has already gone down slightly. I think that waiting 2 weeks until we have better facts represents a very reasonable tradeoff between safety and paranoia. It sounds to me like grounding the plane is a good idea, but I don't know exactly how the anti-stall system works, and I have no context for making the decision.

Yep a lot of papers have mentioned how these groundings by airlines was a very rare occurrence. Especially without any FAA confirmation and the day after an accident.

The conclusion in this case is, "two of the same type of plane crashed under similar circumstances so until we know more, no one should fly this plane." I have no problem with a regulator jumping to that "conclusion" until they are absolutely certain the plane is safe.

What bothers me is that yesterday, Garneau was basically saying, "until we're sure the plane is unsafe, we're going to keep flying it." That's backwards.

That's a truism. You're kind of ignoring their point though, which was that the data existed and was readily available.

Internet forums may be "jumping to conclusion" but regulators have had this data for days, and didn't act on it. They only acted after regulators in Europe and elsewhere acted first.

Timing does not carry much information here. Those decisions are taken by bureaucracies, and we are talking about days.

The Brazilian flight authority, for example, makes this kind of decision once a week, and there's a backlog. Even if all the technical analysis was ready minutes after the accident, it wouldn't have decided on it yet. Most western ones have a similar organizational model.

Data gathering takes days, data verification takes days, every time one has to contact somebody in a timezone with 4+ hours of difference, it takes a couple of days, informing superiors takes days, scheduling a decision takes days, even publishing it takes days.

The "data" being ADS-B information gathered by amateurs over homemade receivers?

If I was a regulator I'd want a verified and traceable data source as well.

Maybe the operative word is validated, then.

If you're a regulator, and you have unvalidated data that suggests a plane may be unsafe, how long do you wait for validated data before deciding to ground that plane "out of an abundance of caution"?

Three days?

It's their job to keep people safe. They do that by looking at data they trust. I don't envy the position they're in this week one bit.

I don't think it would be so bad if aviation regulators did jump to conclusions by erring on the side of safety.

> Somehow every internet forum had this figured out within hours

Rather like the identity of the Boston Bomber.

"But this time it's different" they'll say.

It may very well be different. Sometimes knee jerk reactions are right. Sometimes they are wrong. This whole thing reeks of tunnel vision but without the data from the second aircraft we don't have any way to tell tunnel vision from legitimate well reasoned decision making.

I'm in the "ground them just to be safe" camp but the way this whole thing is being conducted leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

You can bet the FBI didn't wait two days to take action on that lead. It turned out to be nothing, but "out of an abundance of caution" should be the standard here, not balance of probability.

Canada is extremely tightly tied to the US economy, and the US government is still taking Boeing’s side on this.

I wish this didn’t have to be about politics.

It's not just US/Canada relations. The biggest canadian aviation company has dozens of Max 8.

Air Canada have 20, about 10% of their fleet. Similar level to Norwegian. Westjet has 12 -- or 7% of their fleet.

> US government is still taking Boeing’s side on this

It's all fun and games until a Max 8 nosedives on US soil

It'll still be fun and games. It's just that the game will be "CYA".

The game has been "CYA" for a few days ago. Grounding the aircraft without information about the second crash is fundamentally a CYA exercise. It might be the right action to take but until we have the information we need to see if we are right or wrong it is a CYA exercise. Just because it's CYA doesn't mean it's wrong. Just because you turn out to be right later doesn't mean you didn't initially do it to CYA.

CYA generally refers to avoiding responsibility rather than a precautionary approach - one covers one's own ass (protects one's interests) while leaving everyone else exposed to risk.

The EU has grounded the Max 8s, accepting the disruption to commerce and inconvenience to travelers up front as the cost of avoiding an unlikely but potentially catastrophic accident. It's possible that if this were an Airbus instead of a Boeing plane that the situation might be reversed, but I'm inclined to think they would actually take the same action in that circumstance because EU regulatory culture is rooted in a precautionary rather than a palliative approach.

It's not so much about politics as process. Canada and the U.S. have a bilateral acceptance process, whereby airworthiness in one country is accepted in the other. Since the FAA was the certifying authority in this case, the default position would be to trust their process until evidence suggested otherwise.


> Canada is extremely tightly tied to the US economy

Canada also is home to one of the four major aerospace companies that make planes people are willing to fly on. Think of all the CRJ700s you could sell if people got flighty about using 737s.

I'm sure the Canadians are grounding them for all the right reasons, but let's be clear: they stand to gain if the 737 loses favour.

CRJs do not compete with 737s. If the 737 loses favour, the A319/320/321 would replace it.

The C-series is much closer to competing with the 737/A319.

But it is about politics. Ted Cruz spoke out in favour of grounding the 737-MAX, presumably because Southwestern Airlines is a major operator of these misengineered deathtraps and is based in Dallas. If a pilot lost control of his place and there was a crash shortly after takeoff it would hurt his ambitions.

> presumably because Southwestern Airlines is a major operator of these misengineered deathtraps and is based in Dallas.

Or maybe, just maybe he spoke out because he chairs the senate subcommittee for aviation?

> Somehow every internet forum had this figured out within hours of the crash using public flight tracker data.

They didn't. Every internet forum is speculating right now, none can support a conclusion.

> It seems clear that safety is being weighed against level of disruption

It is more than disruption. Democratic societies have some concerns about Rule of Law and fairness, all societies have concerns about not bankrupting the air-transit providers, and about providing confidence in a stable environment for business.

Besides, air-traffic disruption kills people too.

Democratic countries tend to be very transparent about this calculation, but you probably won't be able to get it this quickly. In a few days we will probably learn the details why Canada made their decision.

> Somehow every internet forum had this figured out within hours

Assuming "figured out" was not sarcastic: can you recommend any particular threads? I'd love to go beyond the coverage in major newspapers.

Here is one:


Note how some engineer explains how MCAS works and there is a lot pilots who are completely surprised. That's quite damning for Boeing

Yes, the data has been available for days. It's obviously a convenient excuse for the late reaction.

If this Reddit comment is true it's pretty damning. https://www.reddit.com/r/flying/comments/b08h03/737_max_mega...

Claims intermittent fluctuations in AoA can activate the MCAS. So no need for the AoA indicator to be faulty then, means the risk of falsa MCAS intervention higher than previously believed.

I'd bet against that rumor with 50 to 1 odds.

If there really was such a memo going around Boeing that would certainly be leaked. The leaker would probably due so publicly as well, as they would literally save lives and easily be free from retribution.

I don't know. Leaking dieselgate would arguably have saved more lives yet it took 6 years to surface.


I'm willing to bet 100$ that it is true.

This goes beyond aircraft at the moment. The NTSB and America in general used to lead. Now it seems the world is going to get on without them.

KAYAK has reported that people in the USA are filtering out 737 MAX8/9 flights now in ever increasing numbers. (Orbitz and Expedia have followed KAYAK's lead and added filters to filter out this plane.)

IMO, It's only a matter of time before public pressure forces either the government, or the carriers themselves to ground the planes.

Even if customers don't have safety concerns, the stories if 737 MAX 8 flights being turned around midair are surely causing people to pick other jets to avoid travel inconvenience.

> people in the USA are filtering out 737 MAX8/9 flights now

Is that actually an option for Kayak?

The usual sites I use to search for flights do not allow filtering on airplane type (except maybe "exclude prop planes").

After researching further, it appears they are adding it in response to this incident [1]

I had heard on my local NPR this morning that they had already done so, apparently they have just been receiving ever increasing requests for this feature.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-booking-hldg-kayak/kayak-...

The US Government is sadly conflicted. FAA claiming there is "no evidence" of this aircraft having a systemic flaw. Meanwhile:

Boeing brought $70B into Washington State's economy in one year.


Boeing is a major defense contractor, providing transportation, weapons, and other supplies to the US Military.

From what I understand about the issue so far, the systemic flaw is not in the aircraft, but in the training of the pilots. Or the lack thereof. Boeing wanted the 737 MAX to be considered just another 737 that didn't require any new training, but there are apparently significant changes compared to other 737 models that leave pilots feeling ill-prepared.

My understanding is that the Boeing 737 max jet is unstable. Instead of redesigning a new plane from the ground up, Boeing placed the larger engines forward and upward on the wings. Boeing then tried to issue a "software patch" on a bad hardware design. Boeing came up with an automated system to seize control of the aircraft in the event that the flight became unstable and neglected to inform pilots of this new automated system. Although not confirmed, it appears that both crashes may be the result of pilots wrestling with the plane's automated system, which they knew little about and may have been faulty

That is not accurate. There is a sufficiently different pitching moment in high angle of attack attitude that results in the engine nacelle producing lift. That means the flight characteristic of the MAX is sufficiently different to otherwise warrant its own type rating separate from previous 737 generation type rating. Boeing and FAA agreed to a software abstraction to obviate the need for a separate type rating for pilots.

The plane is not unstable. A pilot who is trained for the actual flight characteristics absolutely can handle the plane. The problem is they weren't required to get that training, because 737's still all share the same type rating as if they all have substantially the same flight characteristics. Which is generally true except one particular attitude, high angle of attack.

It's an open question to me (I'm no one, but I am a pilot and a flight instructor in a previous life) exactly how different stall avoidance could be with MCAS disabled (which is indirectly done by setting stabilizer trim to cutoff) once it has already induced a dive by having fought with it a little bit too long. If it's a normal procedure to disable the very software abstraction that means you don't need a type rating for this airplane, but the stall avoidance technique is substantially different from other 737s - that's very concerning to me. Not that the plane is unstable or unsafe. But that there's a disconnect in pilot knowledge and actual airplane flight characteristics with this abstraction turned off.

Unstability is not necessarily considered to be bad hardware design. Stability comes at a cost, such as less maneuverability or lower efficiency.

Before fly by wire, it was always worth going for stability because pilots couldn't fly unstable aircraft. Fly by wire enabled making flyable unstable aircraft, and so trading off some inherent stability for more maneuverability (military) or higher efficiency (civilian) became an accepted design option.

Private pilot here. That is exactly right, based on everything that I've read and heard from other pilots, some of whom fly the Max 8.

Other articles posted said there is a way to turn off the auto-correction, but it's not intuitive. On earlier 737s which had this, it came on when engaging automatic ascents/descents and was disabled when a pilot disabled those systems.

In the case of the Max8, it's always on and there is additional training needed to react quickly when this happens. I think all current pilots who are watching this situation should know what to do at this point, but the needed the awareness brought by the situation. In the two crashes so far, it seems like the pilots had years of commercial experience.

Knowing what to do and actually doing it under stress are two very different things. The aircraft that I fly, a Cirrus SR22, also has an electric trim and so there is the potential for something to go wrong and the trim to go rogue. When that happens, dealing with it is a "simple" matter of pulling the right circuit breaker. But the circuit breakers are on a panel located near your right shin. They are not easy to see nor to reach, and if you don't have the location of the trim breaker memorized, the odds of being able to find it and pull it while the plane is trying to kill you are rather low. Happily, there has never been a runaway trim on an SR22 (AFAIK) so this doesn't keep me up at night. But I can certainly understand how even a pilot that was prepared for this eventuality might fail to deal with it properly while under duress.

You are discounting the possibility of software controlling an aerodynamically unstable airplane safely. This has been happening for decades (see X-29, B-2, etc)

Sure, but those pilots knew they were flying that kind of aerodynamically unstable airplane ahead of time. These pilots apparently were thinking "this is just a 737".

Exactly. The plane might well be perfectly safe in properly trained hands, but it seems rather obvious by now that it doesn't fly the same as a regular 737.

Those airplanes were designed from the ground up with that control system in mind (the F16 is one of those). It's not something that you would normally retrofit on an otherwise unchanged design, the original 737 was never meant to be flown in that mode and a software patch to make it work that way sounds like a dangerous plan.

On another note, I don't think the 737 Max is inherently unstable, so I'm not even sure this line of reasoning applies at all or even in part.

Did any of those aircraft quietly oppose the pilots authority?

I remember reading 30 years ago that the F-16 has 3 computers that vote on how to respond to user input.

I just had to say wow, this is the most interesting thing I’ve read in a while

This is the conclusion I too could come up with. But whatever, I think these 2 737 crashes have pushed fully automatic flights a bit further.

If this turns out to be a software bug of dangling pointer... oh imagine that poor developer has to take all the karma of lost lives...

Yes, it's possible that an engineer made a mistake--Boeing will certainly blame everyone else including the pilots and engineers. But the bigger picture here is that the plane might be unstable, it used a "software patch" as a band-aid, and it neglected to inform pilots about the new automated systems.

I suspect the blame lies with Boeing's management and with the FAA for being complicit with Boeing.

Reminds me of a company I used to work for where when we updated our PCIe NICs, we would never, ever change the PCIe device or sub-device ID. This was to avoid a triggering a re-certification from various companies (MS WHQL, Vmware ESX testing, etc). The first thing the driver did was to talk to the firmware and ask it for a set of supported features..

My understanding is that it's a bit of both. This Slate article[1] described it as both a design flaw and an effort to paper over that design flaw by tweaking the autopilot system.

>Boeing swapped out the engines for new models, which, together with airframe tweaks, promised a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency. In order to accommodate the engine’s larger diameter, Boeing engineers had to move the point where the plane attaches to the wing. This, in turn, affected the way the plane handled. Most alarmingly, it left the plane with a tendency to pitch up, which could result in a dangerous aerodynamic stall. To prevent this, Boeing added a new autopilot system that would pitch the nose down if it looked like it was getting too high.

Because of the changes to the autopilot system it functions differently than pilots expect it to during an emergency situation on this particular plane.

[1] https://slate.com/technology/2019/03/ethiopian-air-crash-whe...

Yeah, my understanding is essentially, the changes made the Max 8 not behave aerodynamically like other 737s. This would normally mean that pilots would need to requalify on it as a new plane type, in order to legally fly one.

But that's more expensive for Boeing's customers, so to make it more attractive, they decided to "paper over" the differences in behaviour with software. Fly it like any other 737, and if it starts to stall in conditions where other 737s wouldn't, the software corrects things!

Except, except, like all abstractions, this one's leaky -- and they've only shifted the difference in behaviour from "stalls at angles that would surprise a 737 pilot" to "noses-down in ways that would surprise a 737 pilot" along with "can't be muscle-overridden the way the autopilot on other 737s can be".

It's not the autotrim that you can't fight. The plane can be trimmed (elevator surface) in such a way that pilot yoke input (stabilizer surface) cannot fight against. That is common to all 737's, and all pilots know about it. It is not that the autotrim feature can't be fought.

What's new in the MAX is the autotrim doesn't terminate when the pilot gives back pressure on the yoke if MCAS senses high angle of attack, it will do an uncommanded nose down (every I think 10s). This is to compensate for the MAX engine nacelle which provides a meaningful amount of lift to cause a pitch up moment in high angles of attack, unlike previous 737's.

I wonder whether the stall behavior between 737's is slightly dissimilar or very dissimilar without MCAS, between 737NG and 737 MAX? And then quantifying that difference. I also seriously wonder if it's even slightly more likely for a pilot to induce a stall as a result of not knowing about the natural uncorrected stall behavior of the new design compared to previous designs. MCAS is not my concern, it's how the plane flies without it that I wonder about.

Also, WSJ is reporting that the MCAS software update mandated by the FAA in an airworthiness directive was delayed due to the nearly five week government shutdown. I'm already imagining the tweets...

> To prevent this, Boeing added a new autopilot system that would pitch the nose down if it looked like it was getting too high.

The biggest problem here is that the new autopilot system relies on a pair of Angle of Attack sensors. Those sensors are prone to damage, and if the sensor is damaged, the erroneous information it reports can engage the new autopilot system. One of the reasons why Southwest thinks it's immune to this problem, by the way, is because they paid extra for a system that displays an alert when the Angle of Attack sensors disagree with each other, so pilots are aware of what's wrong and can take action to stop it. Most other carriers, including Ethiopian and Lion Air, didn't.

Also, other autopilot systems can be disengaged by pulling back on the stick. This one can't: you have to manually disengage the system.

Pilots were never informed of any of this because Boeing wanted to maintain the fiction that the 737 MAX is no different than previous versions of the 737.

It is a systematic flaw.

Boeing announced that it had been working on a flight control software upgrade that includes updates to the MCAS flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. It's coming in few weeks and expected to be made mandatory by April by an FAA airworthiness directive.

What you are describing is a systemic flaw in the aircraft.

Perhaps I haven't followed the news closely enough, but wasn't the Ethiopian plane also spewing excess smoke at the time of the crash?

If so, wouldn't that suggest a failure mode other than the one that's viewed as a training issue?

Eyewitness reports of plane crashes nearly always involve fires in locations no two eye-witnesses agree on, smoke, wings falling off, etc. These are rarely born out by subsequent investigations.

See, eg, " Reliability of Eyewitness Reports to a Major Aviation Accident" https://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1040&co....

A plane crash is a very fast, horrifying tragedy to witness. It shouldn't be surprising that peoples' imperfect memories afterwards are completely scrambled

Yup. Even professional pilots get it all wrong:

> almost all the eyewitnesses, including experienced pilots, gave grossly inaccurate accounts when compared to the film record

There were eye witness reports to that effect, but the proof would be in the flight recorders.


Kleptocracy kills.

The current "admin" is full of Boeing people. Also, there's no one doing anything at the FAA.

The most unsurprising development in the history of things that have happened: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/03/surprise-trump-kept-...

Ah, good old kleptocracy. Who could have predicted this?

The conflict of interests here are pretty apparent to a cursory view. Unfortunately.

The right thing to do is ground the plane and figure out a proper remediation going forward.

Boeing was a big employer, contractor, etc. back in 2013 when the FAA grounded the entire 787 fleet.


2013’s FAA was under an ethical Obama administration. Anything touched by Trump is assumed to be corrupt. Witness the black box being sent to Europe and not the USA. The soft power of ethics in action.

>FAA was under an ethical Obama administration

Let's not be naive that any major political party can be ethical, Obama simply had a nicer public image but there were still scandals* during his administration.

* = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Obama_administration_...

> Let's not be naive that any major political party can be ethical

No, real differences in ethical conduct (both in overall level, insofar as that is meaningful, and more importantly in particular details) do exist between administrations, even within the same party.

> there were still scandals during his administration.

A scandal can exist without an actual ethical lapse, and in any case, not all scandals, even among those involving actual ethical lapses (much less, all sets of such scandals) are equal.

A controversy is not the same thing as a scandal.

For example, this is on that list:


I would wager mass surveillance programs, Fast/Furious, and spying on White House journalists to be scandalous.

Not sure why many people can't fathom seeing both parties as unethical.

I can fathom seeing both parties as falling below some threshold of being "acceptably ethical".

I cannot fathom seeing every administration as being equally and indistinguishably unethical, however.

I completely agree, I was not trying to equate both administrations. I'm just tired of hearing people claim Obama had a perfect administration.

> I'm just tired of hearing people claim Obama had a perfect administration.

I think you are looking too hard for things to be upset about if you mistake someone referring to Obama's administration as ethical in contrast to Trump's as claiming Obama's was perfect.

Different President, Different Secretary of Transportation, different FAA chief.

Obama's administration was run grossly different than Trump's administration. Case in point: FAA doesn't even have a Trump-appointed administrator yet (Daniel Elwell was only appointed to the position of Deputy administrator and is only "Acting Administrator" for now).

That's fine, but that's a different claim entirely.

The FAA has always had the "Boeing is a large employer and defense contractor" conflict. I'm perfectly fine with a "current management is bad" assertion.

Fair enough.

Can an argument not be made for EU and China grounding the aircraft as well?

The EU produces the only real competitor (Airbus A320), and China is in the middle of a 'Trade War' with the U.S and is trying to create a serious airplane manufacturer of their own.

>Boeing is a major defense contractor, providing transportation, weapons, and other supplies to the US Military.

I don't even know what that has to do with it, do you think if the FAA grounded 737's Boeing would... cancel all existing contracts with the World's largest military?

My feeling is that if there is irrational decisionmaking by the FAA in Boeing's favour, it's not because of some grand strategy but more because FAA people are friends with Boeing people and don't want to upset them before their next golf game or fundraising event or whatnot. Friends of friends and a few phone calls...

Maybe I'm very wrong. I hope I am. But it's the sense I've gotten about American politics and regulatory capture.

>My feeling is that if there is irrational decisionmaking by the FAA in Boeing's favour

There seems to be a lot of feelings going around. I just don't get why they're only going against the U.S and Boeing, who obviously don't want another 737 Max crash if only because that would definitely call the entire program (and $500 billion) into question, when the EU hosts literally the only competitor to Boeing.

>The NTSB and America in general used to lead.

Correction: America used to dictate.

Thd FAA + NTSB need to do something. They need to investigate and review past investigations and come out with their findings, they can’t just say “we don’t believe it”. Even if they are right, the right thing to do is thoroughly review past incidents and issue a finding.

I have no idea whether the correct default position should be to ground or not to ground these planes.

But it's clear that the investigation is in-progress and their statement was not "we don't believe it" but "Thus far, our review ... provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft ... Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action."

> Even if they are right, the right thing to do is thoroughly review past incidents and issue a finding.

Isn't that precisely what they're doing now? Also from the FAA's statement: "... if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action."

I agree that the NTSB doesn’t hesitate to make a call. What I’m saying is that in this case, a special case in that two aircraft have had similar crashes and pilots seem to indicate an issue, should prompt the NTSB + FAA to issue conservative guidance on this, i.e. be super cautious on the side of safety when there appears to be uncertainty.

The FAA hasn't had a confirmed director since the last one's term expired in January of 2018. I wonder what effect that has on their decision making.

Gotta ask, when's the time to buy Boeing stock? It's like all these things happen, stock gets dumped quickly, but it's not like this hurts the overall value of the company.

Anyone have other examples of events like this taking down a big company's stock price for a limited time, but not affecting it overall?

Tavis[0] buys every time a major data leak or whatever occurs. I don't think he's lost money yet...

[0] https://twitter.com/taviso/status/1068631118960766976

Just look at Facebook’s recent history, plenty of examples there.

this would absolutely hurt the overall value of the company

You would think so, but this graphic says otherwise


Let's ignore this new information and just carry on our existing arguments - it's the only appropriate thing to do without a general regulatory theory.

The "new information" part is just for face saving.

The meeting with the Civil Aviation Experts Panel was literally yesterday.

It's unnecessary to cast a cynical light on everything.

From a November 29, 2018 story - Southwest airlines were activating a factory-installed option on delivered aircraft to "guard against any erroneous sensor data that may activate the jet's controversial stall protection system..."


The article notes that the airline has opted for an upgraded avionics suite that low-cost airlines have, for the most part, forgone.

The right thing is to ground the plane. It's just one plane out of many. It doesn't matter if nothing is wrong with the plane. Until they have clear answers it's better to not take any risks with people's lives!. At this point it's even better for Boeing from every perspective. The plane cannot leave the US and most of US passengers avoid flying it anyway. I'm sure airline crews are also very unhappy that they need to fly it. I wouldn't be surprised if some US airlines would ground it if the FAA doesn't.

Since its a ban on all Canadian airspace, will this effect American flights which pass over Canada? I imagine quite a few flights cross over the southern part of Ontario.

"This safety notice restricts commercial passenger flights from any air operator, both domestic and foreign, of the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft from arriving, departing, or overflying Canadian airspace," Transport Minister Marc Garneau said today.

If it were just southern Ontario that would be one thing. Every flight from the US west coast to Europe spends half (from SEA) to a third (from SFO or LAX) of its flight time in Canadian airspace. However all such flights would likely already be affected due to the widespread European bans. I have no idea if any of those routes were served by 737 Max 8s.

2/3 of the fleet was reported grounded before Canada joined. I doubt many 737s pass Canada on their way to Europe but I found this:

> When it comes to riskier transatlantic and trans-continental routes, Boeing's new narrowbody 737-Max and Airbus's A320neo family can now be employed due to tremendous leaps in engine reliability and fuel efficiency. That has resulted in a considerable expansion of long-haul routes utilizing narrowbody airliners.


That's ETOPS. Engines Turn Or People Swim

There's a great visualization of the routes here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/11/world/boeing-...

Minister is saying that he faced no pressure from US or Boeing.

We need a Pants on Fire emoji. Or maybe a Pinocchio Nose.

This lazy cynicism makes absolutely no sense considering the very decision being discussed here.

Let’s say these planes should have never been certified. What’s the financial damage to Boeing?

So far their stock has dipped to the level it was at the end of January.

It's still 15% up on December.

737 Max is their biggest order backlog. However, there's a lack of competition to Boeing (Airbus bowed out) so its stock has gone up and up. Not sure what will happen if 737 Max is sent back to the drawing board.

Lack of competition? The A320neo (which has 6,501 orders) is what caused Boeing to update the 737 into the 737 Max. Boeing wanted to build a whole new plane which would have taken years, but Airbus released the neo and would have gobbled up orders now. What are you thinking Airbus bowed out of?

Can they just get customers to shift over to a different model plane?

From what I quickly skimmed online, 5000 737 Max have been ordered at about $100 millions a piece, so loss of revenue around $500 billions.

Well, unless they can fix the problem and prove they're viable again.

It is more a fantasy back of the envelope calculation than a real number, I can't imagine that Boeing won't be able to fix the issue.

In the end, it might be some penalty paid to some companies, and a slightly tarnished image, but people will keep buying and flying Boeings.

That assumes none of those companies would order a different Boeing instead. They’re not exactly at a glut for options, and I imagine they still need airplanes

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact