New Boeing 737 Max flaw is a software issue

Jamie McKane

MyBroadband Journalist
Super Moderator
Joined
Mar 2, 2016
Messages
4,413
New Boeing 737 Max flaw is a software issue

As U.S. government test pilots ran through dozens of flight scenarios on the Boeing Co. 737 Max in recent weeks, a potential failure got their attention.

The plane’s flight computer tried to push the aircraft’s nose down repeatedly during a simulator run, prompted by a stream of erroneous flight data.

[Bloomberg]
 

Bryn

Doubleplusgood
Joined
Oct 29, 2010
Messages
14,567
Surely the public's confidence in the Max range can never be restored? I'm pretty sure I will never step foot on one.


To me it seems there are actually two separate issues:

1. Flyers the world over probably do not want to go near the Max planes. The reputation has been destroyed and it's entirely Boeing's fault. Had the gravity of the MCAS situation been adequately imparted to airlines you have to assume inadequate pilot training would have been uncommon.

2. Boeing's faulty software has rendered billions of dollars worth of planes not just worthless but at a huge additional opportunity cost to all the buyers who have seen major disruption to their operations. You can also be sure that Boeing did not tell a single buyer that the Max's airframe is unstable in certain conditions due to the engine size and requires critically important outsourced software to compensate. At the very least you have to assume order numbers would have been way down if that detail was not omitted - airlines want the highest level of safety available, which includes not needing software to compensate for an unstable airframe.


So, Boeing:
- developed an aircraft that they knew compromised on safety
- outsourced critical software development to developer sweatshops
- did not tell buyers a detail they knew would likely impact sales very negatively
- deliberately understated the importance of MCAS, which lead to inadequate training
- cheaped out on safety equipment that would have all but ensured disasters don't happen
- are therefore largely responsible for the deaths of two planes full of people
- were very slow to respond appropriately to the crashes, leading to a delayed decision to ground all Max aircraft
- (through their own actions) have rendered billions of dollars worth of brand new aircraft worthless
- (through their own actions) have cost airlines millions in lost revenue and unforeseen expenses

This new security issue is just more evidence that Boeing's software cannot be safely relied upon in lieu of properly safe aircraft design.

I don't want a situation where Airbus has no major competition, but surely the above is fairly reasonable grounds to fine a company out of existence? Or at the very least, put the relevant top-level management in jail and impose a fine that falls short of an existential crisis?
 

Gordon_R

Executive Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2009
Messages
7,456
That is a rather weak article from Bloomberg. IMO nothing new that hasn't been written before. Most of the details have been posted in the discussion forum (admittedly not in the news forum).
 

milomak

Honorary Master
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
12,274
That is a rather weak article from Bloomberg. IMO nothing new that hasn't been written before. Most of the details have been posted in the discussion forum (admittedly not in the news forum).
just reading the details in the op seemed to me to be what was largely posted soon after the air ethiopia crash. from official sources.
 

konfab

Honorary Master
Joined
Jun 23, 2008
Messages
20,758
Surely the public's confidence in the Max range can never be restored? I'm pretty sure I will never step foot on one.


To me it seems there are actually two separate issues:

1. Flyers the world over probably do not want to go near the Max planes. The reputation has been destroyed and it's entirely Boeing's fault. Had the gravity of the MCAS situation been adequately imparted to airlines you have to assume inadequate pilot training would have been uncommon.

2. Boeing's faulty software has rendered billions of dollars worth of planes not just worthless but at a huge additional opportunity cost to all the buyers who have seen major disruption to their operations. You can also be sure that Boeing did not tell a single buyer that the Max's airframe is unstable in certain conditions due to the engine size and requires critically important outsourced software to compensate. At the very least you have to assume order numbers would have been way down if that detail was not omitted - airlines want the highest level of safety available, which includes not needing software to compensate for an unstable airframe.


So, Boeing:
- developed an aircraft that they knew compromised on safety
- outsourced critical software development to developer sweatshops
- did not tell buyers a detail they knew would likely impact sales very negatively
- deliberately understated the importance of MCAS, which lead to inadequate training
- cheaped out on safety equipment that would have all but ensured disasters don't happen
- are therefore largely responsible for the deaths of two planes full of people
- were very slow to respond appropriately to the crashes, leading to a delayed decision to ground all Max aircraft
- (through their own actions) have rendered billions of dollars worth of brand new aircraft worthless
- (through their own actions) have cost airlines millions in lost revenue and unforeseen expenses

This new security issue is just more evidence that Boeing's software cannot be safely relied upon in lieu of properly safe aircraft design.

I don't want a situation where Airbus has no major competition, but surely the above is fairly reasonable grounds to fine a company out of existence? Or at the very least, put the relevant top-level management in jail and impose a fine that falls short of an existential crisis?
In all likelihood, the 737 max is now going to be the most scrutinised passenger aircraft to get its safety certificate.

Oh, and don't think Airbus doesn't play the outsourcing game.
https://m.economictimes.com/tech/ites/niche-tech-firms-outbid-infosys-and-mahindra-satyam-for-airbus-deal/articleshow/8212342.cms


The problem Airbus and Boing have is that they are victims of their own success. Their vehicles are the safest vehicles on the planet, which makes people think that they are 100% safe. This is impossible for a complex system.
 

Bryn

Doubleplusgood
Joined
Oct 29, 2010
Messages
14,567
In all likelihood, the 737 max is now going to be the most scrutinised passenger aircraft to get its safety certificate.

Oh, and don't think Airbus doesn't play the outsourcing game.
https://m.economictimes.com/tech/ites/niche-tech-firms-outbid-infosys-and-mahindra-satyam-for-airbus-deal/articleshow/8212342.cms


The problem Airbus and Boing have is that they are victims of their own success. Their vehicles are the safest vehicles on the planet, which makes people think that they are 100% safe. This is impossible for a complex system.
None of the points in my summary above are based on an expectation for Boeing to provide 100% safe aircraft though. Most reasonable people accept that an infinitesimally small portion of flights end in tragedy. But we absolutely expect all reasonable safety measures to be taken, and Boeing acted in a manner that was nowhere close to that.

1. Pushing through the development of an aircraft with an airframe that cannot properly fit such a large engine - not reasonable.
2. Not making safety features that would avoid disaster a standard option - criminal negligence.
3. Not telling buyers that the plane needs fancy algorithms to remain stable due to the airframe/engine imbalance - criminally deceitful.
4. Not making it crystal clear to airlines that full comprehension of MCAS is critically important - more criminal negligence.
5. Boeing's slow response that delayed a worldwide grounding - both criminally negligent and deceitful.

They deserve a fine that sets a new world record, including hefty compensation to the families of victims. And the CEO should go to jail. It's one thing for crappy internal controls and a generally shoddy manufacturing environment to result in death, and something very different when almost all the ingredients for the tragedy were the result of careful and deliberate decision-making to knowingly sacrifice safety for profit.

If Airbus is guilty of any unreasonable cost-saving measures then, of course, they should be made to stop doing so.
 

konfab

Honorary Master
Joined
Jun 23, 2008
Messages
20,758
1. Pushing through the development of an aircraft with an airframe that cannot properly fit such a large engine - not reasonable.
2. Not making safety features that would avoid disaster a standard option - criminal negligence.
3. Not telling buyers that the plane needs fancy algorithms to remain stable due to the airframe/engine imbalance - criminally deceitful.
4. Not making it crystal clear to airlines that full comprehension of MCAS is critically important - more criminal negligence.
5. Boeing's slow response that delayed a worldwide grounding - both criminally negligent and deceitful.
.
1. Disagree. It is entirely reasonable to design solutions around a problem. It is like saying that we should only have 56k internet because that will make it more difficult for pedophiles to share videos.
2. Disagree, rememeber, when designing anything, you do not have hindsight. You have to choose what features are needed and what are not.
3. That is being a luddite. I wager most modern airlines would be dangerous to fly without all those "fancy" algorithms. The vast majority of plane crashes have been due to human error on the part of the pilot
4. Every part of the plane is needed to fly. The MCAS thing would likely be part of the documentation.
5. That is where you are correct. Boing should have reacted faster.

You saying that you wouldn't fly on a 737 max is simply illogical given the risks you quite happily take for everything else you do.

One of the more hidden causes of these accidents is the regulations imo. Boing wanted to upgrade their planes to be more efficient, whilst keeping costs down. Seeing how re-certifying a new airframe is probably astronomically expensive, they did the logical thing and pushed the limit on an existing airframe.

Something to think about, if the regulations were not there, Boing would have simply designed a new frame for said engines that wouldn't have had the aerodynamic issues.
It is a catch 22.

We have a similar problem with software and the FDA. It is an absolute PITA to get a piece of software certificated by the FDA, thus the regulations very strongly encourage people to use existing software instead of innovating to something better.
 

Bryn

Doubleplusgood
Joined
Oct 29, 2010
Messages
14,567
1. Disagree. It is entirely reasonable to design solutions around a problem. It is like saying that we should only have 56k internet because that will make it more difficult for pedophiles to share videos.
2. Disagree, rememeber, when designing anything, you do not have hindsight. You have to choose what features are needed and what are not.
3. That is being a luddite. I wager most modern airlines would be dangerous to fly without all those "fancy" algorithms. The vast majority of plane crashes have been due to human error on the part of the pilot
4. Every part of the plane is needed to fly. The MCAS thing would likely be part of the documentation.
5. That is where you are correct. Boing should have reacted faster.

You saying that you wouldn't fly on a 737 max is simply illogical given the risks you quite happily take for everything else you do.

One of the more hidden causes of these accidents is the regulations imo. Boing wanted to upgrade their planes to be more efficient, whilst keeping costs down. Seeing how re-certifying a new airframe is probably astronomically expensive, they did the logical thing and pushed the limit on an existing airframe.

Something to think about, if the regulations were not there, Boing would have simply designed a new frame for said engines that wouldn't have had the aerodynamic issues.
It is a catch 22.

We have a similar problem with software and the FDA. It is an absolute PITA to get a piece of software certificated by the FDA, thus the regulations very strongly encourage people to use existing software instead of innovating to something better.
I don't get those arguments at all. Tbh you're sounding like a Boeing public representative.

1. It is nothing like deliberately slowing the internet to make it less usable for criminal activity. Boeing had the option of developing an airframe suited to the new larger engines but opted to take the cheaper and quicker route of using an existing airframe not suited to the engines. They would have been acutely aware of the fact that without special software, the plane is not stable. That is a horrific impact on the safety of the Max plane.

2. Hindsight is irrelevant. A 'feature' that prevents a single faulty indicator from wreaking havoc on the crucial MCAS is not an optional extra. It's a critical component of the aircraft.

3. A very concerning defence of Boeing given how tenuous the argument is. We are not talking about general operating environments, inherent risk and all that. We are comparing the safety of one plane against the general level of safety of its competitors. I think it's insanity to assume that buyers of the Max planes wouldn't want to know that the airframe is uniquely unstable without MCAS for a commercial aircraft. Competing options from Airbus are not using airframes ill-suited to the engines. This has nothing to do with pilot error being the likeliest cause of a crash and everything to do with the fact that every reasonable measure has not been taken regarding safety.

4. An absolute non-starter of an argument. Boeing changed something fundamental to the safety of a member of the 737 family. MCAS can bring down and has already brought down planes when malfunctioning or incorrectly interacted with. I'm sorry but it is nothing less than criminal negligence to not make the importance of MCAS training updates abundantly clear to all airlines. Large, capitalised, bold red text on the first page of all Max documentation should have highlighted the importance of the MCAS.

5. And it's a critical point too. Boeing could have cost more hundreds of people their lives through their deceptive commentary and denials regarding safety. There should be serious consequences for their lack of responsibility.

=====

There's nothing illogical about wanting to fly on the safest planes. The fact that all modes of transport have inherent risk is irrelevant. I wouldn't buy a car with a poor safety rating either. It's about competing options and unnecessary risk.

The only entity that the Max airframe was logical for was Boeing's profitability. They didn't want Airbus to lap up all the orders for that market segment while they spent years catching up. This is not an acceptable excuse for a compromise on safety that has now cost 346 lives.

346 dead people because Boeing did not want to spend the necessary time and expense developing an aircraft safely. There is no getting around the simple fact that all those people would be alive if not for Boeing and the compromises they took with the safety of their Max planes.

I'm sure there are plenty of issues regarding regulations and oversight, but those are a separate issue. They don't excuse anything Boeing has done. And whether or not Airbus is guilty of unsafe practices is also a separate issue.
 

Geoff.D

Honorary Master
Joined
Aug 4, 2005
Messages
10,710
As Gordon_R has already pointed out, all these arguments now presented in this thread have been very thoroughly covered in the other thread. There is no point in a repeat of all of that. Jamie's article is picking up the tail end of a very detailed and long process.
 

Geoff.D

Honorary Master
Joined
Aug 4, 2005
Messages
10,710
1. Disagree. It is entirely reasonable to design solutions around a problem. It is like saying that we should only have 56k internet because that will make it more difficult for pedophiles to share videos.
2. Disagree, rememeber, when designing anything, you do not have hindsight. You have to choose what features are needed and what are not.
3. That is being a luddite. I wager most modern airlines would be dangerous to fly without all those "fancy" algorithms. The vast majority of plane crashes have been due to human error on the part of the pilot
4. Every part of the plane is needed to fly. The MCAS thing would likely be part of the documentation.
5. That is where you are correct. Boing should have reacted faster.

/snip/
1. You are wrong. This is not a problem that should be designed around. The airframe was a 60's design, already pushed to the limits before the new engine was added. The new engines pushed the aerodynamics over the edge. Hence that was the key error. Even the previous NG version was already over the edge. A crude version of the MCAS was implemented on that design already.
2. Hindsight played no role whatsoever in the process. Boeing chose to ignore all the people who pointed out the faults, even with the previous NG version.
3. Boeing had a previous reputation of ensuring their designs were as aerodynamically sound as possible, able to be flown manually if necessary. The later variants of the 737 slowly but surely undermined that reputation to the point where a disaster was inevitable.
4. The MCAS was deliberately left out of the documentation so your response is completely wrong.
5. Boeing did not just react slowly. It deliberately covered up plenty of the issues and even compromised a system further by creating more than one single point of failure.

And all of this is before this last vulnerability came out of simulator testing! It might have been there all along but because a decision was taken to NOT stress test the system till now, it only showed up now. As with the previous issues, all we have to wait until someone comes up and says it was previously reported.
 
Last edited:

ThinkCentre

Expert Member
Joined
Mar 8, 2011
Messages
2,747
Bottom line is that some decisions could potentially be more lethal than others!
 
Top