Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Europe says 737 Max won't fly until it completes it own design review (bloomberg.com)
363 points by prmph 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 397 comments

Good. Hold them accountable and make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. Although a ‘same plane’ cert was a good goal, they should have made sure it was truly accurate instead of bending the case to make it so.

This may be as close to an ‘open and shut’ case for corporate gross negligence as we will find in quite a while (at least I hope so).

I would hate to see them go under but it should be clear that this type of corner cutting is unacceptable and future manufacturers of all kinds should think twice before stretching to put a round peg in a square hole.... especially with lives on the line.

You reminded me of the Lauda Air Flight 004 crash, and Niki Lauda pushing Boeing for an explanation [1]. RIP Niki Lauda

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauda_Air_Flight_004#Lauda's_v...

And how are they going to be held accountable?

They already have several contracts which states victims can't sue the company. Maybe not everyone signed, but then it's about how much they can pay their lawyers.

Even if they manage to dodge civil liability (which is unlikely), a number of nations could bring criminal charges for the deaths caused by the two crashes. In addition most major nations have the option to bring criminal charges against Boeing for endangering the lives of their citizens.

Cessna nearly went bankrupt due to liability lawsuits. The consequence was not safer planes, but fewer planes.

I think the right way to go here is (proactive) regulation and certification, not (reactive) law suits.

I think the scale of economies between Cessna and Boeing are going to be hard to compare.

Scale is irrelevant to the dynamic of "a good stops being provided when the assigned liability is out of proportion to what the provider can reasonably control". Cessna was hit with vindictive, overreaching lawsuits that somehow succeeded, which had the effect not of safer airplanes, but more expensive ones without meaningful changes to safety.

"Boeing's bigger so I don't have to care about that dynamic" is not the right way to react to that concern.

I’m not sure what Cessna’s case was but Boeing and the FAA’s negligence is absolutely horrible here. I’d give them a begrudging pass with some fines slapped on if they’d grounded the fleet and disclosed their deception after the Lion Air crash. But after that and knowing what they knew, people need to go to prison for this.

By forcing them to fully certify the MAX, they will take a massive hit in sales and further losses in legal suits from the airlines that have already purchased planes they can't fly.

This will also add a serious line item to the various civil lawsuits regarding the loss of life as a government level entity has now said 'this was a different plane, Boeing lied.' It will be extremely hard for Boeing defense attorneys and likely lead to triplicate damages settlements.

Really, all you need is for the CEO and perhaps the board of directors to lose their jobs. Sure, they'd get golden parachutes and it wouldn't seem sufficient, but people in positions of power don't like losing their position. If you did that, it would be sufficient to make the next CEO (and board) think twice about doing something similar.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be happening.

We like imagine a big conspiracy, or pressure from the top because of corporate greed. And sure, CEOs and the board called leaders for a reason, and ultimately they're responsible, not just for culture, but the whole operation.

While I can't speak for the aviation industry, in my experience lower and middle management is just as much at fault, if not more. That's often where the real cowards sit, tyrannizing downwards and lying upwards. I'm not saying upper management is faultless, but presumably they aren't the only ones.

Upper management sets the cultural expectations. If they prioritize shipping over safety, the middle managers will follow the incentives.

Middle managers don't have the power to drive institutional change in a hierarchical organization. Cultures flows from whomever can fire your ass.

I don't buy it; at the end of the day everybody has some moral responsibility when human lives are involved. Not to Godwin the argument, but I would have hoped WW2 would have taught us that much. But I'm not familiar with US work culture. Again, clearly upper management aren't blameless either, but the fact remains responsibility cannot or should not be so easily passed on.

The way Europe handled Volkswagen is... nothing, but Vw directors are being arrested one by one when they transit through US jurisdictions, and jailed.

Perhaps we’ll ser the same: Europe arresting and trialling Boeing officials one by one as they ser foot in Europe. Perhaps there are already negociations on immunity for Vw against immunity for Boeing.

It could happen. But, while the U.S. took the lead, Germany did eventually charge the VW Chairman of the Board: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/volkswagen-...

Martin Winterkorn (CEO of VW at the time) was charged by prosecutors in Germany in April.


But the us is the empire. So they still make the rules...

From 2012-2016 the EU was the biggest economy in the world. The UK leaving changes that somewhat, but in terms of soft power the EU packs a gargantuan punch.

> They already have several contracts which states victims can't sue the company

Contracts with whom? A member country EU court with a dead passenger could presumably make life very very uncomfortable for senior Boeing management.

I wrote victim and not dead passenger as you falsely implied.

The contracts are with the surviving familing members. If you don't consider them as victims then give me another word for it.

edit: If you downvote me at least give me a chance to defend why I chose the word victim. The reply gizmo is there.

The definition of victim implies the same as "dead passenger". The families of dead passengers would be stretching the definition, at the very least it's not the most obvious definition in this case

>a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action

"Victim's family" is how people would normally refer to them.

Ok fine "victim's family". I stand corrected. It's not like when we change the words to describe it, is going to change how they feel.

Losing a family member definitely qualifies as harm.

Why would an aircraft manufacturer have contracts with the families of victims of an air crash?

You’ve taken that in a different direction than I meant. I’d absolutely agree surviving family members are victims too (albeit I’d call them victims’ families for clarity), but none of this will stop say a well motivated prosecutor from arguing that these contracts were signed under duress, bad faith, or include some kind of “unfair term” (which would invalidate a contract in the UK at least)

First, recertification will not be cheap.

Second, it will hurt sales. No airline wants to buy a plane they can’t fly, but they also don’t want to buy more old planes that use more fuel. My bet is that companies like Southwest will half all orders and see what happens.

Finally, it’ll drive companies that straddle the Boeing airbus decide deeper into Airbus’ arms.

It's worse than that for Boeing. The Comac C919 is now flying. This is China's answer to the 737 Max. Three prototypes are flying now. Volume production in 2021. 800 orders already.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comac_C919 [2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-14/boeing-73...

The problem with Southwest is that their entire fleet is 737s. So the 737MAX was a big thing for them: they could stick with that same crappy old airframe, but get better fuel economy, and not have to retrain pilots. They don't want to switch to Airbus because that means they can't standardize on a single model and manufacturer, and they'd have to retrain so many pilots too.

I agree but isn't there enough evidence now for Southwest to sue Boeing to make them pay for all the training (after there is a real fix)?

Generally speaking:

1. These kinds of contracts don't come with provisions for compensation for every foreseeable contingency.

2. You can sue anyone for anything in America. But it's going to cost you.

3. You can also make future purchases conditional on how these contingencies were handled in the past.

So, it's likely that a lot of negotiation between Southwest and Boeing will happen. Possibly even some arbitration. If the two firms ever end up in court over this, that would indicate a colossal failure in all the processes that lead up to that moment. (As litigation is incredibly expensive.)

Well I'm hoping it'll go to massive litigation between many different parties and Boeing, and Boeing goes bankrupt. They can't be trusted ever again.

They’re probably stuck retraining their pilots one way or the other at this point, but I agree they’re in quite the pickle now.

Southwest only has 34 737MAX planes in their fleet of 750 737s.

"crappy old airframe"

It's actually an incredible good design with a proven history. What exactly makes you think its such a "crappy" design?

It's a crappy old airframe because it's designed specifically to be low down to accommodate airstairs, meaning it won't fit modern large engines. It's anachronistic design and has to make tradeoffs in order to stay relevant (even before the MAX, the NG had those weird squished engine nacelles).

Doesn't mean it a bad airframe...

If you have to do crazy workarounds to make a design stay relevant and usable in modern times, then it is by definition a bad design.

The crazy workarounds are maybe bad designs, but an airframe design that's still in demand after 50 years and been built 10,000+ times isn't a crappy design.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone familiar with aviation agree that the 737 is a poorly designed airframe...

It's only in demand because of inertia. This is like claiming that Windows is great for no other reason than because so many people use it, or that the US government is a great idea just because it hasn't collapsed yet.

If you think it's so great, then why don't you explain why you can't put today's large high-bypass turbofan engines on it in the normal position without them hitting the runway? How exactly is that a "great design"? It may have been a great design in 1967, but it isn't now, just like a 1967 Mustang chassis may have been OK then, but is totally inadequate now.

I think you misunderstanding what an 'airframe' is...

No, I think you are. The 737's airframe includes landing gear designed for using ladders instead of jetways, and wings that are thus too low to the ground, which is why they placed the new nacelles the way they did, causing this problem in the first place.

Not sure what contacts you are talking about, but the civil lawsuits have started to roll in... https://in.reuters.com/article/ethiopia-airplane-lawsuit/fre...

If they have made agreements with victims that means they have been held accountable. Unless they've been represented poorly, these people likely are better off to the tune of well over a million dollars each. Of course they are also dead.

If they cannot be held accountable in the legal sense they might in the financial sense. Stopping 737MAX sales would hinder their operations quite a bit.

Is anyone else extremely reluctant to fly on a Boeing plane after this?

A lot of people say "It's no big deal, they just need to update the MCAS software", but I see this entire situation as a sign of much deeper issues at Boeing, issues that can't be fixed with a simple software update and could affect every plane they make.

The MCAS will likely be fixed in a way that makes it reliable and dependable. Boeing wouldn't dare anything else since there are a lot of eyes on them and how they handle this now.

What worries me is not the MCAS (now), but what else might be lurking under the surface that Boeing pretends is not a problem.

I don't feel confident that Boeing would accept the cost of grounding the fleet the next time something serious-but-not-yet-crashing shows up. It's clear that to Boeing, their numbers are more important than lives.

I don't feel confident that Boeing would accept the cost of grounding the fleet the next time something serious-but-not-yet-crashing shows up.

They wouldn't even ground the fleet if death and destruction occurs. Like they didn't do after the Lion Air crash.

Even after the Ethiopian plane they tried hell and high water, including a call to the president, to not have the plane grounded.

It's clear that to Boeing, their numbers are more important than lives.

Absolutely. Nicely demonstrated by lies, deflections, omissions and still smearing everybody else but themselves after killing more than 300 people by bad design and greed.

> It's clear that to Boeing, their numbers are more important than lives.

Isn't it the case by design for any corporation?

Not necessarily. IMO it highly depends whether a company’s goal is short or long term gain.

If you have a hard time competing and every day is a fight anyways, why would you act in a way that is sustainable in the long term?

If you listened to the NYT’s the Daily podcast where they interview a former Boeing quality manager/whistleblower this is clearly the picture that is painted here: Managment doesn’t give a shit if they use potentially broken or dangerous parts, they leave metal debree and garbage inside the wmhull right next to important control lines, in one case they forgot a whole ladder inside.

The 737 Max is not the illness, it is just the first visible symptom.

> IMO it highly depends whether a company’s goal is short or long term gain.

It has been the case, recently, that a company that is traded publicly cannot have a long term goal - any such goal is held in place solely by the ephemeral existence of an autocratic executive and will dissipate once they are removed or retire, instead corporations seek constantly to maximize short term gain since incentive systems like stock options and our current form of performance evaluations reinforce this strategy.

Most of the companies that have had long term clout or tried to invest in long term research have been acquired and butchered by venture capitalists for a quick payday.

Costco (NASDAQ:COST) has a policy of not hiring MBAs and generally only hiring internally. That means the managers are personally invested in the long-term viability of the company.

Such a conservative culture may one day be their downfall, but it won't hasten it as is so often the case of management culture elsewhere.

> a company that is traded publicly cannot have a long term goal

You think Apple or Berkshire Hathaway have no long term goals? Why make such sweeping statements that are easily shown to be wrong, when you can make a more nuanced and possibly true statement easily?

> Most of the companies that have had long term clout or tried to invest in long term research have been acquired and butchered by venture capitalists for a quick payday.

See, this might well be true and point to a real problem.

Though I think the notion that public markets are dumb and impatient and private markets are wise and long-term is a caricature itself.

Companies are run by people and their objectives are not and need not be entirely economic. I often hear people say "well companies are legally required to maximise return for their shareholders" but that is not at all the case.

Sure, some company management may be spurred to be good actors because they feel it will cause long term vale creation.

But then again you could just do the right thing because by and large people are not assholes.

That's why when I hear of exploitative predation by companies I get so mad: because it's ultimately exploitative predation by people. Even if the person on the phone to you / writing that code may not have enough context to understand the evil they might be doing, someone set the context that way, and in many cases it was deliberate.

> I often hear people say "well companies are legally required to maximise return for their shareholders" but that is not at all the case.

They are required to do what the shareholders want, which is usually maximizing returns.

> They are required to do what the shareholders want, which is usually maximizing returns.

I know of no such law. In which country is the the law?

In fact there is some concern by some economists that the management of public firms have too much discretion as unhappy shareholders can simply sell their shares and invest elsewhere rather than provide any direct feedback. Even when direct feedback is provided, management can and usually does ignore it, as can be seen from this week's Amazon AGM.

> In which country is the the law?

All that respect private property. The shareholders own the company, the management is essentially their employees.

The shareholders may not micromanage their company, but still management's job is to further the aims of the shareholders just as the job of elected politicians in a representative democracy is to further the aims of the people. Otherwise they get fired.

While this may not be working as well as it should, you wouldn't say a law is not the law because enforcement is spotty either.

Can you point to any law or regulation in, say, the USA that requires this, regardless of whether it is enforced or not?

Probably, if I spent the time. But then again, the fact that the owners of a company choose its management might be so obvious no lawmaker ever bothered to write it down.

The problem is in the short term numbers vs long term. In the short term taking shortcuts was beneficial because it preventing recertifications etc, but in the long term the grounding and reputation damage cost more. Moreover, everyone has to be retrained now anyway.

This is one of the biggest problems I've seen amongst corporate culture throughout my career. There was a time when companies were run with the intention of building a legacy. Now, it's all about the next quarter's earnings report, if not the next month's.

It's a shameful state of affairs, but the entire system is set up to reward this kind of behavior now.

I'd love to hear someone who understands the problem explain how we got here.

I see this trend as well. Maybe it is about growing up and seeing past things now.

I would be more interested in how we can move to more long term thinking. (Long term thinking includes the short term because otherwise the organisation might not survive. But nowadays it appears to solely be about the short term.)

Therein lies a problem that many people don't want to address

Many people don't want to address it because it isn't true. There are plenty of corporations that would not put lives on the line balanced against their bottom line. Yes, there are quite a few that do, it just does not extend to all of them, and I'd wager the larger the company the further insulated the management is and so the more likely for stuff like that to occur.

But to categorically say this about any corporation is nonsense.

These corporations are young and still have an autocratic leader that is forcing them to work against their natural value... as they age they will age like all the other corporations and come to value short term gain above everything else. This construct human beings have made has proven again and again that in the long term there is no outcome but degeneration to short term profit seeking that is what we currently deem "maximally efficient".

The emphasis on short-term shareholder value is a relatively recent trend in business culture and specifically American business culture. It's not intrinsic to the concept of the firm. However, it has become deeply entrenched not only in our business culture but also our political culture, so it would be quite difficult to extirpate.

No: this is a meme which I do not know from where comes. The aim of a corporation is to do its business, not to make money. The first is before the second.

I can tell you where it comes from.

It is basically a result of agency theory (principal agent problem) in the typical setting of economic theory (no transaction costs, bla bla bla).

The question is what a corporation should do, which aims it should strive for. That's an extremely difficult question, in particular if there are many owners ("principals", shareholders) who have different utility functions (goals), who are furthermore distinct from the CEO and managers actually running the business ("agents"), who might have their own interests (enlarging their fiefdom, job security, what have you).

The theoretical solution is to say: maximise the net present value of the firm (which goes to the shareholders, after paying debt), and then they can decide what to do with it, and pursue their own goals. Now, this makes some sense in a no-transaction cost world - if shareholders care about workers and peace and the sick, they can use the shareholder value created, and put some of it in, dunno, charity and health insurances, and what have you.

Thus, goal should be shareholder value maximisation, and to get the agents on board, you "align their interests" by incentives, specifically by giving the CEO options.

(Note that shareholder value maximisation is not the same as profit maximisation, and definitely not the same as short-term profit maximisation - the value of the shares is theoretically the sum of discounted cashflows in all eternity).

The other argument, of course, is that shareholders care only about maximisation of the value of their share, and thus a firm which does not pursue shareholder value maximisation will lose shareholders and go out of business.

Both arguments are not all bad, but of course the real world is much more complicated. Shareholders might have more goals than maximising the value of their shares (not in Econ 101, of course). A company might be in a much better position to achieve some of those aims directly, rather than via the circuitous route of handing it to the shareholder and them pouring it back into the game.

At any rate, the notion of shareholder value maximisation is not some God-given absolute truth, but one proposed solution for specific problems within a specific theoretic framework, and it's not clear at all that it's always optimal, and should not be reflexively trotted out when talking about corporations, and not serve as a defense for corporations acting badly.

The aim of a corporation is to serve the common interests of it's shareholders (you might add “as understood by it's management”); most commonly, with a widely held corporation, those common interests are limited to making money.

No: I understand it as "by its definition as corporation" (i.e. Boeing might make a lot more money if they just turned into a collection of car factories, for example -just for example-) but then it would not be Boeing.

Corporations can and do pivot their lines of business like that, and retain their identity. (Though at times they also find it useful to rebrand with a pivot.)

The poster above was half right that the incentive isn't necessarily to maximize profits, but you're more correct that our current societal rules make money the singular goal of these entities.

Why do we allow this. Why have we allowed an entity to exist that is driven so fully by greed to the disregard of all other pursuits - and understand, corporations aren't a natural existence, they are a thing constructed wholly by our societies.

No, of course not. Corporations must act within the law, and even the notion of shareholder value maximisation above all is contingent (based on specific economic theory), not necessary.

> still smearing everybody else but themselves

a news alert popped up on my phone today about "bird strike possible in ethiopian crash...". I didn't bother reading it, but I thought seriously ? What media outlet did they pay off to even think of trying to divert attention and who in their right mind would think propaganda like that would be effective ?

Well, how else did the sensor come to be broken?

Aside from a bird strike the possibilities are just as unlikely. There could be sabotage. There could have been an impact with the passenger boarding equipment. Somebody cleaning or painting the plane could have smashed it.

Unless you start putting Boeing executives in jail, there is literally ZERO incentive for them not to repeat all this. In fact, the CEO and senior executives have probably already received their massive bonuses for the MAX sales. It's not like they're going to be asked to return those bonuses now with all this fiasco.

There are financial incentives if their customers choose competing products because of safety concerns.

I don't even know how I'd do that - even if I tried to book a flight that specifically didn't use a boeing plane in the US domestic airlines will swap out planes for different ones all the time due to maintenance requirements.

Choosing to use a competing product as an end consumer would require an immense sacrifice (like refusing to board your flight if it happened to be a Boeing, which you might get a rebate for?). Only if a significant amount of end consumers protested would the actual plane consumers (the airlines themselves) take notice - or if public opinion shifted to the point where there was a significant externality attached to purchasing a Boeing plane, but that certainly isn't the case now and I'd bet that Boeing has found some way to compensate airlines for the cost of having their planes grounded.

If airlines have to pay more in insurance premiums or they have to pay millions of US dollars a pop for each dead passenger, they'll demand a safer plane.

To my knowledge neither of these conditions have occurred in response to the 737 Max technical issues. Corporations listen to customer complaints that are backed up by losing revenue - as was shown with the issue where a passenger was beaten up on a United flight, people are extremely price sensitive when it comes to flying - there is math that can make the 737 unprofitable, but I think it's unlikely that the math will turn in that direction, it would take an extremely negative PR issue to start this.

I dont think people will all of a sudden start ditching cheap flights just to avoid the max or Boeing. Airline industry is extremely price sensitive from a consumer perspective, and for people to potentially sacrifice hundreds of dollars of savings would be a non sequitur.

For example, if airline A flies MAX and has a ticket for 200 and another airline B has the same route for 400 on A320, most people I know would still fly the MAX because they cant afford to be picky.

I think talking with your wallet works only when the price is relatively inelastic

Here is one data point for you: no matter the price of alternatives, I will not step on a 737. Ever.

If you purchase a plane ticket for a flight that appears to be carried by a bombardier model, would you refuse to board the plane at the gate if the bombardier plane ended up requiring maintenance and they swapped it out for a 737?

How many vacation days would you sacrifice out of your week in Cancun to stand by that belief?

The 737s are the most common airliner in the world, more than 10000 have been built, and more than 1000 are in the air right now. The pre-MAX 737s are just fine (though it had some issues with the rudder in the 90s, and, well, nearly 2% of all 737s built have been lost (184 hull losses) with nearly 5000 fatalities. Goes to show how much they fly.)

You have already, probably multiple times. The 737 model is proven over 50 years of service.

The Max has issues, for sure, and I will be weary of that as well as the upcoming 777X, but I wouldn't hesitate to get on any prior 737 or other Boeing model.

The assumption here is that the risk is equal. Given that prior to the grounding travel Sites were implementing "don't fly with Max" features, the perception is that the rusk is much higher.

Boing executives and their friends and families also fly on their planes.

Or maybe they just fly Learjet.

GP has a point. Flying on Boeing airplanes is something basically everyone does. Even if the executives themselves don't, they have parents, children, aunts, uncles, best men, grand-children, friends, children of friends, lawyers, and government contacts who do.

It's not like they're sitting by the gate sucking the blood of passengers. They're still delivering the safest method of transportation around, not only by distance, but also by time. I know some Boeing employees, they want to deliver great airplanes.

> They're still delivering the safest method of transportation around, not only by distance, but also by time.

It's safe by distance and time because most accidents will occur on take-off or landing. For example, the two recent MAX incidents. It's the nature of flying, not the technology per se, that makes it relatively safe as compared to other modes of transportation. Once you're cruising at altitude the components have already passed maximum load, and you usually have lots of time to remediate issues when they do occur. You get distance & time largely for free rather than as a consequence of engineering.

If you look at risk for just the distance and time spent on take-off and landing, flying is roughly comparable with driving. Of course, the machines are vastly more complex so it's still a testament to the amazing technology and safety standards. But at the same time there's so much more that could be done, not only from an engineering standpoint but especially from a process standpoint.

One might even be able to make the case that Toyota has better quality control and safety engineering processes than Boeing. I mean, many of the most critical components in a plane, such as the engines, aren't even designed or manufactured by Boeing. I think Boeing executives know this and have increasingly tried to offload performance and safety engineering burdens to suppliers, maximizing Boeings profits. Engine manufacturers and other suppliers have begun to take notice, I think. And for areas where Boeing can't offload the burden, they've faltered.

Yes, the statistics per distance look much better for airlines than for cars, but per time it's already less so (planes go faster), and per journey even less so (typical plane ride is much longer than typical car journey).

Last time I looked, planes were 200x as safe per pax mile, but 3x as safe per pax journey.

(EDIT: "Kx safer" -> "Kx as safe", though the uncertainty is so big that it doesn't really matter)

Yep, that's about what I calculated, too, recently. And considering that so many car accidents are caused by drunk drivers, nighttime driving, etc--that is, situations that one can actively avoid--a conscientious drive could likely even the odds or better, at least on a per journey basis. I bet the car accident rate for pilots is significantly below average.

So do Boeing engineers, mechanics, and everyone who works there.

I'm not against them going to jail. However there is another incentive, it's generally bad for business if your product kills people.


> Especially since this isn’t the first time Boeing’s malfeasance killed people.

What are you referring to here?

Might be referring to the rudder problem on the 737 in the 90s.


From Wikipedia:

"A total of 157 people aboard the two aircraft were killed."

"The National Transportation Safety Board ultimately determined that the accidents and incidents were the result of a design flaw that could result in an uncommanded movement of the aircraft's rudder."

The MAX line being pushed on to “not requiring specific training”.

That is this time - the time we're discussing. So what's the other time that makes this not the first time?

Yes, sorry, it was late and I misunderstood your question.

> there is literally ZERO incentive for them not to repeat all this

You're assuming they have no stock or stock options in Boeing.

> It's clear that to Boeing, their numbers are more important than lives.

That would not be bad by itself. It is only important that regulators and customers make sure that this leaves really big dent in their numbers.

MCAS relied on a single AoA sensor for a plane that holds 300 people. Military cargo planes a tenth the capacity have three of them. Boeing's design philosophy is terrifying.

This is completely false.

Two are physically present but MCAS only takes input from one of them.


> It's clear that to Boeing, their numbers are more important than lives.

BTW (I'm not folowing this very closely) is there already, or will there be a criminal investigation?

I take away that they do NOT put lives above numbers. Revisit the ford pinto case.

They knew there were problems with the design and flew the planes any way.

I feel the same way. This says a lot about the 737-Max but it also says a ton about the company. This whole thing has shed a light on Boeing that I personally have a hard time overlooking. I know my opinion matters little in the grand scheme of things, but it doesn't seem like many people are in the same boat as me.

Boeing has a lot of work to do to restore their image and I will avoid the MAX where possible. They seem to have been on a mission to cut back on expenses without the necessary review and supervision which is worrying. I'd prefer they start caring a bit more about "the box" again. [0]

[0] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-05-09/former-bo...

It can be hard to avoid since carriers reasonably often change what aircrafts they use after the tickets are sold.

Norwegian Air Shuttle has been in a lot of trouble over that when they sold tickets promising Dreamliner but instead leased in a much older airplane to fly that trip. (well they have done it multiple times on different trips)

Ya, I've had the same experience a few times and you're right they can sub things on short notice but I'll try to avoid where possible.

Air Canada is getting a bunch of A220s which from all reports seem like a much nicer plane to fly on.

I think you're absolutely right. The approach on the MAX is horrifying.

But airplane tech moves kind of slowly, no? Non-MAX 737s can't really change, and so are as safe today as they were 6 month or 6 years ago. The MAX debacle makes me SUPER SUPER leery of any new airframe, though.

The non-MAX 737s are still shitty planes to fly on. It's an ancient airframe: it's cramped, it's noisy, it just sucks. And it's a fuel hog too (which is why they made the MAX version).

The competing aircraft are all much newer and nicer. The only reason anyone was buying the MAX was 1) because they had already bought into Boeing and the 737 and it's cheaper to just get a 737MAX which doesn't require any pilot retraining (thanks to keeping the MCAS a secret), and 2) because Boeing was selling them really cheap (possibly "dumping") to compete against Airbus.

I could be wrong, but I'm under the impression that whether a plane is cramped or not is largely up to the airline not the manufacturer, since it's the airline who actually makes the decision about how many seats to cram in, and what sort of seats to use.

To an extent, but the airline interior layout is constrained by the fuselage diameter. The A320 is somewhere between 6" and 12" wider in usable interior diameter. For a similar layout (3 and 3), you can have marginally wider seats in the Airbus, or slight more aisle space, or a bit of both. And, in theory, the larger fuselage also allows a bit more overhead space.

Newer planes also tend to have better environmental controls (air pressure, lighting, etc).

It’s not just that pilots didn’t need new training, because they were still supposed to have some minimal training on the changes.

Pilots can only hold one type certification at a time, and have to retrain to switch between them. Southwest pretty much only flies 737’s and is heavily interested in the MAX because it means they don’t lose the ability for pilots to fly their other aircraft due to retaining the same type certification.

Pilots can hold more than one type certification, but they have to keep them current. There are many pilots who fly more than one type of aircraft routinely.

Boeing tried so hard to avoid "retraining". Yet the training isn't that expensive. It's about $22,000 for an airline pilot to move from another aircraft to a 737 family aircraft. Takes about a month. And that's like an Airbus to a Boeing switch, not just between similar models. If Boeing threw in a few training credits with each aircraft (each costs about $100 million) that would have solved the problem.

> Pilots can only hold one type certification at a time

Source? I am pretty sure pilots could hold any number of type ratings (sic) at any time, but it's uneconomical for the airline to keep them rated (and current), so it's rarely done.

i've read that for pilots, the 737 is better and more manual (if the need arises to fix things or do overrides) compared to the airbus a320 which is a bit newer and has more electronics and sort of does a lot of things for you, but also obv more likely where things can go wrong

Airbus planes have had their own share of problems, including really basic sensor issues (Qantas 72 for example), but they have started doing fly by wire more than 30 years ago and by now they are solved.

Airbus and Boeing have had very different perspectives on flight automation, with airbus tending more towards computer control. I’m not a pilot, but I’m given to understanding that Boeing is slowly shifting over towards Airbus’ style, with more computer intervention in pilot actions.

But they're SAFE and reliable. Their track record in the air is pretty amazing.

The problem with the MAX was that it's a new revision of an ancient airframe. A completely new design would go through way more testing than did the MAX.

I am not so sure about this since i read this Insider view: https://www.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/bdfqm4/the_real_rea...

I'm not really worried. I prefer the A320 Neo because it's quieter and more comfortable, but the odds of dying due to an airplane accident are vanishingly small.

Even if my chances of dying on a 737 MAX are much higher than dying on a tried and true A340, they are probably around the same as me dying from pancreatic cancer and I don't get my pancreas checked regularly.

I hear you and I'm mostly just using your comment to share my thoughts. I've learned not to treat the statistics because that doesn't work at the human level.

Fear, anxiety, apprehension, are legitimate human conditions regardless of how irrational they are. And regardless of what the numbers say, there's an effective treatment available: filter flights by plane type.

I personally don't care. But my wife does, and therefore I do care after all.

Took me too many years to learn this fact about coexisting with others: addressing how they feel is almost always easier than trying to convince them not to feel that way.

Yep. You cannot overcome other person’s anxiety by encouraging him not to be anxious...

Peace of mind is worth much more than many many things.

Completely agree. Convincing someone to feel/not feel is a senseless endeavor!

You are not wrong but you getting pancreatic cancer is a largely random event based on factors too numerous to name and define. Boeing specifically cut corners to not retrain pilots on the MAX and lied so they could give it the same rating.

A better analogy would be if you found out your favorite drink gave you a 100x greater chance of getting pancreatic cancer, would you stop drinking it? (Note: the odds of you getting pancreatic cancer on the whole are still immeasurably small even at 100x) What if you found out this new drink recipe never went through any safety testing but the company claimed it was basically the same as the old tested drink you enjoyed previously from the same company?

Yeah. If I had a choice between flying between the two with all other things being equal I will fly on Neo. I might pay a small premium for it. Like a few more bucks just because it's more comfortable.

I would be extremely hesitant to ever fly on a 737 MAX again because, even when MCAS is fixed, software is being used to fix a fundamental physics problem. I'd fly on other Boeing planes without worry, though.

The fix for the 787s Lithium battery problems wasn't a whole lot better. Remember those exploding left and right and the 787 fleet grounded?

The fix wasn't to reengineer the large amount of electrical systems, lack of bleed air or use of different batteries.

The fix was to put them in a stronger container with a hole in it so they can vent outside when they inevitably blow up again.

That has worked well. So far.

Kind of - https://aeronauticsonline.com/united-787-battery-failure-pro...

I'm with Boeing in this fix. The problem is not with the "the large amount of electrical systems, lack of bleed air". This is how things evolved.

The main issue IIRC was manufacturing defects in some batteries that caused internal short circuits.

> The fix was to put them in a stronger container with a hole in it so they can vent outside

And this is an acceptable fix (beyond better QA/manufacturing practices of the battery). If the batteries fail the fault should be contained.

The article you linked explains the changes Boeing implemented.

Yes, batteries failed. The battery failure was contained correctly. Besides improving the reliability of the battery (which was addressed with some changes) that's what Boeing should have done (and did).

They're not going back to NiCa or Lead batteries

Also, unless you can guarantee the failure rate of the battery to be low enough, those incidents made it clear the battery needed to be better contained—even if you also decrease the failure rate.

That's not exactly true as per your link. They did make changes to the battery, as well as outside the battery.

Similar thing there - the model was delayed and thus likely high pressure and incentives internally to get on with it. According to the article, a series of fires didn't stop Boeing from allowing the plane to keep flying or to be sold, but FAA had to step in and ground it. Then, I can imagine, the cost of [FAA grounding] > [properly fixing it] means it got fixed. At least till the cost comparison tilted the other way.

That’s horrifying.

I’ve also heard that the 787 was a boondoggle.

The 787 is weird (and possibly unsafe) for at least two significant reasons.

Firstly, Boeing totally re-invented their approach to assembling planes. Previously they built most of the aireframe components and assembled them in their own plants. But the 787 was specced out during an ongoing Boeing/Airbus anti-trust dispute over government cross-subsidies that turned nasty (escalated to USA/EU level, mediated via the WTO, with sanctions threatened). For strategic reasons Boeing decided to outsource subassembly production to third parties and retain only overall control and final assembly (the goal was to have 51% of the work go through the EU, so that the EU would shoot themselves in the head if they applied sanctions against Boeing aircraft). (Similarly, Airbus did much the same: you can buy A320s—the 737 series' Airbus rival—built entirely in China, for example.)

Anyway, this resulted in huge cost overruns, delays as small suppliers grappled with trying to supply components of reliable quality and consistency in Boeing-scale quantities, and so on. On the other hand, it gave Boeing a shiny new 21st century supply chain which they're using on new projects, so the $30Bn wasn't entirely wasted on just one bird.

Secondly, Boeing went full-tilt for composites in place of aluminum as the main structural material.

Now, Airbus had been building composite airframes for decades at this point, but they got there incrementally, and not without fatal accidents. See for example the crash of American Airlines flight 587:


It turns out that switching to all-composites from aluminum has some serious gotchas, including entirely different wear/fatigue/delamination issues.

Boeing has done surprisingly well up to this point with the 787 (although the early Ethiopian Airlines hull loss ground-side due to a runaway battery fire should be a warning—it was a shiny new plane and the battery fire burned through the top of the hull, turning it into a $200M write-off; an aluminum bird could probably have been patched and repaired). But we have no idea whether Boeing managed to avoid baked-in long term weaknesses in the airframe, of the kind that only show up 10-30 years into an aircraft's life. Such weaknesses can show up suddenly and kill an entire type within a matter of months (see for example the fate of the Vickers Valiant, a British strategic bomber of the 1950s that succumbed to cracked wing spars and was hastily scrapped).

Anyway: this is why I'm very dubious about flying on 787s, at least for another few years. Your mileage may vary, obviously ...

The 787 is not weird. It is an evolution of practices and learning from across the industry, academia and governmental organizations (NASA, ESA, etc) that culminated in a new product. The 100% composite structure has been completely flawless for the most part, with the largest issue being how to recycle the plane when it's done. Boeing has long outsourced the production of many components of all of its planes to various vendors, the big difference with the 787 was that they did this on a global scale.

The use of LiIon batteries was a logical next step as well. Manufacturing issues in the first sets of batteries required them to re-engineer the safety system around them, and the vendors that created the batteries now have stricter standards to adhere to.

None of these issues currently compromise the safety of the airframes.

It's easy to pile-on after incidents occur, but these are machines made by people. People make mistakes all of the time. You wouldn't not use a computer because it had bugs. The likelihood of you falling out of the sky in a modern airliner is still vanishingly small and is getting smaller every day.

>The 100% composite structure has been completely flawless for the most part

Doesn't refute GP's point. All the 787s flying now are basically new planes. If they have issues that only appear after 10 years of use, they will all be "completely flawless" until they start undergoing unplanned disassembly while on the air.

Right, we don't know what the long-term usage of these composites in commercial aircraft will result in, in terms of service-life. I'm sure Boeing have their projections, and I'm sure they're optimistic. I think the larger firms will sell off their aging stock to developing nations as they approach end of life. Those nations might be inclined to extend the life of their air frames past original specifications due to economic reasons.

We know the FAA rubber-stamps whatever Boeing claims at this point, so don't expect regulators from keeping your plastic plane from disintegrating mid-flight.

>American Airlines flight 587

The accident investigation found that the vertical stabilizer was stressed beyond its certified load limits by the pilot's rudder movements.

I can see why people were inclined to blame composites at the time of the crash. But 18 years have passed now, and there was never another incident where an A300 had a structural failure of the vertical stabilizer.

There's a good comment here: https://forums.jetphotos.com/showthread.php?50480-Airbus-Com...

> vertical stabilizer was stressed beyond its certified load limits by the pilot's rudder movements.

That's something you don't expect to be possible on an Airbus.

Why not? The Airbus A300 has fully mechanical linkage, and none of the fly-by-wire systems introduced later.

Precisely because Airbus was an early adopter of fly-by-wire systems and envelope protections.

I find your first point much more relevant than your second. Boeing had been using composites extensively in military aircraft since at least their work on the B-2, and had been using composites in smaller areas from well before then. That was all was before they purchased Northrop Gumman, which brought considerably more expertise in house.

According to your "weird fatigue / sudden catastrophic failures" theory, you should be very comfortable flying on a 787 today, and become less so as the airframes age. And definitely stop flying 787s the moment one breaks up midair.

This is not the case. The 737 MAX has different handling characteristics to a regular 737, but there is nothing inherently unsafe about those handling characteristics. The purpose of MCAS was just to prevent the need for pilots to recertify by masking the difference.

Without MCAS a MAX has flight characteristics that would not pass FAA certification.

I don't believe that's true. What's your source?

There are specific regulations on how the stick force must change in response to various flight conditions. Without MCAS the stick force curve of the 737-MAX does not satisfy those regulations.

Do an HN search on "MCAS stick force curve" (without the quotes)[1] and you can find some discussion of this with cites to and quotes from specific sections of the regulations.

[1] https://hn.algolia.com/?query=MCAS%20stick%20force%20curve&s...

There is no source in those comments for the claim that the 737-MAX would not satisfy these regulations without MCAS.

Note that the actual regulations are a tad more complex than the incomplete sentence quoted: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5tAhOC4KC8MC&pg=PA200&lp...

I'm one of the originators and principle repeaters of the theory, and the various facets that go into it are admittedly built up via synthesis of many different slices of life.

The principle source that moved me in the direction that the MAX may not be certifiable without MCAS was from this interview from the Royal Aeronautics Society with D. P. Davies, a well known test pilot for the U.K. ARB, and the past woes that Boeing has had to navigate with their designs to be flown in the U.K.


The 727 had difficulties getting certified for use in British airspace due to high lift device interactions that tended to cause undesired extra pitch sensitivity near critical AoA. The 727 was eventually certified under protest conditional to the addition of a stick pusher to remedy the behavior. The approach was preferred because it both made it harder to stall the plane, and made it readily apparent to the pilot that "thar be dragons here". This makes apparent to me, that at a minimum, it is favorable to design a system to cope with aberrant behavior in such a way that the pilot is immediately aware of the fact they are in a perilous part of the flight envelope.

The certification was controversial amongst test pilots because it was seen as as the beginning of a slippery slope that would eventually normalize airframes that don't actually present sound aerodynamic characteristics without excessive assistance from systems that are liable to break. Also note, the FAA never required Boeing to install stick-pushers, and several deep stalls did end up occurring.

Since then, many aircraft have become notorious for accidents/difficulties caused where this slippery slope approach to aerodynamics was embraced. See the MD-11 LSAS, and now the MAX 8. Both of these were 'hacks' put in place to make aerodynamic changes to the airframe, while minimizing retraining requirements. The sales points being that the new plane flew just like the old plane.

I'm not sure that MCAS is first and foremost an artificial feel system. I've categorized it as more of a "certification hack" in light of whistleblower testimony, and conclusions I've come to doing calculations and attempting to cobble together simulations myself.

I do know, however, that if the aerodynamics are so severe near critical AoA, that mere elevator actuation pressure adjustments are no longer adequate to prevent the plane from flinging itself past critical AoA at the merest nudge, and that the entire horizontal stabilizer needs to be moved to ensure the nose is brought back down in short order, I am not confident that the raw math to draw out the stick force curve will end up drawing a compliant curve.

And I know that it is not acceptable for a pilot familiar with a sluggishly handling aircraft to just hop into a jitterbug and be on their way without training; I have a hard time being sold that having the same plane go from "smooth and steady" to "put your nose in the air, and stall it like you just don't care" in the same civil transport airframe should be acceptable either. That seems a clear violation of the intent of that design directive.

If there's info/precedent/experience missing you can offer to refine or refute it, that'd be awesome. I'm just grabbing on to as many facts as I can run down, throwing them against reality as best I can find equations or regulation to describe it, and trying to see what sticks.

I'm more interested in finding the truth than my theory being right.

> the entire horizontal stabilizer needs to be moved to ensure the nose is brought back down in short order

Doesn't MCAS take a long time to significantly move the stabilizer? Like tens of seconds? It's hard to square needing to decrease AoA so dramatically with the actual mechanics of MCAS.

MCAS has a duty cycle of on 10 seconds, off five. It ramps up the degrees per activation up to a max of 2.5 degrees per activation (2.5 degrees per 10 seconds), all the way to max down trim if you let it.

Keep in mind, the entire horizontal tail plane moving has a heck of a lot more influence on attitude than the elevators.

If it were a stringed instrument, trim would be the tuning tabs at the top of the neck, the elevators would be the fine adjustment screws on the body of the instrument.

Thanks. I understand that the stabilizer is powerful. I'm wondering whether it's true that, when your plane is in that danger state of "flinging itself past critical AoA", 2.5 degrees over 15 seconds is sufficient to avoid or recover the wing stall in time to avoid terrain.

(I think the proposed software changes also reduce this control authority but I'm not sure how.)

You're right, I thought I read a post that had a citation, but I cannot find one.

> there is nothing inherently unsafe about those handling characteristics

this is not entirely true. applying throttle to the max causes a pitching momentum, something you don't want during a deep stall when control surfaces are totally unresponsive, because it would make the exit procedure (throttle up, nose naturally pitches down, gain airpseed and regain control) unsafe (throttle up, whops the plane is now pointing upward and going backward)

Applying throttle to any airplane with engines under the wings causes a pitching momentum. The pitching momentum is different in the MAX than other aircraft, but that doesn't make it less safe than anything else as long as a pilot is trained to understand it. The MAX is not naturally more likely to enter a stall regime than its predecessors.

well yes, but there's more to a big plane stall. wings washout makes them stall at the root first, so that the center of lift moves backward, slightly helping overcome the engine momentum

moving the engine forward increased such momentum

large planes are finely balanced machines, it doesn't take much to get outside their flying boundaries, wether authority or loading, especially because the trim on them has buttload more authority than the elevator controlled from the yoke

I don't think recovery from deep stalls is actually much of a safety issue with airliners. Are there any instances where an airliner has deep stalled and then successfully recovered? By definition, a deep stall is one where standard stall recovery procedures won't be effective.

> much of a safety issue with airliners

yeah because they tend to pitch down way before reaching a full wing stall, but the max pushes the partial stall deeper.

They lengthened the plane without redesigning the rest of the components to compensate. This changed fundamental aerodynamics on how it flies. The plane is dynamically unstable and that instability was masked in software.

>They lengthened the plane without redesigning the rest of the components to compensate.

Not exactly. It's the placement of the newer, larger engines that's largely responsible for the different handling characteristics.

>This changed fundamental aerodynamics on how it flies.


>The plane is dynamically unstable.

No, it just has different handling characteristics in some parts of the flight envelope.

Dynamically unstable means that it will leave controlled flight if it does not receive control input, and that the departure from controlled flight will accelerate after it starts, therefore requiring constant computer-assisted control inputs. Pretty sure this is not the case, but it will have different and potentially dangerous behaviors for some speeds, angles of attack and thrust settings.

That's literally what happens to the 737 max airframe. Specifically, the angle of attack is prone to increasing at high angle of attacks.

That's not dynamic instability.

Are you going to provide any source for that?


If (as appears to be the case) you regard any random person on the internet as a source, then sure:


The sources I linked to:



These are international, reputable organizations unlike a Quora thread. That would be like me using reddit as a primary source. Get real. I am going to believe the reputable news sources, over random people on the Internet.

Can you actually get a 737 MAX in controlled flight, into a state where its angle of attack will keep increasing faster and faster without changing the control inputs, until it stalls? That would be dynamic instability, albeit only during certain situations.

You don't know there's nothing inherently unsafe about the handling characteristics, that's a Boeing talking point. You're not qualified to make that determination, and the regulators didn't bother to make it either.

> The purpose of MCAS was just to prevent the need for pilots to recertify by masking the difference

This is a Boeing talking-point as well. The real purpose of MCAS might be to make an otherwise wildly-unsafe plane flyable, and without it it's a disaster waiting to happen. Again, we don't actually know how safe the plane is without it.

I mean, sure, there might turn out to be safety issues that we don't yet know about. You could say that about any plane.

>The real purpose of MCAS might be to make an otherwise wildly-unsafe plane flyable

MCAS would never activate in a typical flight, so I don't think it can be that bad.

There's a simple and plausible explanation for why MCAS was added (the desire to maintain the same type rating). That explanation doesn't entail that the 737 MAX had fundamentally unsafe handling characteristics, only that its handling characteristics differed significantly from those of other 737s. I'll stick with that explanation absent evidence to the contrary.

> MCAS would never activate in a typical flight, so I don't think it can be that bad.

Also untrue. There have been plenty of flights where MCAS has activated (either American or Southwest released some data about the number of MCAS activations they had without crash incident). We (the public) don't have any data regarding a flight where MCAS would-have activated but was disabled. In the cases where we know MCAS was disabled, those aiframes are now destroyed.

> There's a simple and plausible explanation for why MCAS was added (the desire to maintain the same type rating).

The benign name "Maneuvering Characteristic Augmentation System" is in itself a Boeing-talking point. What it it was called the "Thrust-Input Anti-Stall System?". It's completely a Boeing talking point that why MCAS was added, it might not actually reflect reality. We don't have any incentive to trust Boeing or the FAA in this case, in fact, we have just the opposite, they appear to have been deliberately misleading.

> I'll stick with that explanation absent evidence to the contrary.

We already have evidence Boeing withheld the amount of authority it gave MCAS counter to what they told the FAA. We already know the FAA didn't actually review the software implementation. We know Boeing and the FAA didn't initiate any meaningful investigation after the first Lion Air crash. WTF should we believe a single word they say? They're liars.

I think you're in conspiracy mode on this one. Boeing has shown incompetence and stupidity, and there's a good chance that someone should be held criminally liable. But I see no reason to doubt what Boeing says about why MCAS was added. What would lead me to doubt it is a more plausible alternative hypothesis, which you haven't provided.

> There have been plenty of flights where MCAS has activated

I'm sure there have, but as I said, it would not activate at all on a typical flight.

It has though. There have been several articles about reports filed by pilot's where uncommanded nose down occurred, that the root cause was not ascertained for. This is reported at a minimum here.


These are by definition "typical flights" until the anomaly occurs.

Also, keep in mind, AoA sensors have long been a luxury for pilots, since they tend to learn the envelope in terms of glide slope, and they are trained to be able to safely operate aircraft without it.

The MAX took a historically non-critical component, and added it to a safety critical process.

I understand that with the sheer number of different points in the timeline of the design, deployment, and operation of these craft, that trying to hold all the context in your head at the same time does make it feel like

"Damnit Jim, we've entered crackpot territory!"

Nevertheless, we have to remain vigilant and open to the fact that malfeasance does happen, and those that would commit it also go out of their way to make it as hard to bring into the open (if intentional), or frequently disincentivize any activity that could potentially make the issue easier to observe since the path of least resistance typically by definition involves minimizing points of inspection or other forms of scrutiny (if the malfeasance is merely the result unintentional misguidedness/incompetence).

That's categorically not true.


737 Max experiences dynamic instability, where a high angle of attack is prone to increase the angle of attack at an increasing rate.

That is not dynamic instability.

Yes it is: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/is-the-boeing-737-max...

There are many sources that reach the same conclusion.

No, dynamic instability refers to planes that require constant control inputs to avoid departure from unstable flight.

There are no expert sources that describe the 737 MAX as dynamically unstable.

Not many people would be in a position to know this. Random aviation "experts" certainly aren't going to know the detailed flight envelope characteristics of a particular aircraft model.

I literally linked 2 articles with expert opinion describing 737 Max airframe experiencing dynamic instability. You have not provided a single source and appears didn't even bother to look at my sources.

Hacker News is a place of discourse. If you think I'm wrong and my sources are wrong, point out specifically where and provide counter sources to validate and support your position.

No one is going to take your word for it.

The article you link in this thread reports comments from this person:


How would this person know in detail the aerodynamic characteristics of the 737 MAX?

The other article you link gives no source for its claim, expert or otherwise. You should also check the comment by Jake Brodsky on that one.

Ad hominem. Both articles were posted under the banner of internationally known and recognized news sources. Whereas in stark contrast you posted a quora thread with 3 replies.

100% agree. Anytime you are using software to hide a larger problem, that is a huge red flag.

Yes, and not just a Boeing plane. The happenings around the MAX make me reluctant to fly on new aircraft in general.

As I understand, parts of the certification process had been outsourced by the FAA to 3rd parties with monetary incentive to accelerate approvals and downplay safety critical issues.

That just seems to be asking for trouble and a step backwards in vetting the safety of new aircraft designs.

There's a movement towards industry building standards around how to meet the general requirements that aircraft need to meet.

However, that's a step back from the previous approach, where fundamental architecture concepts are needlessly cooked into the airframe regulations. As a simple example, under the previous approach, the law stated that light sport aircraft needed a reciprocating engine, and that reciprocating engine must meet XYZ standards. However that means you couldn't certify and sell an electric LSA in the United States. To certify such an aircraft would have required literally an act of congress.

Overall, this was generally holding back the industry a great deal. The new rules have been in place for a couple of years now (they came into effect just at the end of the Obama administration) and the result has been an enormous improvement in technology available to certified aircraft owners and designers.

So personally I don't think it is a step backwards. The MCAS/CG issue is unfortunate, but it's also part of an industry-wide adjustment that is in general leading to better airplanes.

Isn't that issue (the move to performance-based certification) somewhat orthogonal to the issue "privatisation" of certification? How are they related?

Flying -- even accounting for all the 737 Max crashes is still statistically by far the safest form of travel per unit of distance travelled -- the 737 Max is a blip just like 9/11.

Flying is safe. No question.

And you can make it that much more safe by doing yourself a favor and avoiding the 737 MAX.

What is statistically more dangerous... 1. Flying a 737 Max on a major carrier 2. Flying a commuter plane with a regional carrier 3. Flying an Airbus with a 2nd tier international carrier

I have no idea, but I suspect they're all still orders of magnitude safer than driving.

Ethiopian is a major carrier with a previously stellar safety record.

The MAX has suffered hull losses at around 100x the rate per flight of baseline airline travel, so I suppose it's the most dangerous in your list.

This is a non-sequitur, we were not comparing the 737 MAX with driving but with other planes. It looks like other planes are an order of magnitude safer than the 737 MAX and as such potential airplane clients should avoid the 737 MAX as much as possible

As my flight anxiety will tell you, there's nothing safer than not going anywhere at all.

Actually, flying might be safer than staying at home, given that home is where the showers and pointy things are.

Unit of distance is not the correct measure to use for safety because it skews heavily towards speed. The fastest means of transport will almost always look the safest. Consider if planes doubled their speed overnight (which they can, it's just a matter of gas/costs) and crashes remained the same - did they instantly become twice as safe? Definitely not, there is still the fixed risks of takeoff, landing, and being in the air for even a second, etc. The additional miles are almost free in terms of risk, but eat away a lot at the risk metric.

The better measure is time: deaths per hour traveled. And by that measure buses are actually safest, followed by rail, then air [1][2]. Cars are still 4x more dangerous, but that's much less stark than the common wisdom. And even that is misleading because with cars specifically, there is much more variability of drivers, car quality, maintenance, etc. If you are sober, responsible, educated, with a well maintained car, etc. your odds are significantly lower. Think drunk drivers who only kill themselves in accidents (this is a significant portion of car deaths).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aviation_safety

[2] http://www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_5_No_7_1_July_2015/15.p...

While you raise some good points about the "fixed risk costs" of flying not scaling by distance, deaths per hour isn't a much better metric. The use case for most people is to travel a specific distance. e.g. "I need to get from A to B" so should I fly or drive there. It's usually not, "I need to move around for an hour" should I take the bus or a plane.

>I need to get from A to B

This kind of analysis assumes that the destination is independent of the mode of travel. We only consider going from NY to LA so often because plane travel makes it practical. But this doesn't map well to the general claim that "airplane is the safest way to travel". A per trip metric seems like a more accurate measure of this claim, but then bus is the safest.[1]


What you want is the distance but that's not the risk you're being exposed to. As soon as you enter a plane you are being exposed to risk, like a radioactive element, regardless if the plane travels fast, slow or even in circles. Only when you get off the plane does your exposure to this risk change. The distance you traveled in the meantime had no direct effect. The fact that cars or buses take much longer to arrive means you have to factor in the additional hours of exposure to their risks, so it still makes a material difference how far you need to go, but the more direct relationship is the amount of exposure to the radioactivity.

I disagree; I don't want to spend 10 hours traveling, I want to get from point A to point B. Unit of distance is what makes sense. Who cares if I have half the chance of dying per hour, if I have to spend ten times the hours subject to that risk?

I'm not sure why you think just doubling the speed would impact the crash/unit of distance ratio. If ten planes do a 600km trip and one crashes, that's 1 crash per 6000km regardless of the speed at which they're traveling.

You're right that fixed per-trip risks are diluted, but that's because plane trips are longer, not because they're faster. The right comparison, in my opinion, would be to draw the curves of death rate / trip length.

However, long-term, your choice of A and B is strongly influenced by total travel time - so neither metric is perfect.

> Consider if planes doubled their speed overnight (which they can, it's just a matter of gas/costs)

No, they really cannot. Jetliners can't even increase their speed by 20%, because that puts them through the sound barrier, which they can't handle. Planes must specifically be designed to handle that, like the Concorde or fighter jets. All planes currently used for civilian aviation cannot handle it.

Did I just read what I think I read?

Are you suggesting that people take a bus from New York to Los Angeles, because though the chance of being injured or killed is higher, it is worth it because the trip takes so much longer?

What additional miles? The hypothetical was twice the speed, not twice the distance. If you double the distance and keep the same number of crashes, then of course planes are twice as safe. Why would you suggest otherwise?

The risk would surely increase with doubled speed, no? The Concorde was unsafe because of all the design constraints imposed by being able to go that fast.

Why do you think that the concode was unsafe? It had a single crash in over 25-years of operation, and that crash was due to runway FOD. That makes it probably the single safest passenger aircraft ever brought to service. In fact, it is probably one of the single safest forms of transportation ever.

The concord was involved in single accident resulting in death or injury, which was not due to a fault of its own.

> That makes it probably the single safest passenger aircraft ever brought to service. In fact, it is probably one of the single safest forms of transportation ever.

No, the Concorde was actually one of the least safest passenger aircraft in history, the least safest one on this list by a wide margin: http://www.airsafe.com/events/models/rate_mod.htm

It had so few flights, yet one of them was a catastrophic loss that killed all on board. Just compare it with, e.g., the Boeing 747-400: the Concorde had one full loss in 90,000 flights. The 747-400 has had 0.5 full loss equivalents in 8,420,000 flights. The stats for many other planes are similar.

The Concorde really was quite dangerous. And you can't blame it as "no fault of its own"; it suffered tire blowouts at a rate 30X of other planes, which had previously caused punctured fuel tanks. A tire blowout caused the fatal crash.

Planes fly at well above 0.5 mach, so doubling their speed requires a pretty substantial change, not merely spending more on fuel.

Well put. I've always felt an intuitive unease about that "safest per unit traveled" metric but wasn't able to articulate the problem as clearly as you did.

The statistics for this include motorcycles. I would really like to see one for only vehicles.

Motorcyclist here: have you seen how motorcycle fatalities break down?

In the US, some overwhelming majority of these accidents are alcohol-involved and (I believe) single-vehicle.

Nobody is arguing about flying vs no flying. This thread about 737MAX safety.

The GP said "on a Boeing plane", not just on 737MAXs.

Even more now, because now it's mainstream knowledge of how rotten the whole thing is.

The more you scratch the more the Boeing-FAA relationship stinks. The way Boeing is dealing with this, they way FAA "trusts" Boeing.

Deep down we know most of them don't care much about the people who fly on their planes, but damn seeing it how exactly that plays out is terrifying.

> Deep down we know most of them don't care much about the people who fly on their planes

Do you think most Boeing employees only fly Airbus?

I'm unsure of what they do for leisure, but when I was an employee, the policy was to pick the cheapest flight that would allow you to arrive to your destination at a reasonable time, departing at a reasonable hour, regardless of the airline / airframe used.

They've had similar issues before.


So past history tells us the 737 was marred by multiple fatal crashes cashed by bad rudder design.

Recent history tells us the 737-MAX has also been marred with some serious design issues relating to it's MCAS system, which have resulted in multiple fatal crashes.

That history suggests passengers should be wary of boarding a 737-MAX any time soon.

I for one will give it a few years before taking up that boarding pass.

History also tells us that after the rudder issues, the 737 went on to become the safest airplane in history.

Not the safest. One of the Airbuses (A350?) has never had a fatality.

That is not a very exclusive club.

Airbus A380, Boeing 717, Boeing 787, Bombardier CRJ700, Airbus A340. And I'm pretty sure there are more.

Let's put it in perspective. Boeing has built over ten thousand 737s. Airbus has produced just 265 A350s.

Heck, at the moment Boeing crossed 265 737-MAX-8s in production, they might very well have had zero fatalities as well :)

> Is anyone else extremely reluctant to fly on a Boeing plane after this?

Well, 737 MAX and 787, for me. The 777 is rock solid, as far as I can tell - and it was designed before the significant changes at Boeing and FAA.

Don't mind any of the planes that aren't 737-Max or 787. Definitely reluctant to fly 737-Max anytime soon even after it has been approved. As for the 787, while I have a little bit of hesitancy, I figure it's been around long enough that we at least know it is safer than driving a car, so probably okay to ride in it, although it might not be as safe as other planes.

I'll roll the dice to get that sweet, sweet 6000 ft. cabin pressure on the 787.

What's wrong with 787s?

There was a Daily podcast (from the NYT) on the whistleblowers that said the NC plant that makes them had all kinds of quality issues that were covered up. Like managers retrieving parts from the "reject" pile and putting them into planes so they could keep the assembly line moving.


> Safety lapses at the North Charleston plant have drawn the scrutiny of airlines and regulators. Qatar Airways stopped accepting planes from the factory after manufacturing mishaps damaged jets and delayed deliveries. Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes.

It had some battery fire issues at the start. We also don't quite know how well its composite airframe ages - it may just be that the issues are not apparent yet, or that they don't exist at all.

I hate the 787 for those terrible stupid windows and the ability the crew has to bypass local controls and prevent me from looking out whenever I want.

Yes, I am. It's not a 'just need to update MCAS' situation IMO, that's a Boeing talking point. We don't know how badly the MCAS is needed and how dangerous the plane is if it fails, and their current solution is to make it more failure prone (read from two sources and disable upon >x disagree).

It could be possible that it's mostly developer pay, we all know big old companies don't pay software developers much and now most talented ones are either working for companies who pay a lot like Google and FB or startups which offer lot of equity and recognition.

Reminds me of Niki Lauda, someone posted this yesterday:


Maybe. Not right now as we've grounded the problem child. There are lots of great airplanes doing their job right now.

I'm reluctant to continue the self regulation. The EU is doing it's own design review.

Awesome. They will find a lot of ugly, and some of that will be debatable.

Have those debates.

All companies involved will see some costs. But, they will also see opportunity as they work through this stuff.

We benefit.

I won't be flying on a 737MAX ever. If I ever come into a situation that it would be an option I will email the airliner and let them know that there is no way I will use their service with such an aircraft. I was also thinking about creating a boycott737max.com website.

> on a Boeing plane

yes but limited to -MAX

the others have a good track record and for some reason they seem to takeoff and land smoother, even if probably it's selection bias due to the high correlation of [airline, plane, destination] variables.

Unfortunately it's nearly impossible to boycott them altogether, at least in the U.S.

If any billionaires out there were considering starting a company in the commercial airliner market, now would be an opportune moment...

Jet Blue only fly Airbus and Embraer types

Spirit and Frontier are all-Airbus

I must admit, every time I've flown recently on a 737 I've nervously checked the information card to check the exact model. I think all of our local airlines run 737-800s though.

No reason to be nervous, all 737 MAX are grounded worldwide.

I doubt they will be certified to fly without adding the triple redundant AOA sensors the A320neo has and that should have been included from the very beginning. If the FAA certified the 737 MAX without a mandatory upgrade (doubtful, given the glare of publicity), then yes, I'd be worried.

Tell me about it. In my last flight when the pilot said we are flying in a Boeing 737 I got the heebie jeebies, despite flying in that plane more times than I can count.

> "It's no big deal, they just need to update the MCAS software"

I think they just need to update the pricing structure.

Let the MAX fly as is but just halve the ticket prices, use cabin crew that are coming close to retirement (or have failed performance reviews), make the routes be in developing countries/states and keep the profits rolling in.

I am joking, however, if Boeing sold medicines, pesticides, lead paint, food additives or any number of other things deemed deadly in the home market then it could be exported overseas to be sold at a profit.

Even though Boeing, the FAA and Trump can be criticised for the handling of the 737 Max, the wider international community has done good, we haven't got these shambolic planes relegated to poorer parts of the world where lives are cheap.

Nope, risks are insignificant. It's extremely irrational to be scared to fly on Boeing.

LOL what? It's at least 4 orders of magnitude more risky to fly 737 MAX compared to Airbus A320 (counting deaths per 100k takeoffs). 4 orders of magnitude are not irrational.

That's a relative measure, it could still be the case that the absolute risk is still quite low for each individual. It could very well be the case that the risk per individual is low enough to not cause serious rational concern, while the risk for the entire fleet is high enough to justify grounding it. In much the same way that golfing during a rain storm almost certainly will not get you killed, but if it became a trendy thing to do the number of people being struck by lightning would be significantly higher.

To put a finer point on it, I believe a 737-MAX is still safer than general aviation, which I think most rational people aren't scared of.


I become increasingly anxious of flying based on the size of the aircraft, not sure that I'm an outlier there. The smaller the aircraft the less stable the flight will be, which is what most people are afraid of while flying.

Terrible comparison. Number of takeoffs of 737 Max is much lower than other planes, so numbers will naturally be skewed

Why would they be skewed? Stats are stats. I'd imagine say we have a sampling bias if there are less than 1000 flights in total, as in the kinks haven't been worked out, but this is a production aircraft, with 1000s of takeoffs each day, maybe more than 1M in total during program lifetime. Sufficient to gather significant stats.

And that is exactly the issue, that within the very short period while the 737 MAX has been active it has had major incidents.

Naturally it'll be skewed but also naturally it tells something about its risk given the safety record of the aviation industry.

Almost all planes have more crashes in their early years, and many had worse or equally bad early records. It's too early to claim the 737-MAX will be inherently less safe than other planes using a multi-decade long measure.

Which modern plane do you want to compare it with?

The 787, 747-8, A380, A350, A320neo and A220 all have zero fatal incidents. That is what I expect flying a modern aircraft.

Stop being ridiculous.

Out 300 Boeing Max delivered since it was release in 2016, there has been 2 full hull losses with full loss of life. I bet if you do the numbers it is the most dangerous way of traveling. Tesla gets shit on for autopilot and it’s killed 4 people but has 100s of thousand of cars on the road with autopilot.

> I bet if you do the numbers it is the most dangerous way of traveling

That's just crazy talk. If it's more dangerous than a car I'll eat my hat.

According to NYT/Flightaware, there were ~8600 737Max flights per week. Let's call it 8000, and limit our analysis to the past year. Let's also make the very low assumption there are only 100 passengers on each.

8000 * 100 * 50 is very conservative 40 million passenger trips per year. And there were 350 deaths.

Cars have a fatality rate of ~1 per 100 million miles. That means that the average distance traveled needs to be ~1000 miles to be better than cars.

I challenge you to find better numbers estimates, but my very conservative numbers says they're on par or better than cars. I must confess I'm a little surprised how close it was.

I thinks it’s more comparison to compare travel time than travel distance when measuring safety. If we invented teleportation device that could whisk humans billions a mile way to the next star but killed 1/2 of the people that used it, it shouldn’t be considered the safest way of traveling.

Air travel should be much safer than driving. That it barely is in the case of the 737 MAX is itself a huge indictment.

Absolutely 100% agreed. I started with that assumption and figured that even with very conservative numbers I'd be well below the number of driving fatalities. I did that calculation as I wrote that comment and didn't retroactively edit my initial reactions or change any numbers to fit my bias.

I'd love to see someone figure out the real numbers here.

Yeah, I was just emphasizing your point that you arrived at organically while doing the calculations. Definitely on the same page as you.

"Most dangerous way of traveling"" This is the kind of alarmist stuff that gets perpetuated on social media and reddit.


"Well-known and popular commercial aircraft have been involved in far more fatal accidents than the Boeing 737 Max 8. The 3,065 fatalities onboard the Tupolev Tu-154 are more than any of the 47 aircraft models Quartz analyzed. But commercial staples from Boeing, the 737-200 and 747-200, rank second and third on the list, with 2,910 and 1,664 fatalities respectively."

Counting absolute numbers makes no sense, in the long run any plane model will kill an infinite number of people; what matters is the rate - that is, the slope in that first graph - and the MAX8 has the steepest. As they write, "Compared to the planes involved in accidents with the most fatalities since 1966, the 737 Max 8 has had more fatalities in its first years in service than any of the other."

Also, conditions outside of the plane should matter. The Tupolev you listed was typically poorly maintained and flown to places like Irkutsk or Arkhangelsk, taking off from and landing onto short or poorly maintained runways, often in winter, with technology available in the sixties to the Soviets. The fact that more deaths happened sooner on a modern aircraft built with state-of-the-art technology, flown primarily by its largest users on routes like Dallas to Miami, should be somewhat alarming.

There is the comment below about the 4 order of magnitude difference between A320 vs. 737MAX. And there is confirmation bias that can save your life.

Magnitudes mean very little when numbers are tiny in the first place

You aren't one of those who say people should “vote with their wallets”, are you?

I wouldn't be surprised to see another MAX going down soon after it starts flying again. Let the others test/try the updates first...

I’m okay flying on the older 737s. Those are proven enough that we know what they’ll do; the biggest risk for those older planes is the safety culture for the airline, not Boeing.

Any of their newer stuff? No way.

I have no doubt the older 737s are safe, but they're still crappy planes to fly on as a passenger. Given similar cost, I'll pick an Airbus instead. It's like taking a road trip in a 1967 Mustang vs. and car from 2015. Even if you don't have any incidents, the 1967 car is going to be a pretty lousy experience as far as passenger comfort, noise, and ride quality.

I ridden on some pretty uncomfortable Airbus planes. Passenger comfort has more to do with airline choices regarding types and number of seats than model of aircraft.

Competing Airbus planes have more width, which means the seats can be physically larger. Choosing different seats isn't possible in the 737: the fuselage width is fixed. The only thing they could do to get around this is go to a 2+3 layout, and they're not going to do that because the whole reason for buying and using this plane is economy.

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