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  • Donald V. Watkins

Boeing in an Uncontrollable Tailspin

Updated: Apr 5, 2019


A Special Investigative Report


By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on April 4, 2019; Updated at 8 a.m. EST


On April 26, 2017, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg bragged to Wall Street analysts about how quickly the company had brought its new 737 MAX airplanes to market. Muilenburg praised the Federal Aviation Administration's "streamlined" certification process. He attributed the March 8, 2017 certification to the pro-business philosophy of the new Trump administration.


"That's helping us more efficiently work through certification on some of our new model aircraft such as the [737] MAX as it's going through flight test and entering into service," Muilenburg told analysts on the conference call. "So we're already seeing some benefits there of some of the work that's being done with the FAA."


Ten days later, on May 6, 2017, Boeing delivered its first 737 MAX airplane to Malaysia’s Malindo Air, which placed the aircraft into service on May 22, 2017. Following the fatal crashes of the 737 MAX 8 aircraft in October 2018 and March 2019, regulatory authorities around the world grounded all 737 MAX aircraft for an indefinite period of time.


The grounding of 737 MAX airplanes around the world has become a nightmare experience for Boeing. The 737 airplane has been Boeing's bestselling product for decades. The company's future depends on the success the 737 MAX, a new and extended version of the jet.


Boeing has 4,700 unfilled orders for 737 airplanes, representing 80% of Boeing's orders backlog. Virtually all of these 737 orders are for MAX versions of the aircraft.


Today, Boeing is in an uncontrollable tailspin for the first time in the company’s 103-year history.


Boeing’s Crisis Management has Failed


Crisis managers for Boeing are trying to convince the flying public that the new 737 MAX airplanes are safe. This public relations campaign comes after a Lion Air 737 MAX crashed after takeout in Indonesia in October and an Ethiopian Air 737 MAX crashed in a similar fashion in March.


A faulty flight control system designed to prevent the aircraft from stalling in flight caused both crashes. A total of 346 passengers and crew members were killed in these crashes.


Following the crashes, Boeing announced the company had developed a software "fix" for the faulty flight control system. This, of course, was PR spin. In truth, there is no simple "fix" for the 737 MAX’s flight safety problem.


Boeing’s problem with the 737 MAX airplanes is further compounded by the fact that “whistleblowers” warned the FAA in August 2018 that the agency’s flight safety inspectors lacked the training and certifications necessary to properly evaluate and certify the 737 MAX as safe to fly. Yet, Boeing had the political juice to push the 737 MAX through the FAA’s certification process in record time.


An analysis of the “black box” data from the Ethiopian crash found that the pilots followed Boeing’s emergency procedures for disengaging the faulty flight control system in a futile effort to regain control of the aircraft. Even then, Crew members could not regain control of the airplane. The new Boeing jet crashed after experiencing “repetitive, uncommanded aircraft nose-down conditions,” Ethiopia’s transportation minister said this morning.


The Real Problem with 737 MAX Airplanes


When designing a new, extended version of its 737 airplane, Boeing engineers found that under certain conditions the 737 MAX's engines -- which are larger and located higher and closer to the front -- boost the chances that the aircraft would tilt upward too steeply -- causing the plane to stall.


To offset this risk, Boeing engineers installed a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) in the 737 MAX "to compensate for the extra pitch up produced by its larger engines at elevated angle-of-attack (AOA).” If the AOA sensor detected too steep a pitch, the MCAS would elevate the horizontal stabilizer -- the little wings on the airplane's tail -- to push the nose of the plane down.


The 737 MAX has two AOA sensors in its nose that measure air pressure to determine its pitch angle. In the original MCAS design, a signal from just one of the AOA sensors would trigger the MCAS to push down the nose repeatedly. If that AOA sensor was faulty, the MCAS would continue to push the nose down even though the 737 MAX was not actually stalling -- thus sending it into a nosedive. This is exactly what happened in the two recent crashes.


Boeing’s post-crash engineering solution for this problem allows the MCAS to tip the nose down only once, rather than repeatedly. Supposedly, this “fix” will make it easier for pilots to regain control of the aircraft from the MCAS system.


Boeing has not explained why the MCAS would not release control of the Ethiopian 737 MAX airplane back to the pilots after they turned it off in a desperate effort to prevent the fatal crash. Because the pilots could not regain control of the airplane from the computer operated anti-stall system, whether the MCAS was "on" or "off", there is a much larger problem with the 737 MAX's controls.


In its current state, the 737 MAX airplane is a flying death trap that is subject to a nosedive and crash whenever the MCAS overrides a pilot's repeated efforts to disengage the system. Nobody at Boeing knows why this malfunction occurred because Boeing never properly tested the airplane's flight control systems. The cozy "pro-business" relationship between Boeing and the FAA relieved both parties from that safety responsibility.


Unfortunately, Boeing’s software “fix” only masks the real problem – the 737 MAX is a redesigned airplane that bypassed all of the standard “airworthiness” and “flight safety” evaluations required by the FAA for a newly designed aircraft. The true price paid for compromising FAA flight safety standards and procedures for 737 MAX airplanes was the death of 346 passengers and crew members.


Other Boeing “Fixes” Are in Progress


While Boeing’s PR spin doctors are trying to repair the company’s damaged reputation and its engineers are trying to “fix” the faulty MCAS system, the company’s lobbyists have been quietly pressing members of Congress and the FAA to cut more corners in order to get the grounded 737 MAX airplanes back in the skies. Additionally, Boeing has been trying to influence the course of the U.S. Department of Justice’s criminal investigation into what went wrong in the FAA certification process.


Two of Boeing’s top lobbyists – Howard Goodloe Sutton, Jr. and Art Cameron -- are protégés of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the principal architect of deregulation for the airline manufacturing industry in the United States. From his decade-long powerful position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Shelby was able to gut and/or cap critical funding for FAA operations. Shelby’s funding constraints forced the FAA to become more dependent on manufacturers to certify their own planes as safe to fly.


Sen. Shelby and his political allies in Congress were rewarded handsomely for their deregulation actions and results. They received hefty campaign contributions from Boeing, Airbus, and the companies’ prime contractors that were discretely laundered through friendly political action committees. In the aftermath of the two 737 MAX crashes, these contributions are now viewed as “blood money.”


Boeing has retained high-powered criminal lawyers in Washington and Chicago to represent the company and several of its senior management executives during the federal grand jury investigation. Boeing’s legal strategy is to shift all of the blame for its corporate actions in truncating and expediting the required safety analysis of the faulty MCAS flight control system to the FAA managers who acted as “rubberstamps” in the certification process.


Sen. Shelby has lawyered up, as well. Our sources in Washington report that Shelby is ready to sacrifice his protégés at Boeing and everybody at the FAA.


Richard Shelby is a true Washington “Swamp” creature. He will say and do anything to survive the criminal investigation into the death of 346 passengers and crew members. These deaths were a direct result of his cold, callous, and calculated actions in gutting and/or capping the FAA’s operational budgets over the years.


Epilogue


At the end of the day, the federal criminal investigation will likely turn into a murder investigation. The culprits at Boeing and in Congress were drunken with power. They used their power to truncate and expedite standard FAA flight safety protocols. Their reckless disregard for the lives and safety of the 346 passengers and crew members who flew on the 737 MAX death trap and died in the two crashes exposes Boeing's senior management executives, Sen. Richard Shelby, and their many accomplices to murder charges.


RELATED INVESTIGATIVE ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

Who Pushed the FAA to Expedite Certification of Faulty 737 MAX Aircraft?

"Swamp" Creatures Lawyer Up in Aftermath of 737 MAX Crashes

Deregulation Doomed 346 Passengers and Crew Members on Two Boeing 737 MAX Planes

Sen. Richard Shelby: "Too Much Money Ain't Never Enough"


PHOTO: On April 26, 2017, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, pictured below, praised the Federal Aviation Administration's "streamlined" certification process that killed 346 passengers and crew members on two 737 MAX airplanes that crashed recently.

PHOTO: U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), pictured below, used his position on the Senate Appropriation Committee to gut and/or cap funding for critical FAA operations. Shelby was rewarded with hefty campaign cash or "blood money" for making speedy FAA certification a reality for the faulty 737 MAX airplanes.


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.