• Donald V. Watkins

Boeing’s “Fix” for a Flying Death Trap


By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on April 17, 2019


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with Boeing to fast-track a tentatively approved “fix” to the troubled 737 MAX series of aircraft. This is not the “fix” the flying public had in mind. The same Seattle, Washington division of the FAA that initially approved the flying death trap as “airworthy” and “safe to fly” on March 8, 2017 is now working expeditiously to certify Boeing’s software "fix" to the MCAS flight safety system.


An excellent six-minute educational video from Vox.com explains why the 737 MAX has engineering flaws that are far beyond the software “fix” offered by Boeing and tentatively approved by the FAA.


The FAA’s Fast Track Review of the Modified MCAS System


In March 2019, the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board (FSB)and Seattle-based Aviation Evaluation Group for Transport Aircraft reviewed Boeing’s proposed modifications to the MCAS system. On April 16, 2019, the FSB released a draft report that found the MCAS system to be “operationally suitable.” The FSB report also recommended additional pilot training to address the MCAS system description, functionality, associated failure conditions, and flight crew alerting.


The FAA shortened the period of time for public comment on the draft FSB Report. Members of the public must deliver their comments to the FAA by the April 30, 2019 deadline. This is the second time the FAA has shortened the period for public comment during this review process.


The draft FSB Report is a public document. I submitted my public comments to the FAA today.


Sadly, the FAA’s abbreviated time period for public comment follows a proposed Boeing modification to an airplane that has experienced two crashes and killed a total of 346 passengers and crew members. In the aftermath of these tragic deaths, the FAA's truncated and expedited certification process for the 737 MAX airplane with the modified MCAS system is unconscionable. This FAA action demonstrates that the public agency responsible for flight safety is still captive to Boeing’s corporate interests.

Furthermore, the FAA is still placing Boeing’s profit interest ahead of passenger safety, even after 346 passengers and crew members died in two 737 MAX airplanes.


The fundament engineering design problem with the 737 MAX aircraft is the size and placement of its two engines. The engine size and placement causes the nose of the airplane to pitch up during a full-throttle takeout.


This is a built-in engineering design flaw. Rather than redesigning the airplane before commercial production began, Boeing tried to fix this flight safety problem by installing the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system on the airplane. The MCAS software “fix” was the cheapest and least desirable flight safety solution available to Boeing.


Using its army of lobbyists and clout within the FAA, Boeing won certification of an inherently defective passenger aircraft in record time. This feat was relatively easy to achieve in an era of deregulation legislation passed by Congress for FAA certification protocols and flight safety operations.


After new 737 MAX airplanes crashed in October and March, both Boeing and the FAA knew they had a major problem on their hands. The FAA had never before certified a new plane with advance knowledge that the aircraft had a built-in engineering design flaw which jeopardized airworthiness and flight safety. This reckless certification action guaranteed that passengers and crew members on 737 MAX commercial airplanes would die in plane crashes in massive numbers. And, they did -- 346 of them to date.


A Throwback to the Ford Pinto Days (1971-1976)


Boeing, with the FAA’s blessing, has made a strategic decision that it is far cheaper to pay death claims from 737 MAX airplane crashes than it is to redesign the airplanes in production at its Renton, Washington manufacturing facility. Americans have seen this kind of short-sighted business approach before.


Ford Motor Company made the same strategic decision in 1971 after the company learned that its new Pinto model car had an exploding gas tank when the vehicle was hit from the rear in a low-to-moderate impact accident. It was a basic design flaw in the car that Ford knew about before the cars hit the market. Approximately 180 deaths and thousands of burn-related injuries occurred as a result of rear-impact-related fuel tank fires in the Pinto.

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As was the case with Boeing and the 737 MAX airplane, Ford rushed the Pinto into production to fight imported sub-compact cars from its foreign competitors. From Ford's standpoint, it was cheaper to pay the death claims from Pinto rear-end accidents than it was to redesign the Pinto cars in production.


In September 1978, after a public outcry from consumer groups over the horrific deaths and burn-related injuries, Ford issued a recall for 1.5 million 1971-76 Pinto sedans and Runabouts, plus all similar 1975-76 Mercury Bobcats, for a safety repair. Each car received a new fuel-tank filler neck that extended deeper into the tank and was more resistant to breaking off in a rear-end collision.


The FAA’s Action is Not the “Fix” the Public Deserves


Welcome to the age of lobbyist-controlled FAA operations, “bought and paid for” Congress members who deregulated flight safety protocols to the manufacturer, and one greedy and reckless airplane manufacturer that controls 38% of the market. The FAA’s tentative approval of the modified MCAS system is not the “fix” we deserve for the 737 MAX airplane.


How many passengers and crew members have to die in 737 MAX airplane crashes before the FAA makes Boeing redesign this defective aircraft to eliminate its built-in design flaw?


Who among us will be on the death-roll from the next 737 MAX crash?


PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX airplane taxing from the assembly line to the paint factory in Renton, Washington.


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.