Oct. 29, 2018: Indonesia suffers the horrific crash of a new Boeing 737 Max jet with only 800 hours of service less than an hour into a flight to Sumatra. Despite heroic efforts by the pilots to regain control, Lion Air Flight 610 plummets out of control into the Java Sea. All aboard are lost.

On the aircraft’s previous flight, to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, Lion Air pilots had narrowly avoided a crash. That flight was saved by a pilot in the cockpit jump seat: At the last minute, he recommended a procedure to recover from the nosedive that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System had put the aircraft into.

The pilots of Lion Air 610 were informed only that a “faulty” sensor had been replaced. Like the pilots on the flight to Jakarta, the Lion Air 610 crew was unaware of the existence of the MCAS, which had been installed to counteract the aircraft’s tendency to go into an aerodynamic stall, but unlike the other pilots, they didn’t engage the stabilizer trim cutoff switches to counteract the MCAS commands. They lost control.

March 10, 2019: Ethiopian Air Flight 302, a 737 Max that had been in service only for a year, slams into the ground at 575 mph just six minutes after takeoff. Despite frantic attempts by the pilots to bring the aircraft under control, the MCAS had put the aircraft into a fatal nosedive. The crash kills all on board. Three days later, despite pleas from Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration grounds all 737 Max aircraft.

Lawsuits, reduced aircraft orders, falling investor confidence and traveler trepidation after these crashes could result in Boeing stock sinking faster than, well, the 737 Max. United Airlines announced just last week that the company was replacing its aging Boeing 757 fleet with the Airbus A321XLR.

Boeing has been lobbying hard to aviation industry leaders, flight attendant and pilot unions to try to bolster passenger confidence that the grounded 737 Max will safely return to service soon. Two days of meetings in Seattle last week were big on spin, but short on facts. Boeing allowed no media at the meetings, and no time frame for getting the 737 Max airborne. So much for transparency.

This campaign for consumer confidence was hoping to overshadow an Oct. 29 hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg withstood withering criticism like that of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who was infuriated with not only Boeing, but the FAA as well. The senator fumed that his phone calls had not been returned, and that some documents the committee had requested had been redacted. He called the 737 Max a “flying coffin.”

These accidents didn’t have to happen. The 737 Max was hastily built by Boeing to compete with their competition’s more fuel-efficient Airbus NEO. To reduce airline training costs, the faulty MCAS system was not revealed. According to a 737 Max pilot, the maintenance manual (not the flight manual) was the only place MCAS was even mentioned. And then, only once.

The way Boeing and the FAA have responded to the two terrible tragedies of these 737 Max crashes, which resulted in 346 passengers and crew killed only three months apart, have left many to question the cozy relationship between Boeing and bureaucrats. There appears to have been a “regulatory capture” of government oversight, according to Ralph Nader, the godfather of corporate whistleblowers. Boeing’s spin doctors are working overtime, but can they fix it? Will the FAA ensure the aircraft is safe? Congress must work together to make sure the 737 Max is safe, and that the pilots are adequately trained before the 737 Max flies again. If ever.


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