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Boeing whistleblower raises doubts over 787 oxygen system (bbc.com)
431 points by osivertsson 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 215 comments





"""On the matter of parts being lost, in early 2017 a review by the Federal Aviation Administration upheld Mr Barnett's concerns, establishing that the location of at least 53 "non-conforming" parts was unknown, and that they were considered lost. Boeing was ordered to take remedial action"""

That's not just bad; this is really, _really_ bad. In my eight years of the Navy, working on aircraft, parts and tool accountability was 100% the most serious part of our day. You went to and left the aircraft with everything accounted for. If _one_ part or tool was missing, everything would shut down for that aircraft until it was found.

The fact that tools and parts were/are missing tells me that either supply didn't do its job right, or someone left a loose nut in a compartment somewhere, just waiting to kill people.

People _die_ because of this shit.


Just last week i heard a story from an older friend about a fighter jet crash investigation he was involved in, where the cause basically was that an engineer wired down some bolts (as required) but trimmed the ends of the wires without recovering the trimmed part. That little piece eventually found its way into the main stick mechanics, causing enough resistance at the wrong moment, preventing the pilot from recovering from a tight dive and killing him.

This is one of the reasons we never trimmed the ends of cut wire when we tied bolts down. We just twisted them and bent them inward. No excess cuts needed, and no tiny bits of FOD that you have to dig out.

What is FOD in this context?

Foreign Object Debris

We always called it "Foreign Object Damage" but yeah, "Debris" would technically be more correct.

Gotta keep the FOD out of the aircraft and the flight lines!


Both are kind of correct. If it's laying where it shouldn't be it's debris, but if it's plowed through the windshield it's damage.

This is really interesting to me, how are the crash investigators able to pinpoint the exact cause of failure in such circumstances? I'd imagine a small piece of wire would be just another miniscule piece of debris at a crash site, and unlikely to still be in the location that caused the crash.

Starts with data logging, everything is logged. Then you inspect that area and look for anomalies in the metals in that area. At 5Gs, a little piece of wire becomes a razor blade and leaves evidence. A lot of odd nicks in an avionics bay will lead to testing, interviews and more testing. A worker has no reason to hide details, it would be criminal, so the interviews look at all the possible anomalies and then narrows down to the root cause.

Really amazing work, read NTSB crash reports and they outline the methods used


Thanks, yes, I've heard that NTSB crash reports are mind blowing in their attention to detail. A follow on question: how do they ensure people honestly answer questions, is the person not inviting personal liability by answering?

In my experience there has always been a _deep_ culture of mutual respect between industrial aviation players and the NTSB.

Everyone knows that the investigative body is there to help figure out what went wrong and to provide guidance on how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. It’s not about assigning blame, and there’s an understanding that if it were to become about that then the industry would be worse-off as a whole.

(Slightly off-topic, but this is precisely why Tesla’s reaction to the NTSB investigation in their Model X crash was so concerning. Any player that defects here runs the risk of poisoning the process for everyone else.)


Thank you both for the answers!

Look at the original metal fatigue investigations that lead to round windows.

They pressurized and depressurized an airplane (inside of a water tank) 50,000 times until it failed.


I am really impressed that we are able to fly safely at all if a tiny little piece of debris like this can cause plane crashes. Debris is a fact of life. Things fall apart, small pieces come off whatever substance or piece they were attached to. Are maintenance crews constantly just taking aircraft apart and vacuuming every surface they find?

Military aircraft are designed to be unstable, so that they can perform fast, odd combat maneuvers. The flight computers are the only think keeping those things flying.

Civilian aircraft are designed to be super stable.


This isn't necessarily true. Without stability you can't perform certain maneuvers. And the large aircraft are super stable.

That said, we take FOD and tool control very seriously. And the aircraft had 30 / 60 / 90 /365 day inspections that varied in detail


And aerodynamic stability would not have prevented the accident described in grandparent.

Do you think the pilot had any idea what happened or did he simply die never knowing?

Its lack of relevance to the matter at hand not withstanding, I admit to be a bit bewildered by your question and thus feel the need to ask: what makes you think the pilot could possibly have any idea that trimmed parts from a bolt is what caused the stick resistance, or that he would spend the time thinking about that instead of recovering the aircraft in the few minutes he had at the most ...

Pilots have loads of checklists, many of them committed to memory. If there's a problem, there's a checklist for it and following the checklist should lead you to a solution or at least tell you what is wrong. The downside is that checklists can't account for every possible thing going wrong. A little piece of wire jamming a hydraulic system is going to be a hard fix. Even if you have the tools and access to the component, do you have time while the plane is nose down?

Planes have to be predictable, they can have massive failure states but the solution must be repeatable. Unknown failures, regardless of the severity, are a major problem and should always be tracked and investigated. A small unknown failure could be a symptom or precursor to a much larger problem.

Everyone hates paperwork but it's what saves lives.


You’re actually not supposed to memorize checklists, it leads to complacency.

For those emergencies that demand quick action, commercial pilots do have to memorize the relevant checklists.

He or she would spend time mentally running through the avionics system to think of what to trouble shoot. Experienced pilots know how their craft works just like you know how to debug a failing drive and not waste time looking at your network cable.

My neighbor is a pilot and I asked him completely off hand how to troubleshoot non responsive flaps and he went into detail about the hydraulics system, where the pumps are and the steps he would take to troubleshoot. This was off the top of his head without a checklist.


I think at the speeds we are talking about here, it's just an "the plane is not reacting to control input" and nothing else. Probably not enough time to think about what exactly went wrong (and will kill you in seconds).

Almost certainly the latter. :-(

How is it possible to make that determination after the crash ...?

I would say, as european, that all this storm of shit is good news for Airbus, but I hop on Boeing planes too, and I think competition is good news.

Boeing is maybe too big to fail, but the reputation hit they are taking may lead to companies not buying their planes, thus pushing for least competition, which is bad news for everyone.

Airbus being the kind of behemoth company it is, I am convinced that without Boeing's competition, over time, they would end up with the same practices, convinced that their aircraft sell themselves.


Airbus is no better. Investigation report about an incident in 2018 was just released: https://avherald.com/h?article=4b57c3dd/0000&opt=0

What happened there: wrong kind of oil was used in elevator and it went unnoticed because maintenance guides did not require any inspections of affected parts. Wrong oil caused delays in sensor triggering, which led to primary computers shutting down, believing that there was a problem with elevator.

Backup computers didn't detect gear compression correctly when the aicraft bounced on the runway (one computer believed it was on the ground, the other that it was airborne) and also shut down and locked the elevator in neutral (zero) position as a safety measure.

This happened during a touch-and-go landing on a training flight. The A320 touched down, bounced, elevator got locked, the aircraft climbed a bit, then fell down on the runway scraping and damaging engines (due to loss of control), then took off again (not enough runway left for stopping) and was now flying with no elevator and with engines about to shut down. It's a miracle that pilots managed to turn around and land safely.

In 1993, Lufthansa A320 crashed under similar conditions: landed in poor conditions, computers didn't think it was on the ground and didn't allow braking until it was too late https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lufthansa_Flight_2904


Shit is always going to happen, there is no magic trick. However what these companies can do, is being extremely diligent about implementing fixes as soon as an issue is reported and not cutting corners on the certification processes and safety features.

What has surfaced in the last few months, is that Boeing is willing to cut corners, and is not being diligent. It's completly possible that the same thing is happening at Airbus, but I have not personnally seen or heard evidences of that. At the very least, Airbus is not certifying it's own planes.

For example, for the crash you mentionned, was Airbus aware of that potential issue sooner but didn't update the maintenance guide for some ulterior motives?


> Airbus is no better.

Maybe, but the report you linked does not show that. The issue with Boeing is not that a plane crashed but that planes crashed despite earlier reports that people considered these planes unsafe. No such reports came out of Airbus about the A320 as far as I'm aware. Also the regulators did not delegate certification to Airbus.


Airbus has similar long-standing issues. On ground / airborne detection logic was broken in 1993 and is still broken in 2019, to a point that it can cause loss of flight controls.

Boeing, in contrast, uses simple radar altimeter. Whenever altitude reads 10 feet or less, the aircraft is considered to be "on ground" and things like thrust reversers become available.

I personally avoid praising or preferring Airbus when bashing Boeing. Who knows what else is under that rock too.


Boeing, in contrast, uses simple radar altimeter.

Which is problematic and has killed 134 people.

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/easa-cautions-737...

things like thrust reversers become available.

Boeing rather famously had a problem with in-air thrust reverse deployment (not on the 73 though).


> Which is problematic

Not at all. Its malfunctions are clear and obvious. If autothrottle starts moving thrust levers in unexpected ways, you turn the autothrottle off and assume manual control.

Thrust levers, reversers, braking or any other systems were not blocked or deployed unexpectedly. The aircraft simply reduced thrust too much while in control of speed, which is something one should always look out for, it's an expected failure, a known unknown.

The Turkish airplane crashed because the crew was flying an unstable approach and did not pay attention to warnings because their style of flying was expected to trigger warnings. This obscured the malfunction.

They came in too fast and too steep, ignored aural warnings, let thrust levers move to idle (which they expected because of high speed), failed to monitor airspeed and didn't notice last minute warnings because they were occupied with checklist that they should've already been through.

No-one was actually flying the airplane, despite the fact that there was an extra third safety pilot in the cockpit who was tasked with observing the flight.


Not at all. Its malfunctions are clear and obvious.

While the FAA seems to agree with you EASA, Transport Canada, Australia's ATSB, and Senegal's BEA seem to disagree.


Of course alerting could and was improved, but the Turkish accident wouldn't have happened if pilots had done the bare minimum of what's expected of them and monitored airspeed and altitude while they were flying close to ground and preparing to land any minute.

As said, autothrottle malfunction is a known unknown (with or without radio altimeter), something one can reasonably expect to happen, unlike the recent Airbus case where a bumpy landing led to loss of flight controls, something no pilot was trained for nor could reasonably expect to happen.

What's also important to stress is that loss of radio altimeter and autothrottle did not restrict Boeing pilots in any way. They had full control over the aircraft.


Of course alerting could and was improved, but the Turkish accident wouldn't have happened if pilots had done the bare minimum of what's expected of them and monitored airspeed and altitude while they were flying close to ground and preparing to land any minute.

The TAM wreck wouldn't have happened had the pilots flown the plane either. vOv

unlike the recent Airbus case where a bumpy landing led to loss of flight controls, something no pilot was trained for nor could reasonably expect to happen.

That was quite a bit more than a bumpy landing. The Lufthansa pilots touched down far past where they should've. That's not a flaw with the aircraft. There's a reason the formal conclusion was pilot error and not because nationalism came into play.

What's also important to stress is that loss of radio altimeter and autothrottle did not restrict Boeing pilots in any way. They had full control over the aircraft.

Don't forget that in some of these cases, the autopilot didn't disconnect because the autopilot couldn't determine that one of the RAs had failed.

And what of the Lauda Air wreck? How much control did the pilots have when the reversers deploy in flight on a 76?

How about asymmetric flap deployments on a 75? Capt. VanderBurgh already discussed that scenario — another one where Boeing said that could never happen and pilots shouldn't train in the sim for it. Turns out it can happen and you're basically SOL.

Or what of the rudder hard overs in the NG?

How about the Helios Air wreck where the alarm for takeoff config and pressurization problems was (and still is) the same? How much awareness do you think a hypoxic crew will have?

How about the AoA disagree annunciator on the MAX that was too buggy to work unless you paid for additional features? Plenty of low quality crap comes out of Boeing these days…


> The TAM wreck wouldn't have happened had the pilots flown the plane either.

Pilots were actively engaged, made a minor mistake by setting wrong thrust lever position on one engine, which caused the aircraft to disregard any other input and assume the aircraft to be airborne even when it was on the ground, spoilers and auto-braking armed, brakes manually slammed and one engine in reverse.

> That was quite a bit more than a bumpy landing.

I was referring to the 2018 incident. Pilots did everything by the book, yet lost elevator control.

> Don't forget that in some of these cases, the autopilot didn't disconnect because the autopilot couldn't determine that one of the RAs had failed.

Again, completely irrelevant as it did not prevent pilots from taking full control of the aircraft.

The rest of the examples you've thrown at me are also all malfunctions and have nothing to do with A320 incorrectly determining its state and overriding correct input from pilots.


I was referring to the 2018 incident. Pilots did everything by the book, yet lost elevator control.

You mentioned LH2904 and TAM3054. In both cases the pilots fucked up. Full stop.

Both flights were deemed pilot error by the respective investigative agencies. In the Lufthansa flight, they touched down too far down the runway.

A320 incorrectly determining its state and overriding correct input from pilots

The A320 pilots did not provide correct inputs.


> You mentioned LH2904 and TAM3054.

This whole thread started from description of the 2018 SmartLynx accident.

> The A320 pilots did not provide correct inputs.

They did. Read the 2018 report. Simple touch-and-go's on a training day led to loss of elevator due to timing of a single light bounce after touchdown.

> Both flights were deemed pilot error by the respective investigative agencies.

Both reports also concluded that design of the aircraft contributed to the accident (instead of preventing) and recommended revising it.

In addition, the 2018 SmartLynx crash showed that the A320 still can't tell whether it's on the ground or not. This time pilots did everything by the book, and found themselves locked out of elevator control due to poor design of A320 SEC computers.


This doesn't change the point you're making, but thankfully it was only 9/134 people according to the article's tagline. The mix of the word "nine" and the number "134" makes it hard to spot

This doesn't change the point you're making, but thankfully it was only 9/134 people according to the article's tagline. The mix of the word "nine" and the number "134" makes it hard to spot

Yeah I'm familiar with the accident in question in passing so I just skimmed the article itself (whoops). RA failure on the 737 isn't unheard of:

https://avherald.com/h?article=4924e9ea (2015)

https://avherald.com/h?article=48c031e2 (2015)

https://avherald.com/h?article=4bc252c2 (2018)

https://avherald.com/h?article=417e726c (2009)

https://avherald.com/h?article=41e84cb5 (2009)

The in-flight thrust reverser deployment killed everyone on the plane, thankfully Niki Lauda took Boeing to task.


Airbus has similar long-standing issues. On ground / airborne detection logic was broken in 1993 and is still broken in 2019, to a point that it can cause loss of flight controls.

So you're claiming that Airbus knowingly leaves a critical defect in their planes, which may cause the loss of flight controls and which they refreain from fixing for almost 30 years?

Either come up with a reliable source for this statement (which is extremely hard to believe) or allow me to call bullshit!


NTSB already notes long-standing issues with all aircraft, all you need to do is read. Airbus for example has a flaw in the A300-600 line where the tailfin can get ripped off due to bad rudder manufacture, that's been around and still exists since the turn of the millennia. My pal consistently bitches about having to do constant preventative work on that section of that line of planes (he's an Airbus engineer.)

> So you're claiming that Airbus knowingly leaves a critical defect in their planes, which may cause the loss of flight controls and which they refreain from fixing for almost 30 years?

A320's computers monitor gear for uncompression of 1 second or longer. Computers are not in sync. If landing gear decompresses due to bouncing for long enough to be seen for 1 second by one computer, but short enough to get missed by the other, computers will produce different outputs and the system will shut down, freezing important flight control at a dangerous phase of flight and leaving pilots in a situation they have not been trained for.

Given the very obviously flawed and incredibly poor design that's easy to understand even for laymen, I would have very hard time believing that no-one at Airbus ever noticed, no-one ever spoke up. I think this would reflect even more poorly on Airbus.

Especially so considering that there have been multiple hull-loss accidents with fatalities (LH2904, TAM3054), where air/ground detection has been a contributing factor. Throughout the years, the aircraft has been unable to tell whether it's on the ground or in the air.


Especially so considering that there have been multiple hull-loss accidents with fatalities (LH2904, TAM3054), where air/ground detection has been a contributing factor. Throughout the years, the aircraft has been unable to tell whether it's on the ground or in the air.

With the Lufthansa flight the problem was not the aircraft design but rather that the pilot remained on only one main gear for too long. The Airbus design requires weight on both wheels (this had nothing to do with computers being out of sync) in order to prevent things like the Lauda Air (Boeing 767-300ER) crash where the thrust reversers deployed in flight causing the plane to drop out of the sky, killing everyone.

Same deal with the TAM flight. For whatever reason the pilots didn't properly position the thrust lever on one engine. That had nothing to do with computers being out of sync and had absolutely nothing to do with ground detection.

Meanwhile with the Boeing 737, a single (unreliable) radar altimeter (RA) is used as part of the ground detection and a single failed RA caused a Westjet 737 to start pulling back on the throttles.

http://avherald.com/h?article=41e84cb5

As far a the Turkish 737 crash:

http://avherald.com/h?article=41595ec3

During the accident flight, while executing the approach by means of the instrument landing system with the right autopilot engaged, the left radio altimeter system showed an incorrect height of -8 feet on the left primary flight display. This incorrect value of -8 feet resulted in activation of the ‘retard flare’ mode of the autothrottle, whereby the thrust of both engines was reduced to a minimal value (approach idle) in preparation for the last phase of the landing.

...

The problems with radio altimeter systems in the Boeing 737-800 fleet had been affecting several airlines, including Turkish Airlines, for many years and were known to Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States of America.

...

Despite the fact that Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States of America had been aware for many years that the radio altimeter system was causing many problems and was affecting the operation of other systems, this situation was not designated as a safety risk. Reports of problems with the radio altimeter system that could not be resolved by Boeing justified an effort to analyse the radio altimeter system and other related systems. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States of America could have recognised the fact that the problems caused by the radio altimeter system, especially the potential for activating the autothrottle retard flare mode, posed a safety risk.

That sounds a lot like the engineering that went into MCAS - using only one input for something safety critical.


In TAM and LH cases, pilots were locked out of using full braking capabilities of the aircraft because they found themselves in a situation that didn't satisfy the conditions defined as "landing" by aircraft designers. The had wheels on the ground, but program logic evaluated to onground = FALSE.

Westjet and Turkish incidents are irrelevant. Westjet malfunctioned, pilot took control and landed safely - that's what pilots are there for. Turkish airplane also malfunctioned and gave multiple warnings over several minutes, but pilots didn't pay attention to what the aircraft was doing until stall warning activated at 460 feet, by which time it was too late. Had they paid attention, they would've also recovered and landed safely.

In contrast, Airbuses systems didn't malfunction. They worked as designed and made the already difficult situation (landing in bad weather) deadly due to not responding like a pilot would expect. The design was deeply flawed, just like MCAS.


The had wheels on the ground, but program logic evaluated to onground = FALSE.

Nope. The Lufthansa bird had one bogie on the ground and one off. With the TAM flight the pilots left one thrust lever at climb power and one at idle, pure pilot error.

The Westjet and Turkish incidents are irrelevant. Westjet malfunctioned, pilot took control and landed safely - that's what pilots are there for. Turkish airplane also malfunctioned and gave multiple warnings over several minutes, but pilots didn't pay attention to what the aircraft was doing until stall warning activated at 460 feet, by which time it was too late. Had they paid attention, they would've also recovered and landed safely.

Unfortunately the 737s were functioning as designed, the computers took invalid input and ran with it instead of cross checking it.


> Nope. The Lufthansa bird had one bogie on the ground and one off.

Which is to be expected from a crosswind landing (especially with a lot of lift from higher-than-usual speed), but it took 900 m of runway before enough weight was detected on both of them to activate thrust reversers and spoilers. And even after all wheels were on the ground, it took another 300 m before wheel brakes became active. The accident investigation report recommended introduction of emergency override to cover the whole range of conditions in which airplanes fly.

> With the TAM flight the pilots left one thrust lever at climb power and one at idle, pure pilot error.

The aircraft was firmly on the ground, with one thrust lever in reverse position. Spoilers and auto-brake did not activate because position of the other lever lever was prioritized over actual condition of the aircraft. Critical data was derived from a thrust lever, which has no safety features to prevent inadvertent wrong positioning. Furthermore, lever positioning suppressed aural reminders to bring thrust levers to idle (the famous "RETARD").

> Unfortunately the 737s were functioning as designed, the computers took invalid input and ran with it instead of cross checking it.

Which is irrelevant on the 737, because its design philosophy expects pilots to monitor and (if necessary) override automation, which hundreds of attentive crews successfully did before the Turkish crash. A320, on the other hand, lacks emergency override, as the LH2904 investigators noted in their report. It cannot reliably tell whether the aircraft is on the ground or not, and stops pilots from taking the correct action.


>which may cause the loss of flight controls and which they refreain from fixing for almost 30 years?

And, that as far as we know, hasn't caused


Actually, there as an argument that it is not good for Airbus at all because it will risk the stability of duopoly between Boing and Airbus. The idea is that now Boing will be forced to actually invest tens of billions in new aircraft design, forcing Airbus to do the same instead of milking the current designs for as long as possible. Also, apparently the aircraft manufacturing is not a very flexible business and Airbus already produces as many planes as possible so other manufacturers(especially the Chinese) may actually use this as an opportunity to grab market share and destroying the comfortable duopoly.

> Actually, there as an argument that it is not good for Airbus at all because it will risk the stability of duopoly between Boing and Airbus.

I like thinking about this in a sort of hypothetical Sparta. Sparta had two kings from two different royal lines.

Suppose you're one of two kings, and the other royal line experiences some sort of dynastic hiccup. This inevitably happens to everyone.

A popular strategy throughout history is to capitalize on that hiccup by exterminating the existing royal line, or at least driving them out of power so you can take it yourself. As a king, you are ideally positioned to do this. Maybe you can take both thrones and be the double-king. Maybe you can put your cousin on the second throne. Maybe you can put a flunky on the second throne. Maybe you can get rid of the second throne, leaving yourself as sole king.

But once you do that, a precedent has been set. Your line will eventually stumble too, and it is likely to suffer whatever fate befell the other line the first time. Another strategy you have, back when the rival line first shows weakness, is to stake everything you have on your commitment to upholding the Spartan way of life as expressed in the dual kingship. Give rousing speeches on how unthinkable it would be for anything about the current setup to change. Throw all your considerable resources into supporting the king on the other throne, no matter how weak his position might look.

If that sticks, the other line is likely to remember that you were there when they needed you. But even more than that, you've just established that the dual kingship, and the two families who fill it, are an integral part of the culture, never to be questioned. That tradition may ultimately prove more helpful to you than any personal support. And it has such obvious benefits to the other royal line that, going forward, they will likely support it just as strongly as you do.

On this analogy, the problem with disturbing the Airbus / Boeing duopoly isn't that Boeing might start to compete with Airbus, provoking an arms race. The bigger problem is that (as you mention) some other company might start thinking they can make airplanes too, and who knows what could happen then.


We'd be a lot better off with a 3rd maker of large passenger aircraft. Duopolies are never good for the market, and markets seem to do a lot better when there's 3 dominant players: with only 3, the players have very good economies of scale, but because there's 3 (and not 1 or 2), there's still a good amount of competition, while still having a lot of stability, so it balances out. Too many competitors means too little stability and too little economy of scale, too few competitors means too much power in the hands of those companies and too little competition.

Personally, I'd like to see Mitsubishi get back into the passenger plane business. They're already starting, but with a smaller regional jet.


The E195-E2 is much larger than a typical regional jet, and it even has the range to go coast-to-coast in the U.S. It seems to have been overshadowed by the A220, though, perhaps for good reason.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embraer_E-Jet_E2_family#E195-E...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A220#/media/File:CSerie...

I think what's missing in the Airbus-Boeing debate is an appreciation for the role of engine manufacturers. The A220, E195-E2, and Mitsubishi SpaceJet are all built around P&W's new geared turbofan engines.

It seems to me that at this point in the evolution of the industry everybody effectively builds their planes around the capabilities and limits of available engine technology. The immediate cause of death of the A380 was the refusal of any engine manufacturer to design and sell a more modern engine. The A380 became inefficient because its engines were at least 1.5 generations behind, not because there were 4 of them. (Of course, the reason nobody wanted to invest in a newer engine was because the market was too small to make it worth their time, especially considering their struggles with existing commitments.)

I imagine any aerospace engineering company could design a state-of-the-art and competitive body around the available engines. Aircraft manufacturers seem to self-select into market niches not because of engineering costs and difficulties, but simply because the global markets aren't large enough to support a third wide body manufacturer and only barely large enough, if at all, to support another 737/A320.


Will airlines go multi-supplier again or will they specialize in particular manufacturers? The cost to an airline to keep certified personnel on staff capable of supporting planes from different manufacturers is probably greater than the unit savings they could realize in a situation where price competition exists ...

Embraer is pretty large. Not Airbus or Boeing large but they make passenger aircraft for medium and shorter routes.

Embraer is pretty large. Not Airbus or Boeing large but they make passenger aircraft for medium and shorter routes.

Embraer's commercial business is owned by Boeing now — the subsidiary is called BBC.


Was not the problem with MAX in part due to Boeing trying to milk the old design?

More due to airlines demanding a new 737 instead of a new plane. Boeing already made a new 737, it’s called the 757 and nobody bought it.

This. The consternation and blame direct at Boeing, while appropriate, distracts from the real source of the problem: airlines. And Southwest Airlines was possibly one of the largest sources of the 737 MAX negative incentives, by having a contract reportedly require $1 million per airplane if a certain threshold of pilot training was exceeded. And to this day Southwest still doesn't think MAX specific simulator training is necessary for pilots.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-boeing-airplane-southwest...

https://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/news/2019/07/29/southwest...

That's especially incredible considering Southwest pilots' union says in a lawsuit that the 737 MAX is unsafe.

https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/in-sc...


The consternation and blame direct at Boeing, while appropriate, distracts from the real source of the problem: airlines. And Southwest Airlines was possibly one of the largest sources of the 737 MAX negative incentives, by having a contract reportedly require $1 million per airplane if a certain threshold of pilot training was exceeded

Well, in this case I'd argue that it was totally Boeing's responsibility to communicate to such customers that they couldn't do it.

Instead they nodded their heads, demanded the impossible from their engineers, demoted or fired people that questioned it and in the end offered a hacked solution, which killed over 300 people.

I don't think that your argument excuses their culpability in any way, shape or form.


In no possible reading of what I wrote is there an excuse for Boeing's culpability. I'm suggesting split culpability.

If I offer you $1 million to shoot someone, and you go do that, two crimes have been committed. Pointing out that I'm also culpable in no way excuses your culpability. I would be the real source of the crime, as the instigator, having set out a strong incentive to commit the crime against your otherwise better judgement.


It's actually a bit worse than that. American Airlines actually announced the "new" 737 variant before Boeing was even thinking of it[0]. At which point Boeing needed to figure out how to make the next 737 happen.

[0] http://news.aa.com/news/news-details/2011/AMR-Corporation-An...


Boeing was all in on building a clean-sheet replacement for the 737 up to like 2011 until American said basically "we're not buying any new planes unless they're 737s and we'll re-standardize on Airbus". Boeing still shouldn't have built it (you don't need to be an aerospace engineer to see where the issues were going to be) but talk about being put into a "coffin corner" (ha ha).

The 757 was made to replace the 727 and serves a different market segment than the 737.

I think you're missing the point, here. The 757 was a 727 replacement because the 737 was never meant to be flying the routes and carrying the pax that it is today. The 737 MAX 10 has become, pax wise, a direct competitor of the 757-200. Airlines are demanding a 757 that doesn't require a new type rating, which is how you get this frankensteins monster of an airplane.

Now, now, frankensteins monster could hold its ballance and had two sensors to sense the pitchfork wielding crowd.

Yes, the Airbus did the same but in their case the a320 did not have a problem fitting larger engines under the wings. The problem is, if Boeing decides to make a brand new design that is more efficient than a320, Airbus will have to match it instead of milking the a320 despite not having its planes falling of the skies.

Provisionally the A320neo's replacement is expected to be a clean-sheet redesign, despite the basic design being two decades newer. Of course, we'll see whether even a common type rating (not type certificate) is sufficient for airlines to not baulk at the idea.

I don’t quite follow your train of thought. Isn’t it normal for companies to compete and evolve their designs? I am sure Airbus is capable of doing that.

Why would Airbus spend 10 Billion on RD for a new plane if they can only spend 1.5 Billion on RD to modify an existing design? In their current form, Airbus and Boing don't really compete, which is bad for the customers but good for the shareholders of these companies. They already produce almost all of the passenger aircrafts and they would love this to continue.

The 737 MAX fiasco threatens this arrangement.


> Why would Airbus spend 10 Billion on RD for a new plane if they can only spend 1.5 Billion on RD to modify an existing design?

Because that's what manufacturers always did? If you only do iterative changes then eventually you run into a wall. Boeing engineers also knew that. The disagreement between what engineers wanted and what management wanted has been a point of contention for many years.


See, that wall is not a problem when you are in a duopoly. You will need to jump the wall only if your competitor jumps and why your competitor would jump if you can pocket the 8.5 billions and sell the regular stuff?

That was what Boeing and Airbus supposed to do: Sell the a320Neo and 737MAX for as long as possible and stay away from the wall. Now that Boeing screwed up, they may be forced to jump the wall and Airbus will have to follow. On the other side of the wall, they will sell the same number of planes.


Full-scale redesigns require more than a ton of capital to build the new plane. It will cost your customers a ton of capital to buy the new plane and change their entire setup (pilots, mx) to use the new plane. The airlines want new jets even less than the manufacturers want to pay to design them.

It is worthwhile mentioning that the Airbus A320 wing was designed 35 years ago for a 70t platform, and has remained the same on all versions, from the A318 through to the A321.

While unchanged, the wing has seen a steady loading increase: to 83t on the first A321, then 89t and 93.5t, and is finally expected to go up to 101t on the A321XLR. This increased wing loading has meant higher take-off speeds, reaching close to the maximum tire speed limits, and a lower safety margin at altitude – in other words, a tighter “coffin corner”, and lower stability protection.

Airbus just hasn't had it's day yet.


>, but the reputation hit they are taking may lead to companies not buying their planes, thus pushing for least competition

If the company doesn't suffer for such failures then competition doesn't matter.


You shouldn't have anymore confidence in them then Boeing.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/2923861/Airbus-whistlebl...


Everything’s coming up Bombardier?

Haha.. oh...


After the demise of the a380 project i doubt airbus will ever think again that the aircraft can sell themselves.

A380 is an amazing business case. Ask anyone who has flown on one what their favourite commercial plane is and I would bet the majority will say it's the A380. Despite that it was still a commercial failure.

My wife surely wouldn’t. The upper deck lav leaked on our heads for half the flight from Sydney to LA. What’s worse than a 16 hour flight? A 16 hour flight where you have to stand in the aisles.

I've frequently seen condensed water from the air conditioner leak in an A380 (sometimes quite voluminously during take-off), are you positive it was the lavatory?

(FWIW, I think the A380 has superb pax comfort.)


So it's ok to have water dripping on your head as long as it's vapour condensation?

Certainly better than hot piss.

Is that what happens on the lower decks? :-)

Just rename it steerage, and you're resurrecting fine old nautical tradition.

I generally spend most long haul flights standing in the aisle. It's much better for your back and butt.

Good luck when the turbulence comes. I've seen people suddenly up against the ceiling. It is rare, but extreme turbulence sometimes happens very suddenly.

I remember this on a flight to an airbase in Catania, Sicily. Overnight flight, we were given drinks, then turbulence hit with the hand of Thor.

I'm pretty sure we dropped about 500 feet straight down, but all I remember was being amazed how my cup of pepsi stayed on my tray and didn't fall over.


If the pepsi was still in your cup, you were still at some degree of positive "g". Anything below about 0.5 will cause people to start screaming. True falling is 0g. But things suddenly get very bad at even the slightest negative g. At -0.1g your pepsi is levitating out of the cup, the 100lb drink cart is now airborne, and a second later it all comes crashing down.

It has crossed my mind on occasion.never been in truly violent turbulence yet but generally wary when flying over the Indian Ocean. Can be quite rough.

Have some empathy.

I think you’re confusing value proposition for business case. The value proposition for widebody is over Singhal I’ll is simple. The business case is nonexistent whenever they’re in competitive situations. The lower cost of unsold seats makes al the difference.

As for favorite plane, the lower pressurization and higher humidity of a 787 makes all the difference.


Exactly. A good airplane isnt enough. The manufacturer has to follow the market, not expect that thier new aircraft will create that market.

You can't just follow when R&D and production for a new aircraft take decades. First feasibility studies for a A380 type aircraft were done in the 1980s, expecting the market in the future. The first delivery to a customer was MSN 003 to Singapore Airlines in 2007.

You need to plan ahead.


The A380 might actually live the destiny of the 767 or 757.

Sure, it was a handful for the manufacturer, luckily pulled it off, kinda broke even after some time. But it will be long gone when it will be really needed, when large hubs become even more congested or certain P2P lines heavily overgrow on themselves.


Good riddance. Despite being so big, its fuel efficiency is unimpressive. Something must be wrong with the design.

It's engines are old, at least 1.5 generations behind the latest engines in production. Fuel efficiency only looks low when compared to aircraft using more modern engines. Unsurprisingly, Emirates canceled their order only after Rolls-Royce rescinded their plans for an engine upgrade. That's why there was the one year of waffling; Airbus and Emirates were trying secure a commitment from Rolls-Royce as everything turned on an upgraded engine.

Even with the engine handicap the A380 was still generally competitive if fully loaded. And if not fully loaded it could still be competitive, as described by a recent story about the outsized role of the Dallas-Sydney route to Quantas' bottom line: https://simpleflying.com/dallas-sydney-qantas/ (see also https://www.dallasnews.com/business/airlines/2019/10/28/this...)

Considering that engine efficiency is perhaps the biggest contributor to financial viability, that says something very positive about the A380 approach and design. But as engines continued to advance the A380 would have lost even that edge.


Yeah, the A380 designed for a longer fuselage so it's inefficient in the -800 variant.

Makes sense. It looks too bulky, and not slender enough.

Can you expand on that?

Good for Airbus for putting out safer aircraft.

> the location of at least 53 "non-conforming" parts was unknown

Just to make things clear since I also work in the field.

Non conforming parts are not a problem, at least not from a safety perspective. It just means that the part is damaged (ex: scratched) or not up to specs, and that some analysis is required. A typical result is that the part is usable but with more frequent inspections and a reduced service life. It is more of a problem for the company because they are losing money fixing stuff instead of doing it right the first time.

Not knowing where each part is, conforming or not, is a really big problem, as mentioned by other posters.


The US Air Force has/had problems with the KC-46 (767) being delivered from Boeing with FOD and tools left in the aircraft. So they could use some improvements in the quality control area.

I remember something similar happening to my squadron; an unopened can of oil was sitting in the engine compartment and we found it during our acceptance inspection.

We were all like, WTF. Photos were taken and sent; I really hope someone got fired.

This also led us to taking the aircraft completely apart and checking every nook and cranny. Found FOD and such in random places.


Usually people don't get fired for stuff like that. It can almost always be traced back to a process, documentation, or training issue. It sounds insulting but you need to treat humans like dumb lazy animals that require strict guidance on how to get things done. Having safeguards like toolbox checks and FOD checks reinforce processes. Expecting technicians to police themselves is ridiculous so you need people who's sole job is to check paperwork and keep everyone else in line. When there are lives and loads of money on the line, there's little room for being lazy about things. There is just likely a culture of laziness at Boeing's plant that leads to things like this happening.

""It sounds insulting but you need to treat humans like dumb lazy animals that require strict guidance on how to get things done.""

As a vet, this frustrates the hell out of me. We are trained to look out for one another and, especially in the case of aircraft maintenance, we are trained to police ourselves and each other.

Yes, we also had strict guidance and checklists, and we followed them (sometimes only as best as we could depending on the situation, like combat zones, lack of supplies, etc). But, paramount above all that was safety and making sure whatever we did impacted safety in a positive way.

Going into the civilian world, it frustrates the hell out of me how lazy everyone could be with things that could literally kill somebody if maintained incorrectly.

And honestly it really surprises me a little how much of this about Boeing is coming out into the lime light. I thought their standards would be higher.


There has already been reporting on people leaving ladders and other tools inside delivered 787s. I'm not sure what Boeing is good at anymore besides gaming regulatory systems.

This is what happens when engineering decisions are ceded to marketing wanks and MBA bros.

There is at least one big airline that denies to accept airliners built in Charleston. Don't remember which. So quality problems are not invented by a single disgruntled employee. There have been news articles before https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/20/business/boeing-dreamline... says that Qatar Airways "stopped" accepting planes fron Charleston. Not sure whether that means indefinitely or until the planes in question are reworked.

In normal markets competition would make sure that a company like Boeing gets enough pressure or eventually fails. Now they are too big to fail however they misbehave. And there is little doubt that they do badly. The merger with McDowell Douglas should never have been approved, even less the newest acqusitation of Embraer. Case AT&T showed what to do if competition does no longer work.


The Air Force halted deliveries of planes from Boeing due to parts and debris found in closed compartments: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/u-s-a...

Al Jazeera has a long report on YouTube [0] covering the allegations around Charleston, I know that they can be biased against the US but this report is quite eye opening. Even more given the interview with a VP (or director, can't remember exactly the position) being cut short by the PR person involved, the reports from workers inside the factory stating they wouldn't fly a plane built there, etc.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvkEpstd9os


Hmm, seeing the documentary, what would you do if you're working in Alenia? Do you deliver the parts anyway and hope FAA? Do you stop production and lose the contract?

From a Supplier perspective it's an interesting discussion.


All Jazeera is garbage. If it's legitimate find a real source for it. I don't need the government of Qatar's propaganda and you shouldn't trust some of it because it co firms your biases. Treat bar actors as bad actors even if what they're saying this moment is something that interests you.

Al Jazeera is in general completely biased against Israel and YES, I MENTIONED that I have issues with a lot of their reporting.

At the same time watch the report and get your own conclusions before shooting it down based on YOUR biases and prejudices, that reporting is solid, it has video evidence from an employee walking inside the Charleston factory and chatting with co-workers regarding the safety of the planes and the assembly line.

So please, be more sensible about your sourcing, this is solid even though biased, just take it with a grain of salt and critical thinking about what parts you should consider and what to disconsider... It's a real source.

Also: be more civil, I expect better from Hacker News, your comment read like something out of Reddit.


One ends up with the most rounded view of the world by reviewing media with many different slants and biases and assuming the truth probably lies somewhere between all the biased news stories.

I've heard it said that journalism is never objective, and nor does it strive to be. However, responsible journalism is aware of its biases and reports in a manner that allows audiences to weigh the facts themselves.

That is what I strive to do, I've lived too many years almost blindingly trusting what are considered good sources. Being critical and sourcing from different angles on the same issue has helped me a lot on the past 5-6 years to get a more nuanced worldview.

Everyone knows you will accept at least half a lie as mid ground, then. Nuanced and full of lies.

That's pretty faulty logic - some biases don't have a middle ground to identify

What if it doesn't? What if there are 60 liars and 1 truth teller?

The assumption that everyone is telling the truth in a biased fashion is an incorrect assumption and leads to accepting lies from people who don't deserve your trust.


Judge the content not the source.

I don’t know if this is entirely correct for all circumstances. It’s possible that a source known for complete fabrication of facts may display a very unbiased looking content; it’s just that none of the content is real. Like The Onion. It’s also important to note sources for their biases so you may be able to discern what facts are being intentionally left out of an otherwise comprehensive content.

Perhaps some mix of both is necessary?


I agree; a mix of both is necessary.

I remember in particular a piece Malcolm Gladwell wrote on football and head injuries. ( https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/10/19/offensive-play )

I am willing to believe that football causes head injuries for other reasons. I am generally against this. So I let a few people know about the piece. I'd also give them a warning: Malcolm Gladwell generally doesn't know what he's talking about, and it's a bad idea to pay attention to what he says. That said, this is an interesting piece by Malcolm Gladwell.

I know this is the wrong thing to do. You can use Malcolm Gladwell's piece to make arguments against football because every argument is more persuasive when Malcolm Gladwell makes it. That's his only skill, but it is very highly developed. The problem is that that's a terrible reason to believe an argument. The Malcolm-Gladwell-sounds-convincing argument can prove anything at all, as long as Malcolm Gladwell wants it to. The correct thing to do as the person being argued at is to completely dismiss whatever he says, because it will sound convincing regardless of whether it's true.


We live in a strange world if reputation now means nothing. The whole point of judging by the source's reputation is that the content itself simply can't carry all the information necessary for it to be judged in isolation.

After years of sinking quality, newspapers downsizing, and what passes for "modern" journalism, there are few reputable sources left.

We have to make do with what we've got, which is easy access to original sources and independently verifiable information thanks to the internet and electronics.

Newspapers nowadays are great pointers for topics to look into independently, but one piece of bad information is damaging enough to offset a hundred accurate facts. So considering the quality of modern journalism, it's better to just focus on the source material and ignore what the middle man has to say.

There is still people I trust to provide accurate information, because I trust in both their integrity and expertise in their fields, but there is certainly no news organization that I trust to that degree as a whole.


> it's better to just focus on the source material and ignore what the middle man has to say.

When you can go to the primary source, by all means, be my guest and go for it. Nobody's arguing against that. The trouble is you're not going to get very far with this approach unless you somehow have independent access to all the primary sources and also the time and resources to sift through them. If you do -- fantastic. If you're like the vast majority of people, though, this is frequently not the case for you. And whenever it's not, ignoring every middleman altogether is the equivalent of putting your head in the sand and declaring everyone is wrong.


I heard the same thing about Charleston from a European airliner that is buying boeings.

The project managers wished their airplane wouldn't be assembled there, because that causes a whole bunch of extra problems.

There were plenty of rumours going around of what was happening at that plant. The quality difference was definitely there, and I'm surprised not more airlines requested that. Maybe they did bit it was behind closed doors.


It would appear QANTAS doesn't have any ex-Charleston 787s either. Couldn't say whether it's intentional.

You might not be aware of it, but Boeing moved production to Charleston to break the unions here in WA state. Just like they moved corporate HQ to Illinois to dodge taxes. These myopic greedy decisions are finally backfiring on them, and they richly deserve it.

It's possible to find out whether a 787 was made in Everett or Charleston by checking the production site and remarks on planespotters.net

e.g. https://www.planespotters.net/airframe/Boeing/787/G-ZBJM-Bri... vs. https://www.planespotters.net/airframe/Boeing/787/9V-SCF-Sin...


I would imagine that now that people hate Boeing management for risking their life it's much easier for other airplane startups to raise VC money and be succesful.

I’m not sure I trust a startup to make life safety equipment either. Startups by definition have to do whatever they can to cut costs and get as minimal of a minimally viable product as they can, and often, that leads them to releasing shitty versions of the product and patching it later. That’s fine when it’s a mobile game, but when it’s airplanes that carry hundreds of people across the ocean...

I’m not sure I have a solution here, other than saying something like “just fix Boeing” but whatever company is making commercial airplanes, I want them backed by governments and large corporations, not VC money.


The minimum viable product for a passenger plane startup is a newly FAA certified one, which is already a higher quality standard than how Boeing 737 MAX plane was certified.

Also I bet that the EU certification won't be easy in the next 10 years.

At the same time the number of whistleblowers increasing is great for keeping Boeing in check.


maybe we don't need someone who never built a plane, as much as allow some of those that already do to scale up?

Bombardier, COMAC/UAC, Mitsubishi, or some of those that make very small planes like Textron etc.

The problem seems to me that aircraft companies are treated as national assets, and no country wants to allow, and obviously not encourage, challengers to their champion.


> but whatever company is making commercial airplanes, I want them backed by governments and large corporations, not VC money.

I’m not sure if the incentives or expected results really change all that much. Certainly there are plenty of large wealthy governments and large corporations that don’t have a great track record with safety in large engineering/manufacturing endeavors.


Move fast and break things. What could possibly go wrong.

Yes, there are lots of short haul small electric airliner startups.

Coming from another highly regulated industry: Medical Devices, I think it is not uncommon that Bosses ignore processes and for the sake of numbers (cash & career) would just override them. As long as they are protegee of any higher up on the ladder people generally don’t care and as long no serious lawsuit would put people into jail I am wondering if this is ever going to change.

Anyone has made other experiences?


Yes.

Spent some years working on an a class 2b diagnostic device. Potential for harm not that high, but the lack of rigour in testing leaves me wondering to this day whether it worked at all as advertised.

If medical devices are ever open sourced, millions of critical bugs are going to fall out.


http://www.opensourcediabetes.org/

Already happening with Diabetics. I know a girl that has cracked her pump for closed loop performance and she says the results are mostly better, but take close monitoring and an active hand.

It's a tricky thing still. Yes, the devices are buggy (all things are), but half of medical devices are used by people with below average intelligence (by definition). It's still a balancing act and is likely to be for a long time.


That website is in a rough state.

I tried to contact them regarding the fact that their url for jquery tools no longer resolves and that their SSL certificate has expired. I filled out the contact form and hit submit and then was presented with an empty results screen (probably because the js is broken). Hopefully they fix it up, but might not.


Why would that be true by definition? Diabetes and IQ could be somehow correlated [0] (and other disorders too).

[0] https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/42/2/341.short


I am aware of a cover-up regarding a broadly deployed consumer medical device made by a giant American healthcare co., intended for internal use, which contained levels of lead exceeding allowed levels. Millions of units were shipped, many of them targeted at children. They screwed up using their materials management solution, and miscalculated. They realised about 18 months after it had hit the market. The revised product is safe.

Regulatory bodies are aware but are sitting on it, as disclosure would be almost as damaging reputationally to them as to the manufacturer.


> which contained levels of lead exceeding allowed levels... many of them targeted at children

You know the catchphrase, "think of the children", often used to justify some kind of overreach?

In this case, please, _think of the children_ and for the sake of us all, even anonymously, get that info to the media.


I’m sitting on the fence. In this case, they were very, very marginally over the allowed levels, and it was essentially down to a bug in the standard, which when implemented in software allowed a product to qualify for an exemption when it shouldn’t have. In this particular case the lead is all pretty well away from where the device comes in contact with the body, so the health risk is pretty minimal.

It’s still in the “shouldn’t have happened” category, and the manufacturer in question reported themselves, and steps have already been taken to prevent a recurrence, and similar potential bugs have been identified and addressed.

It’s tough. There is a lot of political opposition from bad or amoral players to any regulation. They’re faced with the choice of voluntarily opening themselves up to fierce criticism over a, in the grand scheme of things, minor issue, or sweeping it well under the carpet, learning from it, and moving on, and spreading their reach for regulation and enforcement.

It’s a trolley car problem if I’ve ever encountered one, and I am not confident that I could make a good call.


If something actually poses limited to no risk (e.g. marginally over a limit, which should have a level of tolerance built into it anyway); then it doesn't sound like that big of a deal.

and spreading their reach for regulation and enforcement.

And after all, this is the most important thing for a regulatory agency.


It does change, things do get better, but it takes time to see the change. Years usually.

In large orgs "conservative" managers who escalate and block issues usually don't get fired, they just get pushed to some other part of the org. And when/if the issue blows up, they get pulled back in to clean up the mess. Cause few others will have credibility. Same dynamic applies in reverse. The bunch that were in charge, during a blow up will be sent into the background. But will be pulled back when more "aggressive" management tactics are required.


This is not my experience so far, sure we have some pressure to deliver features in rather short time frame, but on the other hand, whenever the safety of the patient is involved, and indirectly the reputation of the company is at risk, this takes precedence above the bottom line.

We just had a potential safety issue in the last few months because of a manufacturing process defect. While no one was injured, this was a potentially hazardous situation. The company stopped the production, and reworked every affected system on customer site. While our profit have taken a hit this year, at least I am glad the right decision was taken, and no one (that I know of) challenged it.

To be fair, I don't know at which level above me the (costly) decision was taken, but at least someone had the courage to take it. But I am working at a fairly big company so likely it is easier to absorb an unexpected cost to defend the company brand, compared to a smaller company that have only one product line and that maybe can't afford it.


Just did tech DD on a medical device manufacturer. The CEO was very much on the ball to ensure that everybody kept patient safety as their #1 priority over commercial interests. I've also seen much worse...

Previously covered by the NY Times [1], calling out rushed production and parts left inside aircraft, including that Qatar Airways stopped accepting aircraft from Charleston because of delays and required rework.

John Barnett, the whistleblower mentioned here, had complained to the FAA about sharp metal slivers and had his complaint upheld on inspection by the FAA.

1: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/20/business/boeing-dreamline...


When the 2nd Boeing crashed and the whole Boeing saga started, I came across this (boldly named and maybe a bit exaggerated in the form) website:

https://www.thelastboeinginspector.com/the-last-inspectors-c...

(the navigation is on top of the page, you need JS enabled to see it)

It seems there's a lot of people inside Boeing who can say "interesting" things. The guy who created the above website was terminated in 2006.


We need to optimize so that public health and the environment comes first. Right now economic growth and quarterly earnings are prioritized top.

The current economic system demands that corporations should always grow. The solution is to change to an economic system which minimizes global warming, promotes public safety. In such a system this plane would not have been designed how it was.


Wow - more serious story than I first imagined.

> Mr Barnett, a former quality control engineer, worked for Boeing for 32 years, until his retirement on health grounds in March 2017. From 2010 he was employed as a quality manager at Boeing's factory in North Charleston, South Carolina. This plant is one of two that are involved in building the 787 Dreamliner.

In terms of credibility lent by a career, you can't do much better in terms of being positioned to blow this particular whistle.

> According to Mr Barnett, 57, the rush to get new aircraft off the production line meant that the assembly process was rushed and safety was compromised. The company denies this and insists that "safety, quality and integrity are at the core of Boeing's values".

Surely Boeing must realize how tone-deaf this sounds given the current skepticism being (rightly) cast its way.

> Mr Barnett says his attempts to have the matter looked at further were stonewalled by Boeing managers. In 2017, he complained to the US regulator, the FAA, that no action had been taken to address the problem. The FAA, however, said it could not substantiate that claim, because Boeing had indicated it was working on the issue at the time.

I tend to lean libertarian on a lot of "regulatory" matters, but no matter your normal view of things, I hope we can all agree that this is an embarrassingly obvious fox guarding this particular hen-house.

> John Barnett says tests suggest up to a quarter of the oxygen systems could be faulty and might not work when needed. He also claimed faulty parts were deliberately fitted to planes on the production line at one Boeing factory.

Even if the bag does not inflate, breathe normally as oxygen is flowing. Or not.


It seems to me the FAA comes out of this looking terrible, even if the accusations are not grounded it seems absurd that no actions were taken to verify such a notice coming from a QA engineer in the company itself.

I wonder if other regulatory bodies around the world could/would/should have done something.


> It seems to me the FAA comes out of this looking terrible, even if the accusations are not grounded it seems absurd that no actions were taken to verify such a notice coming from a QA engineer in the company itself.

This has been going for a long time now[1]:

> Instead of being manufactured by the approved computerised process, Ducommun employees were cutting the parts by hand - literally using a felt-tipped pen to mark out the shape and then cutting the metal with a hand-cutter.

> Not only did this result in parts which could never meet the mandated 3000ths of an inch accuracy - but the Boeing team realised it violated the official type design: any aircraft with these parts on them would be legally "unairworthy" - and therefore not allowed to fly.

> The Department of Justice ordered two investigations - one by the FAA and, because Boeing had sold some 737NGs to the military, one by the Defence Criminal Investigative Service.

> But the whistle-blowers have been dismayed by these investigations. Al Jazeera obtained a copy of the FAA investigation - which the administration redacted. The only publicly-viewable "investigative actions" appear to be that the FAA looked up Ducommun's address and visited its website.

[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2010/12/...


Cutting parts by hand isn't necessarily bad. But they should have gone to a design engineer and said "we're hand cutting these parts, and don't think we can get accuracy better than 1/32nd of an inch. Will that compromise the design?"

The engineer will then run a few tests and simulations, green-light the change, a superior will check the maths, and they'll be good to go with making the part by hand.


According to the same source:

> But there was worse to come: every part in the production process has to be signed off at each stage of its manufacture on a document called a "shop traveller". This records that each individual stage of manufacture has been carried out in accordance with the type design.

> The Boeing team discovered that Ducommun had apparently falsified these records: it had two sets of "books" - the official one recording that each part had been made by the computerised process and a second set recording the actual, handforming process which had really been used.

> What that meant, in the eyes of the Boeing team, was that every single chord and bear strap manufactured by Ducommun had to be viewed as unlawful.


These are core structural elements which rely on the quoted level of tolerance.

How do we know the FAA hasn’t taken no notice? Does the whistleblower present any evidence? How about the air carriers? Do they fail to test their systems during their frequent inspections? One requirement of an air carrier certificate is that they have to check this stuff and sign off on it.

What I know from how an oxygen generator works, you cannot reliably test those destruction free. So you would have to take some out and trigger them. I would be reluctant to believe that this is the procedure.

Randomizes destructive testing is a perfectly fine and established procedure.

Yes, I know, but is this the required procedure for this part? It's definitely more expensive than some visual or electrical inspections. That's why I said I'm reluctant that this is the procedure.

The 787 doesn't use generators, they use sealed single use oxygen cylinders. This is a newer version of the 787 system https://www.rockwellcollins.com/Products-and-Services/Commer...

Thanks. However if they are sealed I would assume that you can't test them destruction free, either.

Yes and no. There is a BIT for each unit, (now I don't know the exact details, but this is how I understand/remember it) but the pyrotechnic devices is tested by running a low level current through it to see if it has been fired/failed. The actual seal is verified via testing prior to aircraft certification, and checked in production using helium.

>> [...] The FAA, however, said it could not substantiate that claim, because Boeing had indicated it was working on the issue at the time.

> [...] I hope we can all agree that this is an embarrassingly obvious fox guarding this particular hen-house.

I can imagine situations where I would not agree, to be honest. If a manager says, "There is a bug in this system here" and I say, "I'm investigating that problem and will get back to you", it would be a bit strange for the manager to call a halt to my investigation so that they could start a new one. Usually the manager would wait until my investigation is finished. If they were still not satisfied, then that's the time to intervene.

In the same way, I would not expect the FAA to intervene on an issue if the manufacturer was already investigating it. They would wait until that investigation was finished. Sure, put a deadline on it, but it's pretty reasonable to say that you don't know where the issue stands because it's currently under review.


It depends, say if your investigation would find bugs that would cause you to be fired and fined then why should we trust you to investigate yourself? I think this is what is happening herewith Boeing, they are trying hard to cover the issues or if they can't hide them to reclassify them as not severe or patch them with some bad hack.

> If a manager says, "There is a bug in this system here"

I think that your metaphor does a disservice to this whistleblower and the allegations that he's making.

Better is to imagine a manager saying, "I have observed bugs being intentionally left in the codebase in order to cut cost. Senior managers are aware of this and have allowed it to continue."

In that scenario, the matter of when to intervene is quite different I think.


If the audititors get involved yes yes you do that. Your manager (and their manager and so on) won't even have a say. In fact you might still end up doing the investigation as someone familiar with the system, but the auditors will be involved at every step.

In the meantime, people die, or have the potential to die.

There's nothing preventing the FAA from proceeding with its own investigation, except for Boeing saying, "Nah, don't do that, we got our own thing going on here... btw, how's your bank account? Get that 250k yet?"


people always "have the potential to die" no matter what.

i'd wait for the FAA before jumping to any conclusions, as unfashionable as this is in today's "speak first, think never" culture.


Then in this case, people have a higher potential to die while Boeing twiddles its thumbs and bars the FAA from running its own, separate investigation.

> Even if the bag does not inflate, breathe normally as oxygen is flowing. Or not.

The 787 doesn't have any accumulator bags, the big difference with that system is that its electronically pulse controlled oxygen flow rather than a mechanical/chemical constant flow system.

His claim isn't exactly true, the lab he used sent power to all systems at once, this is why he saw a failure of about 25%, in fact the system on the plane actually fires the system in a sequence because the power draw to start all systems at once is just too high. So sit closer to the front of the plane if you want oxygen faster.


Of course I was just riffing on the typical in-flight safety language, but I appreciate learning a bit more about the 787. I guess I never noticed this, but I imagine the safety video doesn't show (or mention) the bags?

John Barnett’s potential involvement with the union ought to be disclosed. There are repeated claims of “problems,” that are strangely coincidental to union opposition to right to work states. Attributing altruism when in fact there had been a concerted campaign against right to work states and factories moving there is journalistic malpractice.

“Many analysts say that Boeing decided to put its second Dreamliner aircraft assembly line in the state to reduce the leverage of the machinists’ union, which represents Boeing’s work force in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and has used work stoppages to exact concessions from the company in the past. South Carolina is one of the least unionized states in the country.” [1]

And not surprisingly, pro-union “whistleblowers” are all to willing to leverage the fears of the public to advance their agenda.

If oil company workers were to go to the media to suggest that solar panels caused cancer, we’d frame their claim within the context that they have a self-interest rather than a genuine concern. Since John Barnett is retired and depends on a union pension, he has a vested interest in this despite not even working at Boeing for years.

The Aerospace and Machinist Union is extremely powerful. It’s foolish to think they are going to miss an opportunity to make a case than a non-union factory is more dangerous than a union one. Their literal existence depends on advancing that narrative. Even if they are right, their angle makes it hard to give their objections objective credibility.

However, that being said, that doesn’t mean the story is false, but responsible journalism wouldn’t let a “whistleblower” be the key voice in the story.

Those planes go through airworthiness inspections each year and unless some IA is fraudulently signing off on airworthiness requirements (which includes fully testing the oxygen systems,) then there isn’t any actual reason to suspect a system that doesn’t work. If Boeing is fraudulently conducted airworthiness inspections, then that’s something that would ground any airline using those planes — no air carrier is going to risk their carrier certificate by “helping” Boeing by faking airworthiness. Airlines themselves are responsible for maintenance and inspections — they have no incentive to be complicit in helping Boeing cover up defective oxygen systems. Boeing isn’t the one doing airworthiness inspections on airliner operated aircraft. The would mean the end of the airline. Suggesting that oxygen systems is faulty is ridiculous considering how frequently they are tested by the operators. If United found the O2 of the 787 was faulty, they wouldn’t accept the airplane. They would demand Boeing fix the issues or they wouldn’t take delivery. Those airplane sales contracts are extensive and exhaustive. United has no incentive to accept a faulty airplane.

[1] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2017/02/15/busi...


I think that you make a lot of interesting points until your final paragraph. If I'm reading the details properly (and I may not be; you seem to be far more informed than I am), then the particular test in question may have detected the problem about which Mr. Barnett is complaining, where other tests might not:

> Mr Barnett says that when he was decommissioning systems which had suffered minor cosmetic damage, he found that some of the oxygen bottles were not discharging when they were meant to. He subsequently arranged for a controlled test to be carried out by Boeing's own research and development unit.

> This test, which used oxygen systems that were "straight out of stock" and undamaged, was designed to mimic the way in which they would be deployed aboard an aircraft, using exactly the same electric current as a trigger. He says 300 systems were tested - and 75 of them did not deploy properly, a failure rate of 25%.

...or am I reading this incorrectly?


You are reading that correctly, but as someone who worked on the system over a decade ago, I bet he didn't have it setup exactly like the plane. I bet he tried to fire all the cylinders at once, a 25% failure rate in this configuration actually isn't bad. But on the actual aircraft they don't fire all of the cylinders at once, they are staged front to back because the power draw is too big to fire all the pyrotechnic devices at once.

Reading heavily between the lines now but I would think that this person also had enough (though maybe not as direct) experience to know to stagger the deployment, no?

No. As a quality guy he probably has a lot of experience with the single units, but not the system as a whole. No line inspector would have a reason to test a full ship-set of units off aircraft, so I can't imagine a lab setup to do this test with the proper staging.

That means it's actually more important to investigate the issue. If people are muddying the waters with false accusations that's incredibly bad for Boeing, the aviation industry as a whole, and public confidence in flying.

I’d contest the airlines would not act as you suggest:

1) they’d believe they can get away with it.

2) it wouldn’t be the end of the airline. Large fine, negotiated down, cost of doing business.

Even if people died, would the fine be that huge? I can’t find numbers for past incidents, but somewhere in my memory I have $2m for wrongful death. 300/4 * 2m = 150m. Is that way off? BA just got fined 230m for a data breach...


These people need to stop finding faults with the airplanes I fly on regularly! /s

Its getting to the point that I'm actually nervous about flying Boeing now. I took 6-8 flights on the 737-Max each year 2016-2019 and now I've taken 4 flights on the 787-Dreamliner since March.

I know that it is still statistically improbable that one of these flights to have an issue, but it still raises my blood pressure since I fly predominantly on Boeing aircraft.


>On December 13, 2018, the 787th Boeing 787 was delivered to AerCap, the largest 787 lessor. By then the 787 had flown 300 million passengers on 1.5 million flights and opened 210 new nonstop routes.

There have been 894 deliveries through September 2019. So far only one incident involving the uncontained failure of a Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine. There have been no complete losses.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_787_Dreamliner#Accident...


>Rolls Royce Trent

Great 'final assembly' time-lapse video of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2R6NTgvEV4


Interesting. Thanks.

The upside to this complaint is that it should be "fairly easy" to test. Though you probably need someone to obtain some systems from a plane currently in operation.

But if the fault rate is 1/4 of the systems, you probably don't need many samples.


How can I tell when I’m booking a flight if that plane will be boeing? I would like to avoid them (for the time being at least).

You won’t, and airlines have no obligation to transport you on a specific plane. The airlines’ website most times lists what aircraft they are scheduled to use, but they can be swapped anytime if the need arises.

Most airlines typically try to purchase their fleet all from the same manufacturer if they can.

There's a lot of additional cost that goes into maintenance, pilot training, pilot availability, etc. that has to be accounted for if you're mixing aircraft from different manufacturers.

You can just look up the aircraft owned by an airline and it will give you a pretty good idea what to expect.

You can also go on flight tracker sites and just look at what aircraft are running the route currently, which would also be a good indicator.


> Most airlines typically try to purchase their fleet all from the same manufacturer

Emirates: A & B

Lufthansa: A & B

Cathay Pacific: A & B

American Airlines: A & B

Delta: A & B (& M)

Air France: A & B

KLM: A & B

China Southern: A & B (& Embraer)

ANA: A & B

Aeroflot: A & B (& Sukhoi)

Air China: A & B

Ethiopian Air: A & B (& De Havilland)

etc.


> Most airlines typically try to purchase their fleet all from the same manufacturer if they can.

Most of the big ones have a mix of Boeing and Airbus (plus smaller Canadair/Embraer etc. ones for their regionals). Some of the budget airlines are notable for having a single aircrat or single manufacturer fleet - Ryan Air, Southwest, Jet Blue.


I believe Southwest's entire fleet is 737 in various versions.

Yes, they're one of the budget airlines I mentioned. There are some signs they're regretting that now.

https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/south...


There are quite a few airlines that do not fly Boeing planes (EasyJet for example).

When booking the aeroplane will usually be listed but you can also check flight history of the flight number. Of course the airline might still swap the plane at any time.


As mentioned in the other answers as a consumer you can try but you will have no guarantee of airplane type.

I do wonder if this fear of flying Boeing will spread to company travel departments?

Say a few of the really big companies in the world decide their employees should not fly Boeing. That support for this is being baked into booking systems and demanded from operators. Could Boeing ever recover?


kayak.com allows you to search by plane type. not sure to what extent they can guarantee that you'll actually be flying that type of machine though.

In the past, I've known people who refused to fly on McDonnell Douglas planes as their record was so bad. I wonder if the same has started, or will start happening, with Boeing.

Boeing merged with McDonnell, but in the shuffle MD management got all the top spots at Boeing. So ironically, Boeing inherited all the culture and org problems that made MD planes such a shitshow

Would you fly with a 787 now?

Yes, I would as I consider depressurisation an extreme event. I believe the pilots have a separate oxygen supply, so a double failure is even more unlikely.

But depending on the altitude you're at getting that mask on is wishful thinking. Don't bet on your pilots being conscious after a plane depresses.

The market would benefit massively from another entrant to the space, eliminating this Boeing + Airbus duopoly.

If there's any entity that's proven they can tackle capital intensive aerospace markets as a new player, it's SpaceX. I know they're waiting for battery energy density to improve so that they can launch supersonic electric jets, but regular jets that use jet fuel wouldn't be a horrible stopgap.


We already have several other players that have experience building aircraft: Bombardier and Mitsubishi come to mind, and China has a manufacturer that's keen on challenging the duopoly with their jet too.

Don't forget, building a jet isn't that big a deal. Boeing doesn't even make the 737MAX fuselage! It's built by a company called Spirit in Kansas. Boeing doesn't make the engines either, of course (no aircraft manufacturer builds engines, which are surely the most complex and technically challenging part of the plane). Boeing does the engineering, the wings I suppose, and the final assembly.

It seems like it shouldn't be that hard for a smaller competitor to get a capital infusion and scale up to building larger jets.


Bombardier has already tried: they ended up partnering with Airbus to market the C-series (now A220).

>the sharp metal pieces — produced when fasteners were fitted into nuts

does it sound like too powerful (i.e. fast which translates to assembly speed) tools are applied to too cheap (like in manufactured to loose tolerances from cheap metal) fasteners and nuts?


If Boeing keep this up, I am wondering who's out there writing the book called "Boeing: The giant stall"?

PS: Credit me for the title if ever! :)


Just curious - what are the repercussions for an untruthful whistleblower? Say someone is disgruntled, fired or laid off and wants to cause the company some level of public harm?

Certainly they can be held civilly liable if defamation can be proved. If actual spite and malice can be shown, or if the suspect intends to profit from the action, it's possible that there may be criminal laws that apply, depending on the state.

Are there any studies or reports of typical repercussions faced by whistle blowers for false reports?

I'd guess both false and true reports suffer approximately the same repercussions...


False whistleblowers can suffer less repurcussions if you include "made up out of whole cloth" because it is impossible to ruin a career that they never had. They tend to be easier to discredit at least in a "the Pizza restuarant doesn't even have a basement it is built in swampland and would flood way too easily" way.

Both Boeing and the FAA acknowledge there was an issue. The only disagreement is over if it was resolved fully or not. So this whistleblower isn't "untruthful." This is all in the article.

what are the repercussions for an untruthful cop?
kwshs 11 days ago [flagged]

lol @ you being downvoted for even asking. Shows how much of a leftist website this is: someone who goes against big corporations must be right!

I Am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise



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