As a former aeronautical engineer and U.S. Air Force pilot, I thought I would opine on this issue and shed some light on China's nefarious behavior in pushing the world to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8.
In today's aircraft, in the relentless push for fuel efficiency (just ask AOC), computers do most of the flying. This is because the human brain is simply not as powerful and cannot handle the myriad of inputs that a 'fly by wire' system encompasses. That being said, pilot's do have to be the 'cockpit manager' and understand everything that is happening on the airplane, in order to deal with any malfunctions that occur. That is where a human brain comes in very handy.
It may very well be the case that there is a serious design flaw in the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) which caused the two Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft to crash in the last five months, killing over 350 people.
Or, it very well may not be the aircraft's, or should I say Boeing's, fault.
The Lion Air crash last year was attributed to a faulty sensor reading and pilot error in basically not turning off the MCAS which was repeatedly telling the onboard computers the aircraft was stalling and taking corrective action -- meaning pushing the nose down. Reports are the system cycled 26 times before the system won and the aircraft crashed into the ocean at 500 miles an hour.
All they had to do was press a button to turn off the system. The Federal Aviation Administration issued an 'air worthiness directive' to the global 737 Max B fleet after the Lion Air incident, vividly informing the pilot work force about the issue and how to handle it.
It seems the Ethiopian pilots didn't get the memo. Although the evidence has not been released, this is an educated guess, based on public reports of the plane's behavior before it crashed.
So in short, both crashes could very well be due to pilot error and the training programs of third world airlines (Trump was right in his description of the incident by the way, aircraft now are very advanced and maybe third world crews should not be flying them). It has been reported that one of the pilots on the Ethiopian airliner only had 200 hours. That is shocking. This means he basically knew nothing and would be no help to the other pilot when an emergency arose. This would never happen at a Western airline.
This is where China comes into play. The Chinese are obviously aware of these issues and understand the crashes were most likely due to pilot deficiency. However, Beijing is piling on anyway against Boeing and pushing nations around the world to ground the 737 Max 8.
It is no secret China covets the role the FAA plays around the world as the industry leader in regulation. It is no secret China wants to eventually be the world leader in aircraft manufacturing.
"The FAA’s credibility is being tested," said Chad Ohlandt, a Rand Corp. senior engineer in Washington. "The Chinese want their regulatory agency to be considered a similar gold standard," reported Bloomberg.
So far, the FAA is not playing along with China's game and good for them, in spite of spineless, ignorant American politicians like Mitt Romney who have called for the planes to be grounded at least temporarily.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and her staff flew on a Southwest Airlines 737 Max 8 from Austin, Texas to Washington, D.C. just hours after the Transportation Secretary was emphatic in saying her department will ground Max planes if it's determined they are not safe to fly, reported CNBC.
"The department and the FAA will not hesitate to take immediate and appropriate action," Chao said.
"Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action," acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell said in a release from the FAA, added CNBC.
"In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action."
Lawsuits filed against Boeing by families of the Lion Air deceased say Boeing never informed the aircrews the MCAS was installed on the 737 Max 8. If so, Boeing could be culpable in that crash. We'll let a court figure that one out.
However, somehow I think an American-trained aircrew would have solved the problem immediately.
It will likely become known over time that Chinese regulators were wrong to ground the Max 8, but the public relations damage will have already been done to an American industry giant, just what China needs in the ongoing trade negotiations, and in their quest to become the dominant force in aviation.
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