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Boeing CEO ousted as 737 Max crisis deepens (reuters.com)
659 points by pseudolus 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 609 comments



Boeing was still promising end of year FAA certification for 737 Max as recently as early December. Around that time, they had a spokesperson on CNBC who was asked directly how the outstanding steps (which indicated February at the earliest) aligned with their end of year statements and the position was essentially, 'we've been saying end of year and end of year could still happen.'

When your brand is suffering a crisis of confidence, you don't rebuild it by missing deadlines and dodging reality. The amount of hubris it takes to be so flippant in these circumstances is indicative of a deeply flawed corporate culture, and that falls at the feet of the CEO.

Also, how do you allow Starliner mission to occur without 100% confidence in ability of mission to be executed flawlessly? There are certainly complexities, but it almost seems like they passed the point when they could have quietly bumped the launch, and ended up in a literal PR gamble.


The Starliner mission was a test. You wouldn't have 100% confidence that a test would be executed flawlessly. The purpose of the test is to find flaws in the system, and that's exactly what they did.


I"m not completely sure that's the case (and to be fair, I've not been following Starliner closely, so could well be wrong).

There are tests to prove out ideas during the course of development, but then there are tests which would perhaps be more accurately called "demonstrations"; where you're not trying to find flaws and refine your designs, but rather prove that you're [insert thing-name you're proving here] actually works the way you are representing it to work.

I understood this test to be more in the demonstration category, where Boeing would/should have had very high confidence, but they needed to prove to NASA that their spacecraft worked as advertised. If that's true, it was almost more a test on how much NASA should trust the confidence of the Boeing team than it was a test engineering and manufacture.

If that wasn't the character of the test, then I apologize for the distraction.


You are correct. The SpaceX version of this exact same test was literally called „Demo-1“. Ironically Boeing called it „Boeing Orbital Flight Test“.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_Orbital_Flight_Test


Boeing boefted that one


Doing the tests is fine, but Boeing is acting as though the tests were successful when they were not. Between this and the parachute issues from the pad abort test, I think actually approving Starliner for crewed use would constitute normalization of deviance. This is historically how astronauts die.


They were partially successful, which is a realistic goal. Few things work flawlessly the first or second go, even rocket science. I'm not sure why you're being so binary here. It's also why it wasn't manned, they have to test to work out the kinks. Overall Starliner was a bigger success than not.


I’m not saying to cancel the thing altogether, just maybe run some more unmanned tests first to make sure.


Reminds me of the news coverage of SpaceX’s first landing attempts, where they crashed into the barge and exploded and everyone was like “it’s a failure, it will never work”. Yeah but so much went right.

I think it’s just the (well deserved) media narrative Boeing is in now. When you kill hundreds of people and then pretend it wasn’t your fault, you get what’s coming to you.


The obvious difference is that SpaceX's landings were secondary objectives and something that nobody had ever done before. Getting in the proper orbit to the ISS was a primary objective for Starliner and something we've been doing for 20 years.


I don't know, space is hard and things go wrong. Just because we've done it hundreds of times doesn't mean we should expect perfection.


Yes it does?

These are known engineering problems with known engineering solutions. The explanation from Boeing was that a timer was set incorrectly. This sounds like a trivial error to me (though I'm not a "rocket scientist" just a "kerbal scientist", I guess, but we've been using timers for a long time afaik to properly manage burns to orbit).


Let's take a moment to consider the fact that apparently the MCAS uses input from only one of the two AoA sensors on a 737 MAX and swaps which one it takes the data from after each flight. I can't grasp how everyone involved could fail to realize that this statistically makes it less safe than only having one sensor.

I don't know how much the systemic issues that clearly compromised the design of the plane extend to the design of the capsule, but trivals errors seem to be very possible.


> I can't grasp how everyone involved could fail to realize that this statistically makes it less safe than only having one sensor.

This design is bad, but it makes sense as a update of the 737. The flight computer setup is each pilot gets a computer under their chair, each computer gets its own set of sensors and the computers take turns each flight. The flight computer is generally safe (i don't think it's been implicated in any crashes?), but that's because in case of issues in flight, the system usually will disengage and alert the pilot, or if the system takes poor actions, it will disengage when the pilot opposes it, or the pilot will disengage it.

Adding MCAS to the flight computer makes sense, the flight computer needs to be aware of it. It's understandable, but negligent, to add a new feature to the computer without considering the original design. The problem comes in when MCAS was not disclosed to pilots, doesn't disengage on errors, doesn't disengage when pilot input opposes it (partially by design), and can't be disabled except by disabling electric trim, which is more or less needed to recover from the error condition MCAS puts the plane into.

I think this is fixable, but the public information on the current fix doesn't include being able to turn MCAS off, so it doesn't seem like they've really done enough.


Of course they realize it makes it statistically less reliable. I think the gap is it becomes much more difficult to assess the probability of failure between different systems. In the case of MCAS, they already had the ability to override it. In complex systems one domain may think a simple mitigation is sufficient (e.g., the pilot can override MCAS) without understanding the layering of other issues (e.g., human factors like complex controls, lack of training etc.) Meaning from the standpoint of a single domain, that simple mitigation maybe incorrectly be assumed to bring the risk probability into a reasonable range.

I think it’s important to acknowledge the process failures like lack of communication between domains rather than acquiesce to simple conclusions that are more clear only in hindsight.


The procedures and how software systems handle changes to launch time are members of the set of hundreds of thousands of choices made during design and implementation that need to be validated. Yes, they feel like a "silly mistake" but ultimately most things that lead to failure will be in that category.


Or, in other words, getting to space is hard because it requires millions of opportunities for silly mistakes.

Most complex engineering projects are hard not because of one thing, but because of the mind-bogglingly large number of things that must all be done correctly.

(1 - x) ^ y, where x is the chance of each small mistake and y is the total number of opportunities, doesn't need a very large x, if y is large enough, for things to start looking dicey.


Yeah, this is a key insight, and something I didn't learn as a software developer with many years of experience until I studied probability formally. Maybe these days this is better known. This is also known as the inclusion-exclusion principal and can be used to model failure probability.


Thanks for the term! That's combinatorics, so I probably should have remembered it. :/

There are a lot of things I'd love to know the accepted name for, as I came into understanding through the backdoor. I regret that my college CS track didn't include more borrow-courses from physical engineering on reliability (and control theory). So many valuable, applicable lessons.


At some point we do, and that time is now. How qualified are you to give them a pass?


After SpaceX's failures, lots of people were saying things like "This is why they test— if you're not occassionally failing, you're not pushing the limits enough".

I would guess that at least in part the difference in attitudes is because SpaceX is considered more startup-y and Boeing is more associated with the "failure is not an option" ethos.


SpaceX still put satellites in orbit. From what I understood, SpaceX tests the entire software where they simulate launches. Something such as different timers should've been caught already.

Anyway, I do not care too much about pointing fingers elsewhere. The parachute thing was quite embarrassing and IMO this problem should have been prevented as well.


Boeing still put a capsule in orbit too. And I actually saw those excuses I'm referring to when the BFR prototype blew its lid, which didn't involved even a partially successful mission. Similar things were also said when the Crew Dragon blew up on the ground.

Regardless, testing all of the flight software is certainly not exclusive to SpaceX. I would bet any amount of money that Boeing also tested their software and performed simulated launches, moreover that testing is probably mandated by their contract with NASA. My uninformed guess is that one of two things happened:

1. Their tests were incomplete. e.g. they didn't find some edge case that would cause problems when the T-0 changed.

2. Someone goofed the procedures on the day of launch and didn't update their configuration properly.


That negative messaging was driven by ULA in a desperate bid to close the door on their new competitor. If they could kill off enough contracts, SpaceX might have run out of runway before they established their business model.


There were lots of scientists and ‘experts’ on our TV in the UK. Do you think they were part of that? That would be some impressive PRing.


It's easy to be indirectly involved in something like that. Your PR finds outside experts that agree with your world view, because journalists often ask you where they can find independent validation of your claims.

Then when something like this happens, you can have your PR call up journalists they know and suggest a name or two that is likely to say what you'd hope for.


Citation? That’s the first I’ve heard of it and that’s a pretty big accusation.


A significant share of the blame for the crashes accrues to the pilots who did not remember/follow emergency procedures for runaway trim. There was also the LA problem of putting an airplane back into service despite the critical malfunction on the earlier flight.

To reiterate, the procedure is:

1. restore trim to normal with the electric thumb switches

2. throw the stab trim cutoff switches


I know, sounds too simple to be true. But it is:

Boeing Emergency Airworthiness Directive

"Initially, higher control forces may be needed to overcome any stabilizer nose down trim already applied. Electric stabilizer trim can be used to neutralize control column pitch forces before moving the STAB TRIM CUTOUT switches to CUTOUT. Manual stabilizer trim can be used before and after the STAB TRIM CUTOUT switches are moved to CUTOUT."

https://theaircurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/B737-MA...

This AD was sent to all MAX flight crews. It works because the first incident of MCAS failure (Lion Air) was safely dealt with by doing just this.


I know, sounds too simple to be true. But it is

No, it's not.

So here's some context. Boeing installed known not-to-spec structural components on the NG. Boeing installed known to fail prematurely slat tracks on the NG and 737 MAX. Boeing installed (probably known) not-to-spec pickle forks in the NG and 737 MAX. Boeing falsified repair documentation for an Air Canada 787. Oh, and of course, Boeing hid any mention of MCAS. Point being Boeing doesn't have a lot of credibility left.

With that in mind:

Manual stabilizer trim can be used before and after the STAB TRIM CUTOUT switches are moved to CUTOUT.

As the Ethiopian crew found out: it can't. The larger instruments of the NG required the hand cranks to shrink while the stabilizer itself grew. With the resulting lower mechanical advantage and increase in force required to move the stab itself the wheels became unusable. Sure, the Ethiopian crew went over the "maximum" speed but they were still under the max diving speed (Vd). That means the cranks were supposed to work.

It works because the first incident of MCAS failure (Lion Air) was safely dealt with by doing just this.

It worked because the first crew got lucky and had a third set of eyes that was free to dig through everything in search of a best guess.


> As the Ethiopian crew found out: it can't.

Whatever you read about that is simply wrong. (I've seen a LOT of misinformation in popular print about this.) You're correct that the hand cranks were unusable. But the electric thumb switches WERE usable and were pointed out in the AD.

Note that the crews of BOTH the LA and EA crashes had already used the thumb switches to restore normal trim, the LA crew did so 25 times.

> best guess

No guessing required. Follow the training, which is supposed to be a "memory item", meaning they weren't supposed to need to consult a checklist nor dig through anything nor guess.

I am not a pilot, but I would not consider myself fit to fly unless I knew by memory what every single switch in the cockpit does, ESPECIALLY the ones prominently located within easy reach. You can bet it's not the infotainment system.

For damn sure I would read every Emergency Airworthiness Directive for the airplane I'm the pilot of, most especially one issued in response to a crash.


Whatever you read about that is simply wrong. (I've seen a LOT of misinformation in popular print about this.) You're correct that the hand cranks were unusable. But the electric thumb switches WERE usable and were pointed out in the AD.

And if you enable the electric trim switches on a 737 MAX you get MCAS activation. MCAS, of course, trims faster than the switches. Using the electric switches is fighting a losing battle (look at the graphs of trim input vs output). How are you supposed to fly the plane when you can't trim the stabilizer?

Look at the graphs from the Indonesian report. The pilots were countering with trim up button presses and MCAS still managed to take the trim to a severe AND position.

Look at the graphs from the Ethiopian report. You'll see a long gap where the electric trim was disabled (leaving the pilots with no way to trim the stabilizer). Outside that gap you'll see an automatic (MCAS) AND command with no change in trim and a couple ANU clicks from the pilots with no resulting change in trim.

No guessing required. Follow the training, which is supposed to be a "memory item", meaning they weren't supposed to need to consult a checklist nor dig through anything nor guess.

And what memory items were they supposed to have in mind? Keeping in mind MCAS presented counter to how Boeing defines runaway trim.


> And if you enable the electric trim switches on a 737 MAX you get MCAS activation.

The electric trim switches override MCAS. That is why the steps are:

1. use the electric trim switches to set the trim to normal

2. cut off the electric trim

That's all there is to it.

> MCAS presented counter to how Boeing defines runaway trim.

That's simply false. (And runaway trim does not need definition, Boeing does not define it.)


The electric trim switches override MCAS.

They pause MCAS but do not disable or override it it. The trim switches move the stabilizer slower than MCAS activation thus as seen by the Ethiopian and Lion Air crews using the electric trim switches is tantamount to fighting a losing batle.

1. use the electric trim switches to set the trim to normal

What happens when the electric trim switches don't work? They didn't in the Ethiopian crash.

runaway trim does not need definition, Boeing does not define it.

Sure they do, it's in the QRH plain as day.

Condition: Uncommanded stabilizer trim movement occurs continuously.

MCAS activation isn't continuous, especially not if you're pausing it with the trim switches.


The problem with this standpoint is that procedural fixes are the least preferable way of managing a hazardous condition. Engineering the hazard away is almost always the better option with procedural mitigation’s being a last resort. If engineering fixes were available and unused its indicative of poor safety engineering practices


> The problem with this standpoint is that procedural fixes are the least preferable way of managing a hazardous condition.

The way to make things safe is to address ALL points in the zipper that led to the accident. That includes the pilot error aspects.


The way to make things safe is to address ALL points in the zipper that led to the accident. That includes the pilot error aspects.

So how do you propose training against an unfinished product? Boeing still hasn't given the FAA a completed software package to evaluate. At the time of the 737 MAX crashes there were, what? two? 737 MAX simulators, and none of them emulated MCAS or even the forces required to crank the stabilizer manually.

One Lion Air flight got lucky because they had a third set of eyes that could spend time going through reams of documentation.

To even begin discussing pilot "error" is disingenuous when the pilots weren't informed or trained on new 737 MAX behavior. MCAS activation is not, and was not, a runaway stabilizer situation.


> MCAS activation is not, and was not, a runaway stabilizer situation.

It presented as a runaway stab trim. Repeatedly coming on and driving the nose down is runaway trim. No two ways about it. And the usual, standard, runaway trim procedure would stop it.

> they had a third set of eyes that could spend time going through reams of documentation

From my reading of that incident, nothing of the sort happened. The 3rd pilot simply reached forward and flipped off the cutoff switches. The crew landed safely and went on with their day. Nobody bothered to inform the next crew flying that same airplane.


It presented as a runaway stab trim. Repeatedly coming on and driving the nose down is runaway trim. No two ways about it.

No, it didn't. From the latest QRH:

Condition: Uncommanded stabilizer trim movement occurs continuously.

Well that's not met as MCAS doesn't run continuously. By design it stops periodically. Put it another way. You're arguing semantics while the 737 MAX remains a smoldering pile of aluminum and hubris.

2.) Control airplane pitch attitude manually with control column and main electric trim as required.

4.) If the runaway stops after the autopilot is disengaged ....

MCAS also stops after the trim switches are hit. So, again MCAS activation is not a runaway trim condition.

From my reading of that incident, nothing of the sort happened. The 3rd pilot simply reached forward and flipped off the cutoff switches.

Reread the report. The third pilot went back into the cabin to fetch reading material.


> You're arguing semantics

Trying to argue that the trim system erratically coming on and driving the nose down is not "runaway trim" is arguing semantics. Runaway trim is when the trim is doing something dangerous without command from the pilot.

If the cockpit voice recorder reveals them discussing the definition of "runaway trim" and deciding that the instructions Boeing provided didn't apply, I'd be surprised and interested.

> MCAS also stops after the trim switches are hit.

Exactly, the trim switches override the MCAS. That's why you use the trim switches to set it back to normal, then hit the cutoff switches. That's what the Emergency Airworthiness Directive says to do.

> Reread the report.

I haven't read that anywhere. I don't know what report that is. Reference, please.


> Exactly, the trim switches override the MCAS. That's why you use the trim switches to set it back to normal, then hit the cutoff switches.

On the 737 Max there is no way to disable the MCAS without also disabling the electric trim.


Sigh. With the electric trim enabled, the trim switches will override any MCAS commands. This is why, again:

1. trim to normal with the electric trim switches

2. cut off the stabilizer trim

Do it in that order. Doing step 2 before step 1 won't work.


I don’t disagree but there are clear hierarchical criteria on how these hazards should be addressed. The reason behind engineering mitigation being favored is because they make the less reliable procedural mitigations moot (I.e., they improve the overall reliability by removing one of the points of failure, in this case the pilot). Forgoing engineering mitigations in favor of procedural fixes goes against good engineering practice at best and is a cheap, lazy fix at worst.

I can understand if the AD was intended as a short term fix but I would question the rationale if it were considered a long term solution


> I can understand if the AD was intended as a short term fix but I would question the rationale if it were considered a long term solution

It was not, Boeing at the time was working on a solution.

Regardless, however, the pilots MUST know how to deal with runaway trim. This was true before MCAS, and is true after. It was true on the 757 (I spend 3 years working on the design of the 757 stab trim system). The cutoff switches are prominently within easy reach on the center console for very good reason, 40 years before MCAS.

It is not acceptable that pilots were unaware of the cutoff switches. It is unacceptable that MAX pilots did not read, understand, and remember the Airworthiness Directive sent to all MAX crews.

Similarly, airplane engineers work hard to keep the airplane from catching fire. But pilots also MUST learn to properly use the airplane's fire suppression systems. Most of pilot training consists of learning emergency procedures.

It's why airplanes still have pilots, instead of using automation instead.

Boeing still deserves blame for the flawed MCAS implementation. But there were other contributing factors in the crashes that must be dealt with.


It is not acceptable that pilots were unaware of the cutoff switches. It is unacceptable that MAX pilots did not read, understand, and remember the Airworthiness Directive sent to all MAX crews.

The Ethiopian crew tried the cutout switches and found they couldn't trim the airplane with the hand cranks because Boeing lied. How is that a pilot training issue?

But there were other contributing factors in the crashes that must be dealt with.

A Boeing employee concern trolling over pilot training is pretty rich considering that Boeing knowingly hid crucial details from pilots.


> The Ethiopian crew tried the cutout switches and found they couldn't trim the airplane with the hand cranks because Boeing lied. How is that a pilot training issue?

The Emergency Airworthiness Directive to all MAX crews says:

"Initially, higher control forces may be needed to overcome any stabilizer nose down trim already applied. Electric stabilizer trim can be used to neutralize control column pitch forces before moving the STAB TRIM CUTOUT switches to CUTOUT. Manual stabilizer trim can be used before and after the STAB TRIM CUTOUT switches are moved to CUTOUT."

https://theaircurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/B737-MA...

> A Boeing employee

I left Boeing about 40 years ago.


Initially, higher control forces may be needed to overcome any stabilizer nose down trim already applied. Electric stabilizer trim can be used to neutralize control column pitch forces before moving the STAB TRIM CUTOUT switches to CUTOUT. Manual stabilizer trim can be used before and after the STAB TRIM CUTOUT switches are moved to CUTOUT.

If the graphs are to be believed neither the electric commands nor hand crank were able to move the stabilizer. Again, how is that a pilot training issue?


I don't know what graph you're looking at. The reports I saw was that the EA pilots did not follow the procedure:

1. trim to normal with the electric trim switches

2. cut off the stabilizer trim

What the EA pilots did was:

1. cut off the stabilizer trim

2. try to use the hand cranks to trim to normal


I don't know what graph you're looking at.

Graphs of the FDR data from the (preliminary) accident reports. The Ethiopian authorities even annotated theirs with things like "automatic trim command with no change in pitch trim". You can see quite plainly the stabilizer was not moving as intended.

2. try to use the hand cranks to trim to normal

Per Boeing's documentation this should've worked. Unfortunately Boeing's documentation is mostly wishful thinking. Boeing's also suggested that a pilot try unloading the stabilizer with a roller coaster type maneuver. Unfortunately Boeing removed detailed instructions on this maneuver decades ago and the FAA's already demonstrated that with the altitude that the Ethiopian crew had, unloading the stabilizer would've just flown the plane into the ground.

There's a reason Boeing's largely backed off of the whole pilot error nonsense: the 737 MAX crashed due to shitty design not pilot error.


I don’t think we disagree on any of the above.

But there were other contributing factors in the crashes that must be dealt with

I don’t necessarily disagree with this either, but it does come across as if we’re being distracted by proximate causes rather than focusing on the root cause. To someone on the outside, it sure seems like there are deeper engineering and cultural problems that deserve a greater priority at this point. Not to belabor the point, but simply issuing a procedural AD doesn’t appear to address the root causes and should just be a stop gap measure


It wasn't a "procedural" AD, it was an "EMERGENCY" AD. It says so right at the top:

https://theaircurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/B737-MA...

Put another way, would you want to board an airplane where the pilot did not take EMERGENCY instructions seriously? I wouldn't.

> distracted

Pretty much 100% of the popular media (and its repeated appearances on HN) has been on the MCAS design shortcomings. Which distract from dealing with the other causes of the accidents.

As I mentioned previously, the AD was issued as a stopgap measure while Boeing worked on an MCAS fix.


I think we're miscommunicating what is meant by "procedural" vs. "engineering" mitigation.

Procedural is meant as an administrative action as opposed to a designed engineering action.

Think of a hazardous system that has software involved with controlling a pressure hazard. A procedural mitigation may be to have an operator monitor system pressure and push a non-software shut-off emergency button if the system overpressurizes. Even though it's an emergency, it's still a procedural mitigation. An engineering mitigation, on the other hand, may have mechanical pressure relief devices in place to mitigate the hazard. Whether or not it's an "emergency" just relates to the severity and time criticality of the hazard, not the mechanism of mitigation.

In safety design the hierarchy of hazard control preference is generally engineering controls, followed by procedural controls, followed by PPE as the least desirable control scheme.

Which distract from dealing with the other causes of the accidents.

One of the common flaws in mishap investigation is jumping to “solving” proximate causes at the expense of finding the root cause. This is applicable to MCAS as well if that isn’t the root cause (although my hunch is MCAS will be closer to the root issue than pilot actions). As long as people aren’t pointing to the AD as the “fix” I think there’s not a problem with it being an interim measure


Yes but the test was not supposed to be basic orbital insertion, it was supposed to be ISS rendezvous.


Imagine if it had taken out the ISS. Oopsie.


You're thinking of test, as in pilot. Everyone else is thinking of test, as in drive. I mean there are dramatically different expectations of what you, Boeing, and the public is supposed to believe what happened.


This is akin to saying the US Vanguard TV3 launch was a test. Yeah, it was, but it was also a response to their competitor having launched first and better, and a catastrophic failure blows up confidence in your programme.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanguard_TV-3


That is fair. When a test fails you would also expect them to repeat the test before putting humans on, we will see if that happens.


The article in the Washington Post hinted that NASA might not require them to pass this particular test (automated approach to the ISS and docking).

"It was unclear whether NASA would require Boeing to fly another test mission without crews onboard before allowing its astronauts to fly in the Starliner. Bridenstine said he wouldn’t rule out a mission with crews onboard, pointing out that the space shuttle had been piloted by astronauts, not computers."[0]

While Boeing makes noises about how there's no systemic problem with their ability to write software in general, earlier in the same article NASA comes to their defense by pointing out that if the craft was manned then the test would have been... saved? That seems strong to me but that is word used in the quote.

"NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a news conference Friday that the failure would not have been life-threatening had astronauts been onboard. He said that had the spacecraft been crewed, the mission might have been saved. “They are trained to deal with a situation where the automation is not working according to plan,” he said."

[0]: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/12/20/boeing-...


During the post-event interview it was asked if testing docking was a hard requirement for NASA (with the implication the test would have to be redone before acceptance). The answer was no. If NASA wants this to be a new requirement they would likely have to pay extra for it


They’ll run remember to run PTP or NTP before launch next time, won’t they?


I am still a bit puzzled how cheerful some people seem about a product that was unable to fulfill its purpose: Starliner getting to its intended destination. Seems like they cheer that it stayed in one piece at least. Not too promising.


>I am still a bit puzzled how cheerful some people seem about a product that was unable to fulfill its purpose: Starliner getting to its intended destination.

Calling a space capsule a product and treating it like some kind of tech product launch and framing it's success that way is weird. It's a spacecraft and the mission was meant to test its capabilities and get data about it during an actual orbital flight, then go from there.

The reason everyone is trying to be so cheerful and optimistic is because it was a partial success - the capsule stayed together and landed, which were part of its mission parameters. But (clearly) the public perception of this mission is that it failed because it didn't get to the ISS, so I imagine people are trying to be cheerful to remind people that they're not upset cause they didn't fail, they just didn't fully succeed.

I'm no fan of Boeing or how they've handled 787 MAX or ULA or Starliner or their relationship with NASA, but calling this not too promising is a bit unfair.


It failed for essentially trivial reasons. Which suggests there are issues with the procedures that should eliminate those failures, and that similar failure modes are possible.

That's why it's not encouraging - and why it's not at all unfair to be scathing.


We launched the ISS over 20 years ago. If you look 20 years down the road from Kitty Hawk, we had already built tens of thousands of manned aircraft and fought a world war with them at that point in time.

Apparently, 20 years of progress and "promise" ain't what it used to be.


I think it's because it's a lot easier to go fast when there are huge potential rewards (winning a World War) and you're willing to accept fatalities (war). The rewards here are much more nebulous, and we're not willing to accept fatalities. So we go slow and careful.


I’m not at all puzzled that a bunch of people commenting in a hacker forum don’t understand very much about engineering like this. Astronautical and aeronautical engineering are difficult. The fact that we’ve been in space 50-odd years doesn’t mean we’ve perfected anything to the point where we should expect a flawless mission on the first go even for something like this.


The suggested failure/problem was in the software side.


Maybe not even in software, but procedures. Still, this is common. A big share of space failures are, on some level, failures of software and procedures.


Because it's a test that showed a large number of things went right, and otherwise didn't meet overall objectives for a small, trivial reason.

That is, the amount of project surface that it increased confidence in is as great or greater than the amount it called into question.


Well it did turn out better than the 737 MAX in that no one died...


At this point, management probably cannot get good information about the state of projects.

When a company creates a culture of sweeping problems under the rug, and then tries to go back and change that, it creates an impossible situation for people at all levels of the hierarchy. Where management once told people it was OK to hide things from them, now they've changed the rules and are telling them, hey, show us all the things we told you we didn't want to know about.

First of all, when you're told this, you have no way of knowing if they really mean it. Are they saying, hey, actually show us the dirt so we can deal with it? Or are they saying, hey, show us the dirt WINK WINK, but we want the answer to be that nothing too bad happened because that's the easy way out? (In other words, you have to judge whether they've had a sincere change of heart or you're playing a new phase of the same game as before.)

But even if you really believe them, now you have a difficult calculation to make. Maybe you will reveal some dirt and they will say, wait a second, we meant for you to hide dirt, but not dirt that was that bad, and that's your fault, and you were supposed to know that. And now you're in trouble for telling the truth. Unless management offers you complete immunity (if that's even possible), you still have a reason to keep hiding stuff to protect yourself.

TLDR, if your organization made sure everybody's closets are full of skeletons, then you're going to have a hard time getting people to open those closet doors.


The other side of this coin is it not good enough to just identify problems.

There is also the need for an organisation wide culture built on processes, procedures and channels that then enables the company to quickly and efficiently find solutions to these kind of problems.

When a company for a long time has being building a culture of ignoring problems, the effort required to rebuild that problem solving culture is massive.

It is not helped by the fact that the individuals holding the power at the different levels within the organisation tend to be the ones who oversaw the demise of that engineering culture in the first place.


This is why whistleblower protections are so important. Without a radical re-org, there will still be enough management within the company that prefers to cover things up. They might well have been hired for that skill.


This is a brilliant bit of insight.


> how do you allow Starliner mission to occur without 100% confidence in ability of mission to be executed flawlessly?

What space program with new hardware has ever executed 100% flawlessly?


> When your brand is suffering a crisis of confidence, you don't rebuild it by missing deadlines and dodging reality.

has worked for Elon, and now his stock is trading at an all time high. $420


But he is saving the world by filling it with toxic batteries and ugly trucks

Haven't you heard?


ISWYDT...


It really is a shame that it takes the deaths of hundreds to even budge the needle on getting back to being an engineering company rather than profit is #1 company and quality a distant 3rd. They should be ashamed to not have started from scratch on a new optimized plane design because they literally sell their planes for DECADES and almost have a captive market. Quarterly earnings focused governance killed those people as surely as faulty design.


> 'we've been saying end of year and end of year could still happen.'

Deliberately false and misleading statements that should be prosecuted by the SEC.


I filed an SEC complaint, own a single share of Boeing to have standing. Hopefully something comes of it.


Username checks out.


“If not me, then who?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


I think there were just waiting to fire him right before Christmas


nah they were planning for Hanukkah


After both The Economist[1] and The New York Times [2] publicly undermined faith in Dennis Muilenberg.

No question at this point that he needed to be replaced. The question is - why didn't the board act sooner?

[1] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2019/12/18/boeings-misplac...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/22/business/boeing-dennis-mu...


The NYT story in particular was hard-hitting and well sourced. Gotta wonder if these stories influenced the board to act now.

It's a bad look, because Boeing is consistently way too late to recognize what is obvious to those of us watching from home.

I continue to be astounded that our most senior leaders will not act in the long-term best interest of the organizations they lead.

It's been 37 years since the Tylenol crisis, where seven people in Chicago died after someone tampered with the pain reliever and contaminated it with potassium cyanide.

Way back then, Johnson & Johnson did far more than they were required to do. They pulled all Tylenol from all store shelves everywhere, and kept it off the market until they completely redesigned the packaging. They took complete responsibility. They over-communicated with regulators and with the public. Their market share plunged from 35% to 8% and they took a huge financial hit.

But what was bad for J&J in the short term was fantastically positive in the long term. Their brand recovered, stronger than ever, and they regained their dominant market share.

But today, leaders across the public and private sectors rarely act with this kind of understanding and foresight. Muilenburg downplayed the catastrophes, blamed the pilots, pressured regulators, tried to find cheap shortcuts to fix the problem, and made promises to suppliers and customers he couldn't keep.

So often what's best in the immediate term is worst for the long term. Why can't today's leaders think a little bigger, and optimize for the long term even if that has an immediate cost?


The Tylenol crisis is basically the case study for how to handle a corporate crisis. If you get an MBA without having come across it, you should ask for your money back.

> Why can't today's leaders think a little bigger, and optimize for the long term even if that has an immediate cost?

I'm not sure it's so simple. At the head of the Boeing bureaucracy, Dennis Muilenberg likely was being fed a diet of wrong and horrible information from lower executives keen on deflecting blame so that they could keep their jobs. He was ineffective because he accepted it and pushed it outward - to the board and the wider public - rather than challenging it and getting to the bottom of the crisis. Internally challenging the members of your organization during a crisis is incredibly politically difficult to pull off and has little to do with short-term vs. long-term perspectives. Of course, someone with his experience and compensation, working at his level, should be able to pull it off. He didn't.


No, it's not simple, and it's not easy. Doing the right thing when it involves immediate cost and disruption takes courage.

I'm sure in 1982, the Johnson & Johnson CEO was also "being fed a diet of wrong and horrible information from lower executives keen on deflecting blame so that they could keep their jobs".

That's how big organizations work.

But in 1982, J&J leadership could see beyond that, cut through the noise, push back on short-sighted recommendations, and do the right thing for the company in the long term.

My question is why we rarely see "enlightened self-interest" like this today.

From Boeing to Facebook, Wells Fargo to Uber, it's hard to think of companies that do the right thing in difficult situations, even when that would be in the company's own long-term best interest.


> I'm sure in 1982, the Johnson & Johnson CEO was also "being fed a diet of wrong and horrible information from lower executives keen on deflecting blame so that they could keep their jobs".

This is not necessarily a given. In the Tylenol case an external saboteur was to blame, so little or no internal CYA was necessary. Easy and correct for everyone to just blame it on the saboteur and then do the right thing to fix the problem.

In the Boeing case the culprit was internal, which likely resulted in a tangled web of CYA, leading to a diet of wrong and horrible information.

Not excusing Boeing, they acted wrongly. But it’s clear how and why the odds of bad corporate behavior were much higher in Boeing’s case than in J&J’s case.


Many argued at the time that J&J was at fault because their packaging wasn't sealed or tamper-evident.

If J&J had behaved like Boeing, they would have blamed the saboteur, blamed law enforcement, and blamed retailers while gradually and secretly fixing the packaging problem before regulators could force them to do it.

If Boeing had behaved like J&J, they would have taken immediate responsibility, voluntarily grounded the entire fleet even before all the causes were known, and put passenger safety first.


>Many argued at the time that J&J was at fault because their packaging wasn't sealed or tamper-evident.

Do you have a citation for that? I don't doubt it's possible but I've never heard it. As far as I know no major pain medications had tamper resistant seals at that point in history.

I've read a lot about this (being from Chicago myself) and do not believe you're representing it correctly. J&J took responsibility insomuch as they pioneered tamper resistant packaging, but they very clearly blamed a saboteur. The initial allegation was that Tylenol was unsafe. J&J successfully re-spun it, correctly, as an external terrorist poisoning their medication. And, to their credit, they did a great job making future Tylenol very safe.

But the bottom line is that these two incidents are very different. In J&J's case they were not at fault. In Boeing's case they were.

Info taken from https://www.ou.edu/deptcomm/dodjcc/groups/02C2/Johnson%20&%2...


>Dennis Muilenberg likely was being fed a diet of wrong and horrible information from lower executives keen on deflecting blame so that they could keep their jobs.

Your job as CEO, or any leader of a large organization civilian or military, is to ferret out when you're being fed loads of BS. It's frustrating because Muilenberg was a engineer and started there as an intern in the 80s, so he at least should have some domain expertise in what the problems were. Perhaps him being a "company man" in this case was a hindrance, or conflicted with the new culture at Boeing that is, apparently, run by MBAs concerned with quarterly profits. In either case, he needed to go as this failure happened on his watch.


>Your job as CEO, or any leader of a large organization civilian or military, is to ferret out when you're being fed loads of BS.

I get where you are coming from, but I would reframe it as "Your job as a CEO is to create a culture with integrity and transparency"

It is also pretty clear that a time of crisis is the time that your true corporate culture manifests, it seems that the culture at Boeing is not long on integrity or transparency.


Plenty of engineering graduates can’t engineer, and go into management after a couple of years. Likely he fell into that category.


Johnson & Johnson has known its baby powder caused cancer since the 70s, so what did they do? Focus on marketing it to minorities.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/johnson-johnson-baby-powder...


Because today's leaders are judged only on this quarters returns for shareholders. Companies are seen only as investment vehicles for the most part. This is especially true in companies that have large minority stake holders that like to make noise. Leaders like Musk can still declare that they are going to run at a loss for the next few years as they ramp up but he is in a unique position where he controls the majority of the shares. If Musk was not the majority shareholder at Tesla there is a large chance he could have been asked to step down a while ago. Tesla is doing great now but for a while it was very touch and go. Large investment firms want year over year positive growth, they don't care about mission statements or the fact that the company owes pensions to lifelong employees. Its profits over people now.


How do you know the brand wouldn't have recovered from the 27% loss anyway?


How do you make any judgment about historical events when you can't run concurrent A/B tests?

If America stayed home in World War 2, how do you know the Allies wouldn't have won anyway?


The writing was already on the wall in Europe when the US arrived. There is little chance the allies would have lost, just that all of Europe save probably for the UK, would have come under Soviet rule/influence.


They recovered while acting ethically - I think a better thing to ponder is whether the company would have gained more ground without the initial setback from pulling the product.

Though any speculation we have there is just that - pure speculation.


> "I continue to be astounded that our most senior leaders will not act in the long-term best interest of the organizations they lead."

it's disappointing and frustrating, but not all that surprising, given the decades of eroding honor, responsibility, and governance (both corporate and political) of large companies and their senior managers.

i'm more appalled that we tolerate obviously poor incentive structures that implicitly endorse such behavior.

compensation for senior managers should be better tied to long-term results, and punishments should more easily pierce the corporate veil.

(and whew, glad i covered that tylenol case in my mba program... would not have looked forward to asking for a refund! =)


There are many counter-examples though. BP, Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Equifax, etc. All doing just fine.


> All doing just fine.

I think it may be too early to claim this. I think we can only judge these companies' well-being (especially with respect to their recent controversies) on a medium- to long-term scale.

I've banked at Wells Fargo since 2013, and I intend to close my 2 WF accounts and open up new ones at Chase soon. If I could remove my information from Equifax or another credit bureau, I would. By all standards, these companies are "doing just fine" at present. But what about 5 years from now, 15 years from now? The damage to a companies' reputation and the impact it has on consumer decision-making can be slow-moving and hard to notice/quantify.


> "I've banked at Wells Fargo since 2013, and I intend to close my 2 WF accounts and open up new ones at Chase soon."

you're just moving from one crappy, uncaring bank to another (i've banked at both in the past). a credit union or local/regional bank will treat you like a real human rather than a necessary inconvenience: https://www.bankrate.com/banking/reviews/


Frankly, I'm okay with an uncaring bank. I would give more weight to the bank's accessibility (i.e. locations, ATMs, international charge fees, etc) and consistency/quality of service (app usability/downtime, good 1800 customer service).


you really only need one branch somewhere near you to do the very occasional in-bank stuff. mobile apps can be used for deposits and any atm can be used for cash (use non-big-bank atms to withdraw without fee). the atm network for credit unions is comparable to a big bank.

you don't get good customer service (via phone or otherwise) at a big bank, as they see it as a cost center to be minimized. smaller banks use good service as a differentiator/product enhancement.

but yes, international charges can vary a bit.


The short-term view is the Normal throughout history, long term view is the rare, basically only when they just built a nation and were really motivated, rather than "inherited" the nation from their ancestors.


For the same reason the board of GE let the company spiral into near-bankruptcy before changing the CEO. The board and the CEO are part of the same clique, with one supporting another. They will only oust the CEO if they feel it is needed for their own survival.


The Times article was the last straw, you know the board members all read that. Plus the space launch failure.


I 'love' when board acts lightning fast on publicity rather than on the long lasting problems.

They sure look being a 'reliable' and 'competent' gang now.


I seriously doubt that the space launch failure had anything to do with the CEO being fired.


That's rarely how these things work.

Most likely some PR firm working for Boeing fed some hints to the the Times.

Boeing then waited until it was released to have a coordinated PR push and put as much blame as possible on Muilenburg.


The NYT article relies mostly on named sources, not anonymous sources. So it doesn't seem to be intentionally leaked information.

And the board looks horrible, slow to act, behind the curve, reacting to external pressure instead of leading. So it would not be in the board's interest to do a "coordinated PR push" and fire Muilenburg after the stories were published.


They did act. Muilenburg was Chairman & CEO and they removed him as Chairman in October. It probably took the new Chairman a month or two to work out what shit Muilenburg was feeding the board prior to that.


And yet working from the outside, the NYT can figure out this shit even faster.


The NYT didn’t have to be right, they only had to sell newspapers and clicks. The burden of evidence for publishing a hit piece is much lower than that for making an actual business decision.

I’m no fan of Boeing but the truth is, betting your entire business requires a much higher burden of proof than journalism does.


"The NYT didn’t have to be right, they only had to sell newspapers and clicks."

This is totally wrong. The New York Times depends on its reputation for accuracy.


If they are wrong, their reputation won't suffer that much. They can just say, "We based our story on the best information available to us as outsiders."

Which, to me at least, is a perfectly legitimate thing for a newspaper to do. Yes, they should check facts and vet sources, but their primary responsibility is to do the best they can and get the information out there for the public.


It's pretty clear that Boeing's leadership could have had better info than the NYT, yet they either didn't, or they ignored/hid what they knew.


When it comes to constructing narratives and interpreting the basic evidence, a newspaper is constrained only by the need to tell and sell a story, not by the need to choose a positive course of action in order to identify and solve the fundamental problems entailed. It's not about the basic facts, it's about what you do with them.


That certainly didn't play when Judith Miller [1] given the bull horn at the NYT allowed the Bush Administration to march us directly into a bullshit war. They are indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions.

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


That seems backwards, I would think they would depend on accuracy for its reputation.

Their record of accuracy has suffered quite a bit in the past few years.


> The burden of evidence for publishing a hit piece is much lower than that for making an actual business decision.

That's not reflecting reality at all. In a big enough company you don't really decide, you do both. Alternatively, you choose all three of the options. There's often no reason to fully go for one thing. This as in a big enough company there's enough resources that someone somewhere else does something else, likely the opposite of some other decision.

Eventually something will fail, or it'll succeed. The things which succeed will hopefully be implemented everywhere.


So, realistically, what will happen? Not what _should_ happen, but what will actually happen? 1) the current board will continue 2) European (and other) regulators will not be impressed 3) Boeing sales vs. Airbus will not return to their previous levels for years, if ever; a goodly percentage of international travel will be locked up for Airbus 4) Boeing will also face more competition from SpaceX (and perhaps others) in the space industry 5) Boeing will start the long, slow path that General Motors took from the late 70's to 2008.

It takes a long time for a company as big as Boeing to crater. But I feel like in the last year, we've seen the start of the process.


I think they're going to become more dependent on defense business, which is unlikely to go anywhere.


That's even less reassuring to me. I don't want North America's defence to rest on some American version of the Reichsfeuerzeug [], designed by an incompetent but politically connected firm.

[] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinkel_He_177


Well, too late. That's already the way it works.


The big wild card here is SpaceX.

As with all things Elon, SpaceX is built on a financial pyramid. It either wins big, or loses big. And Boeing is a clear loser if SpaceX succeeds. A rule of thumb is that the rare big projects that will do well starts announcing that they are ahead of deadlines early, and that continues. Big projects that won't do not declare slipping deadlines until they can't hide it, and there is never any sense of what the real schedule is.

Right now SpaceX is announcing that they are ahead of deadlines. Boeing is consistently slipping.

What would the losses be? Well consider:

Boeing is counting on billions of dollars for deliveries to the ISS. They are being heavily subsidized and do not have a proven technology for doing so. SpaceX is running routine missions and if their Super Heavy works out will see a dramatic cost drop.

Boeing has billions more at stake with the SLS system for deep space launches and a return to the Moon. But the project is in peril and missing deadlines. Political connections favor Boeing. But if Super Heavy is anything close to what is promised, Elon can as a publicity stunt afford to (unpaid) do missions for a few million dollars that Boeing failed to deliver for 10s of billions. How long will the gravy train continue?

And the giant wildcard is SpaceX suborbital flights. Suppose that SpaceX delivers in the next 5 years on a point to point flight time from anywhere on Earth to anywhere else in a maximum of 1 hour. It will take time for people to conclude that it is safe. But consider, a first class transatlantic flight costs $10,000 and takes ~14 hours. If the SpaceX launch costs their estimated $2 million and carries an average of 250 people, they can charge first class prices for a 30 minute flight, and take home a $500k profit per trip. Anyone who has done a long plane trip will see the appeal of not spending 14 hours in the plane. So your first class passengers switch to SpaceX.

The economics of airline travel are that first class tickets pay a very large chunk of the fixed costs of the flight, while economy tickets pay the marginal costs of adding a person to the flight. Take away the first class tickets and average tickets have to go up in price. The result? Higher ticket prices, more passengers per plane, and a consolidation in the airline industry. SpaceX does not have to take that large a fraction of the volume to trigger that consolidation.

The phrase "consolidation in the airline industry" should be extremely worrying to airplane manufacturers. Fewer and fuller long-range flights means that nobody needs to buy new airplanes for a while. Which means that Boeing's core business craters.

The long and short of it is that if SpaceX delivers, Boeing dies. We will know one way or the other in 5-10 years.


What percentage of Boeing's revenue and profits comes from NASA contracts and ULA?


Glancing at 4th quarter 2018 from https://investors.boeing.com/investors/investor-news/press-r... commercial aircraft are about 60% of Boeing's revenue and 65% of its profit.

They do not separate NASA from defense department spending, but government was about 35% of revenue and only 16% of profit.

The rest is consulting.

The upshot is that if SpaceX embarrasses Boeing in space, it is a black eye and a sizable chunk of Boeing's business but not critical. But if suborbital flights replace even a modest chunk of long-haul commercial flights, Boeing will be in a world of hurt.

Consider, aircraft tend to operate for about 30 years. If SpaceX causes a 20% reduction in long-haul flights, it would result in a period of 6 years where nobody wants to buy new aircraft, followed by a resumption in sales at about 80% of the previous volume. There is no way that Boeing is prepared for that kind of business shift.

And SpaceX does NOT have to replace 20% of passenger trips to do it. If only the most profitable few percent of passenger trips disappear, then between more expensive seats and fuller flights, the number of flights will drop by a lot more than what SpaceX does. The impact on Boeing will be outsized.


Given that they are sitting on close to $10 Billion in unsold and possibly undeliverable inventory. I would not be surprised to see them re-org.


Not even close. There are only two companies in the world that can do what Boeing and Airbus do.

The real question is, why is BA stock still trading above 330? Why are big money guys so confident about the company's future?


If you are not thinking on a 10-year timespan, but more of a 10-month, 10-day, or 10-minute timespan, it will take a while before long-term doom is reflected in the price. Even in the late 1970's, when GM's fate was more or less sealed, their price was holding up reasonably well. http://omurtlak69.blogspot.com/2012/01/general-motors-stock-...


Interesting point. For me it's more a question of whether the post-2016-election rally is organic. "Why the appreciation in value" is a different question than "why hasn't the stock sold off?"

We have seen incredible growth in market cap. Ultimately Boeing does big business with the Department of Defense and their spending is up, but the lion's share of Boeing's profits come from commercial aviation if I'm not mistaken. The tax cuts and cash repatriation holiday were great too, but how much can that reduction in tax burden really account for this rally in the value of BA? Seems like a sell to me on first glance, but the fact that there is strong support here at 330 despite all that has happened is telling that some big money players are confident that Boeing is irreplaceable.

A friend of mine refuses to bet against BA because it makes up a large component of the DJIA, which the President appears to treat as his own personal economic scoreboard.


Short term supply will be inelastic - Airbus wouldn’t be able to fill all the demand if customers turn their backs on Boeing. The opportunity might be for COMAC to gain some ground...


The big question for Boeing is how they will transition to a post-737 world.

Until now, Boeing's business plan is that they will be building a starship for NASA in 2060, but you will still be stuck with a 737 on Southwest Airlines, a A320 on Jetblue, and never know that aviation could be better.

The 737 throws off a lot of cash, but the single-aisle monoculture makes flying miserable.

A 737 replacement will be expensive, take time to develop, and involve risk, but the end product could be the resurrection of the Boeing brand. Since there are so many 737-class airplanes flying, anyone who wants to see a better flying experience or is concerned about environmental impacts of aviation such as airport noise or carbon emissions would realize that a 737 replacement could have a greater impact than the widebody planes where competitive developments are happening.

You shouldn't have to fly international to benefit from 50 years of aviation improvements.


> ...single-aisle monoculture makes flying miserable.

What is it that people expect when they say flying is miserable? I expect safety, which is why I'll never get on a 737 MAX. Other than that, I just put sandwiches and snacks in my pocket, fill my water bottle, and in X hours I'm thousands of miles away. Air travel is actually pretty amazing.


I expect to be able to sit in my seat without having my knees crushed? How about that for a start?


One option is to not fly american airlines (with a lower case a). The highest rated US airline is 3 out of 5 stars on Skytrax.

As far as I understand, the reason for this is that foreign airlines are not allowed to fly US domestic routes, and most US people don't fly international which means they don't know that things could be better.

It also seems like people in the US to a greater extent than other countries only cares about ticket price, which means that even if an airline wants to improve their quality they can't use it to compete because customers will simply not see them, since they sort by price on the travel site and pick the first one on the list.


> most people in the US only cares about ticket price, which means that even if an airline wants to improve their quality they can't use it to compete

With regards to quality, do airlines in other places generally provide more bang for the buck or are they just generally more expensive than US flights to provide for the higher quality?


To be honest, I don't know. It's hard to compare for the US domestic flights, since you have to decide on comparable routes.

That said, flights throughout Asia at distances similar to US domestic flights tend to be reasonably cheap.

I decided to make a comparison:

Fly Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Hong Kong. This will cost you 225 USD in economy.

A domestic US flight of the same distance would be San Francisco to Albuquerque on United Airlines. This flight will cost you 468 USD.

So it seems to me that Singapore Airlines is able to provide better quality at much lower cost. Perhaps the US airlines simply don't have to be better because there is no one that shows it can be done?


Albuquerque isn't a major destination though. Flying to provincial cities is always expensive.

A better comparison with about the same distance in the US is New York to Miami, which can be done nonstop for under $200 on Delta, or $135 on whatever "Frontier" is.

EDIT: In fact you can go from New York to Las Vegas for under $200, round-trip, which is considerably farther.


yeah, but then you'd be Las Vegas.


The routes and dates really matter. I can fly from MSP to TPA (about 2.1k, about the same) for $28 USD. Now I wont argue Frontier airline is the same quality as Delta or some of the other majors... but airfare prices are really fungible.


I fly Frontier very regularly by quality choice and not by price. The fares are great, but the only other people flying the routes are United (awful awful) and Southwest (great but also pricey). More generally, I am not impressed by any U.S. major, discounting Southwest if they are considered. United, AA, and Delta (least) are pretty abysmal in their quality.

It's probably important to be specific when I say "quality." By that I'm referring to ease of purchase, fair baggage prices, web/app UX, on/off-flight customer service including pilot communication with passengers, and even landings (as a pilot, I am absolutely judging beyond "did we get to the ground safely or not"). Price and seating are secondary for me, although I certainly understand why they are list-toppers for others.


I fly Delta a fair amount and (with status), Delta seems quite good to me. With even the lowest level of status, there are no bag fees for anything approaching typical luggage load. Their app is fine. Web ticketing seems good to me. Domestically, I can almost always buy an economy ticket and get upgraded to first. Even where I have to pay for it, the upgrades are reasonably priced. During irregular ops (weather typically), they’ve always gotten me there within 18 hours of scheduled. I agree SWA is also good and my only experience recently on United was also good (but in business class Mumbai->Newark, so atypical to say the least).

I suspect flying up front on any of the majors is fine. Economy experience is driven by a race to the bottom price-wise, but if you want cheap travel, it’s readily available. If you want comfortable travel, that’s also on offer.


I was Delta diamond for about a decade, so same deal...domestically, they really treated you nicely.

I flew Frontier the first time this Spring - was helping ferry an open cockpit biplane from Colorado to Illinois - and it was a stupid cheap one way fair. I really can't think of a single perk Frontier did not try and up charge a fee for. Boarding, luggage, carry on, seat assignment... I'm sure there were others. Funny enough, the guy I was ferrying with also picked the cheapest seats in the plane, so we ended up next to each other on the flight out. I was fully prepared too wear the kevlar helmet on the flight rather than pay the $60 carry on fee.


I like Frontier but I was stunned to learn that even after paying for all of their upgrades to get seated in the front row, I would still have to pay extra for water.


> United (awful awful)

What's so awful about United?


Everything!! Like everything you can imagine about a flying experience compared to its competitors. Seat space, employee attitude, noise, snacks...


Sure. With a budget airline I can get cheaper flights in Asia too. The aforementioned flight from Singapore to Hong Kong (1-8 March) is 87 USD on Jetstar.

My point was that even though the regular flights are similarly priced in the US and Asia, the quality in the US is so much worse. I now see that my attempt at explaining this discrepancy had some flaws, but what other explanations do you suggest?

The fact seems to be that even the best US Airlines are significantly worse than the ones in other places. When the best rated ones are hovering around average, there is something wrong.


You probably need a larger sample to draw any conclusions, especially during a holiday season.


For anyone wanting to make similar comparisons: I checked returns flights between 1 and 8 March next year.


The Economist had an article in 2017 that argued that US airlines are worse, more expensive, and more profitable due to less competition than European (and I'd add Asian) airlines.

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/04/22/a-lack-of-compe...


> It also seems like people in the US to a greater extent than other countries only cares about ticket price, which means that even if an airline wants to improve their quality they can't use it to compete

I'm not so sure people do it any different elsewhere. I mostly fly in Europe and have definitely never considered anything else than price and suitable flight times. I consider all airlines to provide the same standardized service. Yes I'd pick BA over Ryanair, but wouldn't pay extra for it.


In NZ we have two options for domestic travel Jetstar ( cheap and unreliable ) and Air NZ which usually costs more but it's better overall.

A lot of people I know and myself choose to pay more for a better experience.

It's not always about the race to the bottom in my opinion.


I always assumed that this disconnect was because most domestic u.s. air travel is business related, so that in general, the traveler is not the customer.


> It also seems like most people in the US only cares about ticket price,

Ryan Air, EasyJet, and other discount airlines suggest that Europe cares significantly more about price.


That is true. And these airlines never show up in the top half of the airline rankings. However, when flying these airlines you don't expect good service, and no one is going to proclaim that “flying is always a bad experience” because these airlines exist.


Personally, I have good experience with those airlines. As long as you are aware of the rules (print your boarding pass at home or use mobile boarding pass, limited carry-on luggage, usually doesn't go to the main airport) it's a good experience. Airplanes are relatively new, they are clean inside and the staff is friendly.


I'm 6'2" and my knees used to be painfully squeezed into seats and everything was incredibly uncomfortable on flights. At the time I weighed 275lb. I've since lost weight and I was surprised how much more comfortable flying is.

You wouldn't think being obese would impact knees not having enough space, but my ass shrank in multiple directions and I have about four to five inches of free space now between the seat in front of me and my knees. Unless you're much taller than I am, it's likely that losing weight will not just help with your health, but make flying more comfortable.

If you are taller, well, life sucks for us tall people in many ways and we can't expect airlines to build comfortable seats for people two or three standard deviations beyond the normal height.


I'm 6ft, 190lbs so not substantially overweight. Airlines like Air Canada Rouge have a 29" seat pitch in standard economy. I find that very uncomfortable. Even their upgraded seats are very tight for me with my knees pressed up against the seat infront of me unless I sit bolt upright.

On many leisure routes from Toronto there is very little choice in flights either, so pay more means pay their business class rate which is quite expensive, or well go some very complex non-direct routing.

All of these options are horrible.



> There is no normal height.

There more certainly is a statistically average height.

> Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions.

This article is comparing 10 dimensions of variability and we're talking about just one here, the one you yourself mentioned, height.


Statistically or mathematically average height does not equal normal height, it has no relevance in this discussion. If you read the article, the average does not fit most people even if you take a single dimension, height.


Within one standard deviation of the mean does, by definition, fit most people for a normally distributed factor like height. (64% > 50%, thus most). "Within 1 standard deviation of the mean" is a decent (if possibly overly strict) definition for "normal" in this context.


Read the article in the link and then explain your comment.


Then you could purchase a different fare class. The market has largely spoken already- people prefer lower fares over comfortable seats.


Ah, yes, it is definitely reasonable to draw that conclusion based on people's disinclination to spend 100% the fare for a 10% larger, somewhat less uncomfortable seat, and/or 1000% the fare for 50% more space and an actually comfortable seat.


You seem to have left out Premium Economy class that’s available on many (most?) airlines. Personally, I tend to opt for that fare class as I find the seat more tolerable at a reasonable price point.


Premium economy is still usually at least 2x the economy ticket price; on a long haul that will cost many hundreds to up to thousands extra.

What you’re probably thinking of is the US airline specific “comfort/extra/plus” add-on that is priced 10%-20% extra. There is a few more inches legroom but the seats are the same small economy seats.


The prices does not scale up too well for the travelers, but for the airlines. The extra that you get does not match the huge jump in price.


Premium economy / economy plus seem to scale pretty well. Most of the times I’ve booked it’s been about 10% extra in cost for about 10% space on the plane. E.g 34 inches instead of 31 inches of pitch.


To be clear, premium economy and economy+ are different things.

The former uses larger seats and is typically available on long-hauls. The seat is somewhat similar to old-style business class seats, or modern domestic first class seats. It is not priced at 10% extra, it is usually close to double.

The latter is priced at around 10% extra, but is the same old economy seat just with a couple of inches more legroom.

It would be nice to have to pay only 10% extra to get 10% more space, but the lack of scaling is by design on the airlines part, and textbook market segmentation.

Edit: this article has pictures showing the difference: https://www.cntraveler.com/story/whats-the-difference-betwee...


I once got an economy plus seat at a bulkhead and had to stow my laptop bag somewhere behind me. I'd rather squeeze into economy than pay extra for having no way to kill time but wonder whether it'll be stolen.


I’m 6ft and have normal length legs. I don’t have any issue doing a 5h flight on a 737 with minimum pitch. I wouldn’t pay extra for legroom, but people who are taller than me would, I imagine.


Flying you essentially pay by the inch at a price that's remarkable low historically speaking. The service has no more romance than what a Greyhound bus ride once offered (and don't ask what that's like now).

This is either a triumph of choice, markets, and abundance or grim, barbaric end to flight as uplifting experience.

It's also safer than it's ever been.

We can each decide, I suppose.


You could always buy a business class seat then. Economy is supposed to be uncomfortable because all the things that would make it comfortable have been removed to make it cheaper.


Then pay for an exit row seat. If I want cheaper seats instead of more legroom, why should I be forced to subsidize YOUR consumer preferences?


book an emergency exit seat for extra $50 or something


Congratulations on being able-bodied.

I have arthritis and literally cannot fly anymore because I can't afford tickets with enough leg room to not be in crippling pain for the entire flight. I've had to miss important family events because of this.


Have you considered the train? The seats are roomy and well cushioned, but you will be traveling for several hours so it may or may not work out.


I'm very enthusiastic about traveling by rail, yes! I have a relative near the end of her life who has been enjoying its comfort and accessibility to make final visits to our dispersed family, all while enjoying the natural beauty of the US as a free bonus.


There’s no such thing as a free lunch. If we forced airlines to provide more legroom they would charge everybody more, and you might not be able to afford the new tickets either.

Even if you personally could, some people that can currently fly would not be able to afford the higher prices. Why are your consumer preferences more important than theirs?


It is amazing, but if your Tall, or Wide, or have any kind of handicap, its miserable too..


Tall person here. Flights longer than 90 minutes really, really suck unless I've saved up enough miles to upgrade my seat something with more leg room.


It’s an interesting topic. Should everyone be able to travel for the same price or should different people pay different prices for whatever reason. Eg if someone is very over weight and can’t fit in a single economy seat, should the person get 2 seats for the price of 1 or should the person have to pay for 2 seats?


The latter problem is solved: If you're too wide to fit into one seat you do need to buy two seats.


Depends on the country. In Canada for example the second seat comes free.


I’m 6’4. I’ve flown journeys of adding up to 24 hours in 30 hours before. Never had a problem.


Consider yourself lucky. I'm sure it's highly subjective, whatever the case. If I can't stretch or have enough room to adjust my legs, my knees hurt, my lower back hurts, and it makes me miserable.


Anything that does not feel like a can of sardines packed together. Train offers huge room, by comparison, for taller people like me economy is torture.


I can relate to your point about a new aircraft design to replace 737, but can you explain why single-aisle is so bad? I mean, are you saying the seating to be 2-1-2 instead of 3-3? Or wider short-range aircraft with 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 ? Elaboration please...


They won't until political winds shift and you get some regulatory intervention. I would project around 2030, when the major carriers are all ground away and the financial shenanigans of low cost airlines (example: Norwegian Airlines with NY->Europe trips that cost less than the parking) run out of gas.

Without that, there's no motivation to do anything but shave every marginal dollar. Competitive forces are limited and will get more so over time. My uncle drives freight trains for living, and they pay extra to remove seat cushions on the locomotives because they don't want to spend opex on replacing torn cushions down the road.


Low cost airlines have thrived in Europe for the last 30 years. The only thing that was protecting the trans Atlantic airlines was that there were designated airlines allowed to fly those routes.


I missed where RyanAir or EasyJet was flying short-haul widebody jets!

My point is, when you optimize exclusively for cost, you will only get cheap and will not get any kind of improvement in customer experience. The only reason that Spirit Airways doesn't dangle you from a net hanging from the ceiling is that safety regulations don't allow for it.


> remove seat cushions on the locomotives

A very short-sighted action. Driver seats are not like passenger seats, the drivers will strike if they are discomforted by the seat.


Train driver is one of the best jobs in the train business, one that takes 10+ years to step into (more demand than jobs.. goes up the union ladder). Complaints at that level will be rare and replacements can be found easily.


There's no way they're going to develop a completely new plane. It may have new branding, but it's going to be a 737 at the bones. Since when has the airline industry ever considered passenger misery?


Airlines consider passenger misery a benefit:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21530964

Jules Dupuit, describing rail carriages, though the same logic applies:

It is not because of the several thousand francs which they would have to spend to cover the third class wagons or to upholster the benches. ... [I]t would happily sacrifice this [expense] for the sake of its popularity.

Its goal is to stop the traveler who can pay for the second class trip from going third class. It hurts the poor not because it wants them to personally suffer, but to scare the rich.

https://www.inc.com/bill-murphy-jr/why-does-air-travel-suck-...


Or you can do what many other airlines do, which is to make business class so much better that even if econony is nice, business class is so much above that that it's worth the money.

I tend to try to travel on Qatar, and their new business class cabins are amazing: https://www.qatarairways.com/en/onboard/qsuite.html

It's also cheaper than the (worse) business class on many other airlines.


I've flown a lot of long-haul business and first class over the years (Qatar, Thai, Austrian, Scandinavian, Delta, United, Qantas) and Qatar is the only airline I've ever blacklisted for business class.

While the QSuites and the cabin crew are nice, you rarely get QSuites in reality. But you always get a stopover in Doha, and those stopovers generally include business lounges so busy you can rarely get a shower with a < 3 hour stopover, rarely get use of an airway for boarding (even at destination airports with numerous available, eg Stockholm), and you sit in the premium bus for 30+ minutes after "boarding" commenced waiting for other passengers (with dusty, fuel fume filled, unairconditioned Doha airport air).


Interesting how your experience is different from mine. I've traveled to Stockholm via Doha several times, and never had to take a bus.

The business class lounge at Doha is the best I've ever been to. You do need to go to the premium lounge though. They have a separate lounge for people with gold cards, and that one was a huge disappointment.


The inconsistency of business class does make it unappealing though. Sometimes, it's almost first class (Singapore Airlines). Many times, it's barely a step up from economy though, and just feels like a rip off.


Yes, but babies and children do not ride in business class.


Some do, but I agree it's much fewer.


The 737 faces competition from a few directions.

First of all, smaller planes such as the A320 and E195 feel bigger inside than the 737 does. It's like the difference between the "boat of car" from American manufacturers to the Japanese cars that were small on the outside but big on the inside.

If you just want a low-cost plane at the A320 level of technology, China is coming online with

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comac_C919

It will put up great production numbers by selling to Chinese airlines first, they will have all the protectionism and subsidies they need to grow to an economy of scale where at 2030 the C919 will beat the pants off the 737.

If Boeing doesn't take advantage of it's comparative advantage and develop a much better aircraft, they are doomed.


> First of all, smaller planes such as the A320

I was going to go all "what do you mean, smaller??? ... surely you mean the A220", but had to good sense to look it up and you are right, the A320 Neo is actually a tad smaller than, for example, the 737-800. Also lighter.

Just carries more passengers a longer distance faster with slightly wider seats.

Hmm..


It's hard to realise how bloody old the 737 is, this thing dates back to the 60s, back when computers were a roomfull of people and assemblers were considered high-level programming languages.

Not that the A320 is any spring chicken (dates back to the 80s), however that's still a quantum leap in technology (e.g. universal fly-by-wire) and I'm guessing more modular as it was intended as a family of planes sharing a type (from the 318 to the 321, though the 318 was dropped for neo).


The A320 family actually includes the A319 (smaller) and the A321 (bigger), and the A321 (or A321neo) is quite similar to the 737 you selected: 737-800. Even the 320 is only slightly smaller than the 800; and it is quite bigger than the 700.


The 320neo is the most suitable comparison to the 737-800 given they respectively top out at 195 and 189 passengers.

The 321neo carries up to 240, even the 737-900 ER is left behind (220), though the 321 is longer than the -900 by quite a bit 44.5m to 42).


What do you mean by bigger? The A320 has a cabin width of 395cm vs 380cm for the 737, so it is more spacious.


The 737 is larger but has less usable space.

A 737-800 is 39.6m long to the 320neo’s 38.6, they have the same wingspan, the 320neo seats up to 195 versus 189 for the 737.

The 320 also has significantly more range (6500km to 5500) and needs a bit less runway (1950m to 2300).


195 for the A320 vs 189 for the 737-800 are the exit limits. It is what the plane is certified for, and is mostly a function of the size and number of doors. It has little to do with typical or comparable seating configurations. At similar density/comfort level a 737-800 seats more than an A320.

The 737 MAX 200 is a modified 737 MAX 8 with an extra pair of exit doors so that it can seat up to 200 passengers. It will be used by Ryanair. Assuming the 737 MAX does fly again of course.


Boeing will eventually have to build a clean sheet replacement for the 737 in response to airline demands for greater fuel efficiency. The long term trend is toward higher fuel prices, especially once some countries start taxing carbon emissions from commercial aviation. But it could be another 20 years until that "797" enters service.


They announced it back in 2014 at least, aiming for 2030: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-boeing-ceo-737/boeing-pla...


That's waaaay too late. They can't just not have a plane to sell in the small plane segment (which does the most sales volume) for the entire next decade!


Former Boeing employee here[1]: I remember when the company decided to do all 401k matching in Boeing stock in 2009. It seemed like a sketchy, borderline unethical way to keep the stock price afloat.

All to say I’m happy to have transitioned all my 401k years ago!

[1] I worked in the defense industry. Nothing to do with planes: my company was acquired by Boeing and operated relatively independently.


Boeing stock price today is 337.55. In Jan 2009, it was $42. That's a 8x return.

SP500 closed at 3221 today. In Jan 2009, it was about $890 and that is only a 3.6x return.

Hindsight is 20/20, but you might've been even happier if you kept all your 401k in Boeing.


You've gotta play considering the probabilities, not score things after the fact based on the realised outcome. To a first approximation it's a good idea to not have any significant part of your wealth coupled to your employment, to avoid situation where a failing company destroys both your employment income stream and your investments in a single event.

C.f. Enron employees with company stock...


Yeah exactly. At the time there was no way to predict the future, and it seems ridiculously risky to put a big chunk of my substantial 401k match into my employer.


Interesting! Maybe so. I exited around 2012 with a tidy sum


including the recent losses, Boeing is up 150% in the last 5 years versus the S&P 500 which is up only 50%


I love that idea for 401k matching. All the downsides of a pension [1], combined with all the downsides of a 401k[2], with none of the upsides of either!

[1] If your employer goes belly up after you retire, you are screwed.

[2] Because it's fixed contribution, as opposed to fixed payout, if you lived longer than you planned, you are screwed.


In fairness, issue two is probably better addressed at the national level -- something like what Social Security's original intention seemed to be: a safety blanket for those who lived much longer than expected.

In 1935 when SS was enacted, life expectancy was 61.7 years. benefits didn't kick in until the average person was dead by 3.3 years.

If this chart is accurate: http://vis.stanford.edu/jheer/d3/pyramid/shift.html -- it looks like in 1930 less than ~5% of the population was older than 65.

If this chart is accurate: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.65UP.TO.ZS?locat... -- it looks like ~15% of the population is currently older than 65.


life expectancy in 1935 was severely dragged down by infant mortality.

What was the life expectancy at age 18? At retirement age?

If you made it past childhood, you were pretty likely to die far later than 61 years.


That's why I also looked at the percentage of people that were older than 65. It's 3x higher now.


401(k) is an amazing system, because it's accountable. The only use for a traditional pension is to hide the liabilities for someone else to discover later; or perhaps avoid the liabilities completely by declaring bankruptcy. 401k solves the problem by putting the assets with a third party immediately.

Maybe there's some way to have an insurance product to handle cases where people live longer than normal. That could be an improvement. But that should be handled by a fourth party.

That sounds like an annoying number of parties. But trust me -- mixing up of money for today with money for 30 years from now is just not a good system (in the private sector or government).


It could be better... in the University of North Carolina System you are FORCED to participate in 401(k) or the state pension and once you pick one you have to keep it throughout your employment.


State pension seems like the better way to go...


What about the risk that the government slashes your benefits?


Even if you expect to take a haircut on your pension, it's still a good idea to diversify your retirement investments, for the same reason that you should invest into both bonds, and stocks.

If you retire during a recession, your planned 20 years of 401K runway may not last you more than 12. Or you might end up living longer than 20 years. Or both.

With a guaranteed payments pension, you will continue receiving benefits as long as you live. This aspect of it wont matter to you if you fall over dead at 68, but will matter greatly if you end up living longer than planned.

Right now, less than 5% of my retirement savings are going towards a pension (Social security). I would be much happier if that number (And the expected returns from it) were closer to 25% - and that's with the expectation that SS payments will unexpectedly drop in the future. Having an investment instrument that will pay me until I die is great for diversifying my portfolio.


A 401k should mostly be bonds and cash equivalents when you retire.


And if the recession hit a few years before you retire, your portfolio will never get a chance to recover from that hit. Your 20 years of runway becomes 12.


I mean you can move the goal posts here... yes a 401k is risky.


I can fudge the numbers a bit - but you only get one shot at this sort of thing, though, and you can't predict the future. You either take risk with your 401K, or you keep too much of it in bonds, and lose it all to inflation.

Thanks to that, a fixed benefit pension as part of your retirement strategy is much more fiscally responsible than going all in on either a 401K, or a pension.


Even if they do you can also vote in someone next time to restore your benefits. I'd rather have an option on an indefinite benefit vs a fixed one.


Pension isn't infinite though, as you will die at some time, and the parameters on how long people can live are quite well known. For example, you should always take $2M up front at 70 instead of $50k per year indefinitely because you simply can't live long enough for the latter option to ever come out ahead.

* with the current state of medical science.


I suppose I agree on a personal level, but my concern is moreso with the structure of funding pensions vs funding 401k's.


Exactly! We could transition our stock out, but that setup employees with the lovely complication of having to learn about insider training and how to NOT do it...


> but that setup employees with the lovely complication of having to learn about insider training and how to NOT do it

Generally speaking, the majority of (non DOD) Boeing employees should not be restricted by insider trading; It's often rumored to have broader reach than it does. In order to be an insider, you would need to have direct impact or insight into an unannounced project, corporate, or financial disclosure. It may even take some authority to be able to materially impact delivery deadlines or financials before you're considered an insider.


Pensions are insured by the US gov’t up to a limit, I believe around $60K per year.


The PBGC is just a cover your ass entity. It can’t handle the debts coming due it’s way, so much so, that Congress is working on a bailout for multi employer pension plans currently.


Well, if being prudent you wouldn't be using your non company match part in Boeing at all. (puts in line with those of us with no match).

Sidenote: It's laughable when companies say they think options are a better choice for the employee than a 401k match.


Another funny thing is I once got in trouble for tweeting about the “Boeingaucracy” of our new employers. I was shocked that someone cared about my dumb twitter account. It was pretty early on for being so paranoid about monitoring a brands social media image!


I remember when the company decided to do all 401k matching in Boeing stock in 2009.

I thought that was the norm? I've only worked at one public company and they did matching in company stock as well - I'd periodically sell it and reinvest so only about 20% of my holdings was in company stock. I wish I'd kept more in their stock since they've done quite well.


This is not the norm AFAIK. Matching at my previous companies has been proportionally into the mutual funds I had selected as part of my portfolio.


Maybe this is an aviation industry thing.

At a not-Boeing company, I believe all of our 401k match was company stock, although we could move it to other funds after it came in as company stock.


That's definitely not the norm. A lot of companies offer ESPPs to buy their own stock at a discount, which is fine, but 401k matching in company stock instead of cash is a major red flag.


It sounds like you're describing a stock purchasing program, not 401K matching in stock.


I got a cash match at megacorp and figured most public companies would be the same.


When I worked for Cisco, they added an optional self-directed brokerage account to their 401(k) offering. You weren't allowed to buy CSCO in it. Maybe it was to avoid trading window issues, maybe it was fallout from Enron, but I like to think they were doing the right thing.


And depending on when you got your match you would still be way ahead of the S&P 500.


They're not the only company that does this. It's ridiculous.


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