It's no secret that aircraft manufacturer Boeing has been through some difficult times lately. The two tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302--killing all 346 passengers and crew onboard the 737 MAX aircraft--have stunned Boeing and the commercial aviation world.
Yesterday, Boeing held its annual shareholders meeting. After the meeting, CEO Dennis Muilenburg made a brief statement apologizing for the accidents and resulting loss of life, reiterating Boeing's safety record, and then he answered reporters' questions.
In response to a reporter's question about how the company will be able to rebuild trust with the flying public, Muilenburg responded,
We know that in both accidents, there was a chain of events that occurred. One of the links in that chain was the activation of the MCAS system because of erroneous angle-of-attack data. That was a common link in both accidents. We know that we can break that link in the chain. That is a link that we own. It's our responsibility to eliminate that risk. And the software update does exactly that. So, we're focused on taking care of that and getting the MAX back up and flying safely.
The reporter then asked Muilenburg if the link in the chain that he referred to was a "mistake." According to Muilenburg,
We've confirmed that [the MCAS system] was designed per our standards, certified per our standards, and we're confident in that process. So, it operated according to those design and certification standards. So, we haven't seen a technical slip or gap in terms of the fundamental design and certification of the approach.
This response would seem to indicate that Boeing has determined that the MCAS system functioned the way it should during the tragic accidents.
Muilenburg went on to put at least some of the blame for the crashes at the feet of the pilots of the two doomed 737 MAX aircraft.
Again, if you take a look at the end-to-end system procedure that's assigned with this--so, in the case of an MCAS failure scenario, there's something called a runaway stabilizer procedure, which is a memory item in the cockpit. If that kind of scenario occurs and you go through the checklist...it calls out actions that would be taken around power management and pitch management of the airplane. It also refers to the cutout switches, that after an activation that was not pilot-induced, that you would hit the cutout switches. And, in some cases, those procedures were not completely followed.
While that may indeed be the case, it was widely reported that Boeing didn't notify its 737 MAX customers that it had deactivated a safety feature that was designed to warn pilots that angle-of-attack sensors were malfunctioning. According to a statement by Southwest Airlines, this safety feature was "depicted to us by Boeing as operable on all MAX aircraft." In reality, this was apparently not the case.
It's becoming increasingly apparent that it's going to take a lot of effort for Boeing to convince the flying public that the 737 MAX is safe to fly on. But, first, the manufacturer has to get the planes back in the air. And it's uncertain exactly when that will happen.