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Staff emails claim Boeing 777X ‘shares Max problem’ (telegraph.co.uk)
159 points by theslurmmustflo 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments



That's a disingenuous headline (I blame the Telegraph).

> In an email from June 2018, before the first Max crash, one Boeing worker wrote: “Best part is we are re-starting this whole thing with the 777X with the same supplier and have signed up to an even more aggressive schedule.”

> Another member of staff warns about a relentless cost focus...

> Last September, the 777X suffered a setback when it failed a ground test of its strength, suffering an explosive decompression that tore the fuselage and blew off a passenger door.

None of those are what I would call the "Max problem," (I'd consider that to be MCAS) but there does seem to be a systemic problem off cost cutting and aggressive deadlines.


I don't think it's a wrong characterization, imo. The problem with the MAX isn't necessarily the MCAS, but the culture and business/engineering processes that allowed MCAS to go all the way to production and allowed the company to convince their customers not to implement pilot training. There are multiple levels of failure beyond just MCAS being a thing, and the emails might suggest that (some of?) these systemic issues are also affecting the design of the 777x.


Honestly, yes. I let my brain interpret the headline, "shares Max problem" and this is exactly what I thought it meant, before I clicked through.

As a non-aviation technologist, I initially thought it would be more surprising if the headline meant any of the specific technical failures that I've come to understand (like MCAS) which I've heard about through the ELI-5 and above coverage of the issues plaguing 737-MAX.

The root problem is the culture of disregard throughout many levels of decision making in an organization, such as Boeing has apparently demonstrated; the lack of regard for engineering quality and craftsmanship.

Edit: OK, here is another thread that has also made the HN front page with perhaps a more direct or less questionable title:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22090998

> Boeing's safety vs. cost-control culture may be what sent out fatal aircraft (cbc.ca)


the problem with the max is that it has a tendency to crash. everything else is just a cause or symptom of that problem. If the 777X isn't going to crash, then it doesn't share the same problem.

when planes operate properly, nobody cares what business or engineering practices allowed that.


Why are the causes of that problem not really problems in themselves? Crashing could have multiple different causes; crashing is just a symptom.


They are problems for the people working on solving the crashing. They aren't problems for anybody else.

for passengers, airlines, and anybody other than Boeing, the only problem is the crashing.


Isn’t that a bit like saying the problem in medicine is dying, and other things like heart disease, cancer, etc. aren’t really problems for the patients, as death is the only real problem?


if you had cancer but experienced no symptoms, died in a car crash at age 95, and the cancer wasn't discovered until your autopsy, would you say it was a problem?


Of course it was a problem. If a person has diabetes but then they get shot to death, that doesn't make the diabetes irrelevant.

If 40% of people walking on the earth got cancer today, and it was asymptomatic, it would definitely be a problem, even if nobody saw it as their personal problem in this moment.


I read though all these emails and chat messages when they were first released. I'm pretty sure that those particular email quotes were from people working on developing the 737 Max simulator, not the aircraft itself. So maybe the 777X simulator program will have similar problems, but this doesn't necessarily mean the aircraft itself will. I don't have much confidence in Boeing at this point, but this does seem like scaremongering.


The parts about supplies completely ruin your simulator argument


So you have specifics? Because aircraft simulators are complex machines not just software.

Ex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7iSlqpIHpw


The "Max problem" is not the specific engineering defect that happened to manifest with the 737 Max.

Instead, the "Max problem" is the set of organizational, cultural and managerial issues that cut corners, misled regulators and prioritized profits over safety.

MCAS defects are not the problem, they're a symptom of the problem.

And these messages about the 777X are more symptoms of the same problem.


Yeah the problem with the Challenger explosion can either be diagnosed as O-rings or NASA culture.

The former clearly was not involved in the Columbia accident, the latter certainly still was.


Yes, they try to imply that the 'Max problem' in the headline is the MCAS. We can conclude that with some certainty, because the headline is quite awkwardly written, to fit the quote in there. (However, it is of course entirely correct as written.)


This is a headline from a tabloid which is maybe a step worse than something like Bloomberg, maybe on par with Huffington Post or Buzzfeed.


MCAS is the dumb bandaid they invented to save money on pilot retraining. Turns out that bandaid was so poorly built it killed people.

In the 777x It's not exact same software system, but the exact same "cheapest option on the menu every time" mindset that seems to be pervading Boeing and causing lots of problems.


>MCAS is the dumb bandaid they invented to save money on pilot retraining.

No, the MCAS is to make the plane certifiable, full stop. It's less "handling characteristics of the previous model" and more "handling characteristics permissible on commercial aircraft".


I don't understand the distinction? Why is it important?


The distinction is important because if they could have forgone the MCAS and sacrificed the type rating, the story becomes about cutting small corners to pinch pennies. In actual fact, however, the MCAS was vital to the aircraft, which was rushed out to compete with Airbus - and so it becomes about cutting BIG corners, to save the company.


So you're arguing that we'd all be better off without MCAS? And that this whole thing is the fault of regulators?

If so, this line of thinking is utterly absurd.


I don't know where you got that from because it bears no relation whatsoever to what I was saying.

The point is you can't just take the MCAS out of a MAX and retrain pilots - it's a vital fix for handling characteristics that were unsafe to fly, full stop. Without the MCAS, it - quite rightly - wouldn't have been allowed to carry passengers at all. It's an important distinction with wide implications.

(However, it does strike me that an MCAS-like device, an automated trim to paper over the inability of the airframe to fly stably under all flight regimes, is a fundamentally unsafe device and should never have been allowed in the first place, let alone with such a poor sensor suite. The MAX is an irredeemably unsafe plane, a result of bolting new engines on an ancient airframe that was not designed for them, and the resultant pile of hacks.)


Still doesn’t fill me with reassurance about the safety of flying on one of these.


Cost cutting and aggressive timelines will always happen, and in a company as large as Boeing, someone will have made a comment like this about pretty much anything, so I have a really hard time telling if this is telling data or hindsight bias.


>Cost cutting and aggressive timelines will always happen, and in a company as large as Boeing, someone will have made a comment like this about pretty much anything, so I have a really hard time telling if this is telling data or hindsight bias.

Considering you accept that it's 100% certain it'll be be said it seems to be pretty telling data. I know we all laugh that management automatically fudges the numbers out of engineering, but mayhaps in Boeing's case the MBA logic of doing so is running into the issue of physics not being amenable to change just because management wants an earlier delivery date.


China's approach with its 737MAX competitor, has, ironically been the exact opposite of this. Their fear wasn't getting the price low enough to satisfy shareholders but not getting the airline approved by US and European regulators.

I was dubious before the crashes but after Boeing's reaction to the crashes I'm fairly sure I'd feel safer on their planes than Boeing's.


Given the current safety record of the 737 Max (2 crashes out of ~half a million flights), if you flew on one every day for the next 50 years there's about a 7% chance that you'd be in a crash. This is ignoring any improvements that might be made--to the plane itself or to pilots' knowledge and training--before it's allowed back into service.

If you flew, say, 10 times a year rather than 365.25, all on the 737 Max, it's a fraction of a percent chance.

Boeing's behavior was very poor and they have been rightfully taken to task for it. Aviation safety standards are incredibly high and the 737 Max didn't live up to those standards. The focus on cost cutting, selling critical redundant sensors as an upgrade to milk a little more cash out of buyers, mocking customers who wanted simulator training for their pilots, and more are all indicative of a bad corporate culture.

But the 737 Max is still a very safe plane. I have no qualms about flying on it.


'If you flew, say, 10 times a year rather than 365.25, all on the 737 Max, it's a fraction of a percent chance.'

This works out to around 0.2% (1 in 2000) which is spectacularly poor odds for modern aviation where the typical risk of a crash on a single commercial airliner is around 1 in 5 million (less than 1 in 100 000 for 10 flights per year over 50 years - so basically 50 times less safe).


Your math seems a little off there, or maybe just a typo--I get slightly under 1 in 10,000--but you are correct that the 737 Max crash rate (~1 in 250000) is much worse than other contemporary airliners. In fact the only modern airliner with a worse crash rate was the Concorde.

I'm not trying to defend the 737 Max or Boeing, I'm just trying to point out that even a plane which is dramatically worse than any other active airliner is still, in absolute terms, very very safe. Our safety standards are incredibly high and we are absolutely justified in enforcing those standards, but people shouldn't be scared to fly on the 737 Max when it comes back into service.


> But the 737 Max is still a very safe plane. I have no qualms about flying on it.

No, no it's not safe.

Your entire argument is complete nonsense.

When the AoE sensor is damaged, the chance of a MAX problem is 100%.

> But the 737 Max is still a very safe plane. I have no qualms about flying on it.

It's grounded world-wide, so you're the only one.


> When the AoE sensor is damaged, the chance of a MAX problem is 100%.

I believe you mean the AoA sensor.

> It's grounded world-wide, so you're the only one.

Yes I'm sure the reason it's grounded world wide is because, after a worldwide census, we determined that all but one person living on earth had qualms about flying on it.

If you want to disagree with me that's fine but don't make stupid arguments.


I'm inferring that you believe that the regulators were wrong to ground it.


That's not what I was trying to say. I think grounding it was entirely reasonable. Boeing failed to uphold the aviation safety standards that we have chosen to expect and enforce, and there should be consequences for that. Those consequences can very reasonably include grounding the plane until we're satisfied that the problems have been fixed.

At the same time, I think we should recognize that our safety standards are extremely high. There's nothing wrong with that. But a plane can fail to meet our extremely high standards and still be very safe. In a parallel universe where we decide to accept a somewhat lower standard of safety, deciding not to ground the 737 Max would also be a reasonable decision.


"we need more money and more time" is the refrain of every engineer, ever.


Please, anyone let this be a lesson: you can destroy a brand that took decades to build in a matter of months.


The decision to launch a product and the immediate after process take a few months, but the entire product development process took years likely.

Also....it makes me uncomfortable when news stations report "internal email says X". Like...a) if it's not a news outlet that's tech knowledgeable that's always scary b) let's say 5000 employees worked on this. 20x emails per day. 5 year period (10000 days). That is a lot of emails that went into discovery for the attorneys or forensic guys to parse. Theres probably a lot of knowledge in there but humans are smart about that they selectively email (I knew someone that interned in the Obama White House and a large email flow was "documenting for posterity what they wanted to be in the record" through emails to no one in particular, was what she said). The 777 could be messed up, but "staff emails" is such an uncomfortable source. Did the likely top tier law firm really leak email contents?


The process from the first MAX crash to decertification of all MAX aircraft was a few months. Boeing made all the wrong decisions in that period of time. Other companies have handled crises much better. I think GP is referring to this.

It's one very bad thing to have allowed shoddy engineering and all the other failures on the way to the MAX, and quite another much worse thing to then also stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is ok when the shoddy engineering kills people.


> documenting for posterity what they wanted to be in the record

The correct term is “re-iterate the talking points on the record to help shape the narrative”. It’s not for posterity, it’s for ass covering.

If all corporate emails were to become a matter of public record, they would be filled with PR-speak as well.


It isn't PR speak when you just tell the truth in an email and don't let management bully you into not saying what needs to be said to prop up their take on it.

It can end up a bit dangerous, because they'll be more than happy to drag you through the mud in court to try to discredit you, but a lot of people kinda expect that anyway.


No, the whole culture around email changes when people know for certain it’s part of the public record of the company. I’ve worked in environments where all emails are retained due to government contracts, and an unwritten rule immediately emerges that nothing that could be used against the company is said in emails. Backchannels emerge with IMs, SMS, etc where the real conversations happen.


yeah but you can walk away with a massive exit package. If you are ambitious, unscrupulous and mostly motivated by your own self-interests you needn't burden yourself with such sentimental matters like the age and reputation of your former employer.


I wouldn't be too quick to write Boeing obituary just yet.

The way I don't think twitter mobs represents correctly the sentiments of the general population, I also don't think that online I will never fly boeing again will be with the same share in the real world.


If William Langeweische's NYT article from last September (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/magazine/boeing-737-max-c...) is accurate, Boeing is scrambling to make a transition from selling airplanes requiring extremely high pilot skill ("airmanship", Langeweische calls it) to requiring medium pilot skill. They're trying to make the transition due to competition from Airbus. They're partly using public relations and market position to do it. "No transition training needed to fly this differently-shaped airplane!"

It's not terribly surprising this is causing all kinds of upheavals at Boeing.

Richard Feynman is right again. "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."

Boeing changed my life. My family traveled a lot when I was a little kid. The advent of the 707 meant we no longer had to spend five days on a ship in the North Atlantic to get from Europe to New York or vice versa. I sure hope they can pull their company out of its present poorly controlled descent.


Oof. I have to assume your last sentence was intended.


It's not just planes; I've noticed a lot of things seem to get better over time, then take a nosedive (pun not intended). I wonder if it's an inherent property of systems to do this, or if it's the result of some perverse incentives to have "progress" at all costs.


Yes, it's a type of evolutionary gradient descent: you see an entity get stuck in a locality-constrained hill-climb before it gets culled by another entity that climbed a different hill (of regulation).


Have airlines cancelled orders of the 737 Max? If yes the will they be canceling orders of this one too?


> Have airlines cancelled orders of the 737 Max?

Yes. (Though IAG did agree a letter of intent—not an actual order, though—with Boeing for 200 aircraft. It was rumoured this was the biggest discount seen in the aviation world since Ryanair's large post-9/11 order.)

> If yes the will they be canceling orders of this one too?

Probably not? The 777X will be looked at incredibly closely prior to certification, and doesn't have the design oddities of the 737 MAX, so it probably is much lower risk, even with the cultural problems.


> The 777X will be looked at incredibly closely prior to certification

One would hope so...


Boeing is the stock with the biggest weight within the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Trump often uses this index as a public measure of his personal success.

Is it too much to assume that the government would try to figure out some rescue operations (whatever they may look like) to save Boeing financially in case that this is required? One reason for the trade dispute with the EU is Airbus.


Not just for that reason - Boeing are pretty important for the military for all sorts of reasons. They would never let them go bankrupt.


Well, they don't need to go bankrupt to tank the DJIA. Having said that, Trump would cite the Eurostoxx 50 if he felt it made him look good. It's more a case of selecting data that makes him look good than actually being committed to one understanding of success.


I can’t read the whole article because of the paywall.

But from the lead in it doesn’t look like it really is ‘the same issues’ as in problems with a lack of redundant sensor and overly aggressive correction due to engines that are too big.

Anyone whose read the whole thing care to correct me?


The sensors and correction are a symptom of the issue at Boeing, which is an aggressive pursuit of profit over safety.


That's not the same as being the same issue. Issue implies something more specific.


Not at all. The 'issue' could be a technical issue, a cultural issue, a corporate issue, a documentation issue, a legislative issue, a personal issue.

If you stop diagnosing when you find a faulty part, you aren't diving deep enough. Ask why some more -- what allowed us to even ship a faulty part in the first place? The sensors in the plane are a faulty technical design, but what systemic issues enabled that faulty design to be shipped at all? Those are the root cause issues.


> Issue implies something more specific.

Why? No it doesn't.


On another note: I just wish if every website would charge based on pay-per-read (e.g. $0.50/article) instead of forcing me to register or start a free trial or pay for a monthly subscription.


It’s all because of card fees. It’s not economical to charge $0.5


That “problem” has been solved two decades ago. In the EU debt reins, with zero fees, and there are dozens of micro-payments systems operating all over the world. Isn’t Venmo big in the US?


Venmo is far from ubiquitous. (None of my friends or family have a Venmo account, for instance. They prefer other apps like Square Cash / Google Pay / PayPal, or don’t use payment apps at all.)

Debit cards are not popular here because they tend to lack robust fraud protection - and even if they did, your bank account could easily be zeroed for weeks while they work to reverse the fraudulent charges.

Also, debit cards still have an interchange fee here. It’s cheaper than credit cards, but even for a small purchase there’s usually a $0.20 minimum fee - which is too much for microtransactions.


> they tend to lack robust fraud protection

That’s funny. Debit cards have always been PIN based and way safer than credit. I’ve never personally heard of a single case of fraud.

There is nothing stopping micropayments from happening as a technology, except political/market incentives. It’s already a reality everywhere else, even north Africa. Rationalizing it just solidifies the status quo.


These articles are getting a little tiresome. Private enterprise is about competition and cost reduction. That’s what drives improvement, innovation, and efficiency, and it’s what differentiates private enterprise from government spending, which is about justifying why things need to be so expensive.

Yes, Boeing was too aggressive about reducing cost to compete with Airbus and they need some major reform because hundreds of people are dead. But let’s not forget that this drive towards cost reduction is what still allows you today fly across the country in perfect safety for $300. All these people saying “Of course Boeing should have designed a totally new plane from scratch with quadruple-redundant systems, only the most experienced factory workers to build it, all parts made out of unicorn tears for safety’s sake, etc.” have a misguided view of how engineering is done.

Perfectly reasonable decisions by Boeing to try to reduce costs for their customers and passengers are now being characterized negatively, merely because they are intended to reduce cost. People don’t seem to realize that it’s easy to build an expensive airplane - the hard part of engineering is not always choosing the easy, expensive option.


You probably are a developer, but engineering in life critical fields can't be reduced to cost efficiency.


I’m a developer and a pilot. I understand that cost is not the only factor. My frustration is, the attitude in the media today is to report negatively on every single instance they can find of Boeing trying to reduce costs as if that is a sin in itself, when it’s actually the most fundamental driver of improvement in the entire economy!


I sympathize with your view that the media tends to lump things together in a gross and unfair way. However we happen to be talking about a company with a culture that apparently sees nothing wrong with openly trashing the faa’s certification process while another division spends $22B of taxpayer money on an unflyable space launch system. One kind of wonders if they care about the American public at all.


While I would agree with you in general, I hope in this case you can see how Boeing’s judgement can be called into question based on the terrible decisions they’ve made contemporary to the 777X development. And these are decisions that have cost lives. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume they’re just cheaping out and don’t really care about passenger safety when they have a track record of cheaping out and not considering passenger safety on the 737 MAX.


The 737 MAX issue wasn’t Boeing cheaping our though. It was Boeing trying to avoid recertification so it was a drop in for existing 737 customers. In other words, Boeing was trying to target the airlines that cheap out and did something stupid to get there.

This wasn’t a quality problem. This is was a failure to recognize (or willful hiding) the importance of training pilots on MCAS.


Boeing knowingly misrepresented the handling characteristics of the 737 MAX rather than risk losing money by building a new airframe to accommodate larger engines. That’s definitionally cheaping out. Rather than starting a development program and taking the business risk, potentially costing money, they chose to instead risk the lives of passengers by fixing an aerodynamic problem in software. For money. This calls into question their integrity as a company.


No, it’s not cheaping out, it’s just trying to target a very specific market. It’s targeting cheap customers. Boeing had no problem paying whatever the costs to actually make the thing compatible with the 737. You’re right that it’s still a violation of integrity, but it’s not being cheap by cutting their own costs inappropriately.


Boeing isn't getting trashed because they're reducing costs, they're getting trashed because of how they are reducing costs.

Winning means jack shit if you're cheating or transmuting The cost into something that doesn't reflect on the balance scorekeeping..


It's hard emotionally. Most of us buy close to the cheapest flight right? Almost exclusively? Like it's a commodity service in a capital intensive industry which cyclical patterns of bankruptcy. I knew a guy at BCG/McKinsey/Bain who only did airline consulting and it seems like a particular tough industry even if fuel costs didnt move all over the place.

At the same time obviously no one wants to cut a corner and cause danger.

Boeing is probably scared of Airbus and vice versa.

Its probably just a challenging environment.


If tickets weren't cheap, people would just be flying less, and it would be relegated to things like business trips and what not. Low prices should never be the end goal at the expense of things like safety. However, capitalism says otherwise.


You probably aren’t an engineer, but reducing materials and simplifying design while ensuring you haven’t compromised things structurally is effectively the reason 95% of engineers exist.


> Yes, Boeing was too aggressive about reducing cost to compete with Airbus and they need some major reform because hundreds of people are dead. But ...

"Yes, Boeing killed hundreds of people due to their negligence, but think of the cost savings!"


This sounds like Cave Johnson from Portal 2.

"All these spheres are made of asbestos, by the way. Keeps out the rats. Let us know if you feel a shortness of breath, a persistent dry cough, or your heart stopping. Because that's not part of the test: that's asbestos. Good news is, the lab boys say the symptoms of asbestos poisoning show a median latency of 44.6 years, so if you're 30 or older, you're laughing. Worst case scenario, you miss out on a few rounds of canasta, plus you forwarded the cause of science by three centuries. I punch those numbers into a calculator, it makes a happy face."


It wasn’t perfectly reasonable to have a non redundant sensor that could have life threatening consequences if it failed.... and to also make the sensor failure alarm optional equipment doesn’t sound very reasonable to me either. It’s not about using software to compensate for the loss of aerodynamics... it’s about cheating the process so they wouldn’t have to put the design through a detailed review that could have eliminated this whole debacle in the first place.


>they need some major reform because hundreds of people are dead

>allows you today fly across the country in perfect safety

Perfect seems to be a poor choice of words here.


Most of us are questioning these supposedly "perfectly reasonable" decisions. There is a line and Boeing crossed it.




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