Safety always depend on pilots and aircraft (and sometimes on cabin crew and ground equipment). How the aircraft is operated and how it is constructed (and for that matter maintained). The development in recent years has seen a downturn in both areas. Safety has been affected by itself, i.e. by the extremely high level of flight safety, where companies and authorities has found no reason, in todays economic squeeze, to maintain the vigilance of previous decades, since everything is going so well. Pilots are less trained and more depended on automation, while aircraft manufacturers are shortcutting quality in lieu of profit. From that has come numerous incidents and needless number of fatal accidents as well as groundings of plane for months or years.
One viewpoint from an unknown source – though depressing reading for a Boeing lover – is worth reciting in its entirety. Feel free to agree or disagree. There is at least some truth to what is said:
Is it possible that Boeing will decide to permanently halt production of the 737 Max in the very near future?
No. Like the Bruce Springsteen song, they took a wrong turn and they just kept going. To understand the 737 max, one has to go back in time to 1987, when Airbus unveiled the A320. Any aeronautical engineer would be able to tell you that the A320 was far superior in scalability in the future. Boeing should have started a clean-sheet replacement for the 737 that day. But, since they had already sold so many, they continued making them and sellin them, as they were still competitive with the A320.
However, advances in engine technology require larger fans on the engine. The 737 was designed when engines were fitted with small fans, and was meant to be a regional jet. The 737 sits too low on the ground for large-fan engines, which the A320 can readily take. When Airbus was able to fit even larger engines on their A320 NEO, Boeing finally had to face the music. But by then, two huge airlines operated 737 exclusively: Southwest and Ryanair. Their entire profitability is predicated on flying this single model. Like an addict who can’t get enough, they convinced Boeing they could not live without the 737.
By then, Boeing had also stopped being an engineering company that sold the best aircraft to airlines and the government, and had moved to Chicago, to be a company that creates wealth for shareholders. It still made airplanes, but for management it meant nothing, they could be making underwear for all they cared. All that mattered was the stock price and that juicy year-end bonus.
So they browbeated the engineers to somehow strap a huge engine to and old frame AND to figure a way to make the plane look the same to pilots, because otherwise Southwest and Ryanair would have to spend more money training pilots on how to fly it. So they concocted a poorly designed system called MCAS whose purpose was to make the Max feel like a 737 NG to pilots, so they would not need to be certified on a different type. They had a cozy relationship with the FAA so they were able to pass that.
Just so they could keep the money flowing from those addicted airlines to their pockets. The system was so poorly designed that it crashed two brand new aircraft and killed over 300 people. Boeing lost as much in market capitalization in one month as the amount it would have taken to start a clean-sheet design. They don’t have that money now, and will continue to peddle the 737 in some iteration or another.
In the meantime, Airbus continues to advance the A320, so much that it was able to make the A321 XLR, a plane that is big enough and flies far enough that it also killed Boeing’s plans for a New Midsize Aircraft (a sort of new 757) at least for now. And probably is working on a replacement for the A320 already. China is prototyping the COMAC C919, also more advanced than the 737. Boeing is stuck with a plane that dates to the 60’s, with no confidence from the public, no money, They will come up with some tale about how the 737 is the best since sliced bread. Until another breakthrough occurs and then again they have to face the music.
For Boeing fans there is a different picture, focusing on the pilot issue.
Boeing has been blamed unfairly in the opinion of many, Boeing included. The debacle around the MAX has focused too much on the flaws of the aircraft and not on the fact that better trained pilots would – most likely – have had no problem saving the day.
Pilot skills needed
Boeing has conceded that the assumptions it made about how pilots would react to a malfunction of the MCAS system proved totally wrong.
Certainly, there was some fault at Boeing in its safety analysis in assuming a level of pilot competence and training that doesn’t exist in some parts of the world. A training captain told quite simply that the Lion Air first officer (co-pilot) ”could not fly”. ”The (training) report on the FO is an eye-opener as he is constantly very poor in all phases of operating an aircraft,” the training captain said. ”The report indicates a lot of additional training in standard operating procedures and emergencies and this was repeated on almost every subsequent training session but the problems were never resolved.” ”That FO could not fly and I wonder why the Lion Air trainers didn’t cull him as his performance at proficiency checks are all fail items.”
Flight Safety Detectives highlight multiple failures of maintenance and serious pilot deficiencies at Lion Air related to the 737 MAX accident. NTSC obviously reverse-engineered the ”facts” to support their preconceived conclusions that the airplane and MCAS are to blame.”
”The NTSC stated the pilots, especially the First Officer, had significant training deficiencies and lacked basic flying skills. These same deficiencies occurred during the accident flight.
The mistake Boeing, and all manufacturers, have made is to assume that the pilots flying their aircraft are well trained and competent and will follow instructions and obey warnings.
Very little of the above has had widespread exposure and the majority of passengers believe Boeing is totally to blame for the 737 MAX crashes.
On the pilot issue there are so many worrying comments on the quality in different areas around the world that just a few can be given space here.
When I first got there, as a simulator instructor at Asiana, I was shocked and surprised by the lack of basic piloting skills shown by most of the pilots. They were basically given an ultimatum by the FAA, Transport Canada, and the EU to totally rebuild and rethink their training program or face being banned from the skies all over the world. This Asiana SFO accident makes me sick and while I am surprised there are not more, I expect that there will be many more of the same type accidents in the future unless some drastic steps are taken. The Koreans are very very bright and smart so I was puzzled by their inability to fly an airplane well. Crosswind landings are also an unsolvable puzzle for most of them.So, when I hear that a 10,000 hour Korean captain was vectored in for a 17-mile final and cleared for a visual approach in CAVOK weather, it raises the hair on the back of my neck !!
”These two pilots had no business being in the cockpit and the airplane should not have been operated”
A perfect example of this involves the loss of a Pakistan Airlines Airbus A320 flight PK8303 on May 22, 2020, which killed 97. The pilots made a completely unacceptable approach.In the wake of this disaster, it was revealed that in Pakistan 262 pilots have fake pilot licenses. Pakistan International Airlines sacked 150 of its pilots.
FAA’s Failure to Cull Bad Pilots Cited in Fatal Atlas Crash. The copilot of an Atlas Air cargo plane who inadvertently added full power during a routine approach to land in Houston became disoriented and pushed the Boeing Co. 767-300 into a steep dive, NTSB found. He had repeatedly panicked during training exercises and shown other deficiencies and those systemic issued hadn’t been addressed, NTSB found.
There have been 10 airline accidents over the past 30 years in which pilots with prior performance issues were identified as part of the reasons for the crash, Sumwalt said.
”Safety lapses are a serious concern at Air Asia,” Taneja had tweeted to the aviation minister.
Dieusaert also fears that increase automation in the cockpit will reduce the skill level of younger pilots. ”It becomes a vicious circle, with fewer competent pilots leading to calls for increased automation. ”[Aircraft] manufacturers have no confidence today in pilots,” he said, adding that ”a pilot contacted me to tell me that he worries about the capabilities of the younger generation of pilots.” Meanwhile, airlines, especially low-fare carriers, see increasing automation as a way to reduce staffing and cut costs. Some ultra-low-fare airlines are already pressing to be allowed to operate with only one pilot on board, he said.”The passenger who wants a flight as cheap as possible has to know that he is contributing to more automation and pilots with less flying skill,” he said. He asked, ”Do you want to put your life in the hands of inexperienced pilots? That’s what’s happening now.””I think in the future we’re going to have to start flying less and paying more, not only because of the impact flying has on climate change but also to maintain flight safety, he predicted.
Two sides of the coin, where the coin plays a significant role. As long as airlines, led by low-cost, budget no frills airlines, are not paid / do not charge enough for the expensive high-tech product they provide for its customers, they cannot in the long run do that without cutting corners. Since you can not expect people to beg for more expensive tickets, and airline managements are stuck with competition fighting for survival, the responsibility for change falls heavily in the lap of authorities. Now more that ever.