The talking point has been parroted numerous times “it’s probably the safest plane in the sky now”. That’s what people are saying, as aviation authorities in Europe re-certify the 737-MAX. The United States already has.
But a detailed paper from a former senior Boeing engineer who worked on the project has raised issues, alleging that the teams in charge of re-certifying the plane for flight have overlooked key areas, and focused too much on a specific system, rather than a slew of systematic engineering defects, which he believes remain a critical factor.
737-MAX Report Delays Relaunch
Ed Pierson probably isn’t Boeing’s favorite person right now, but his expert testimony and detailed paper makes allegations any governing body of aviation would be hard pressed to avoid.
The 737-MAX is already back flying in the United States, after receiving approval toward the end of 2020, but the timing of the paper casts doubt on Europe’s move to re-certify the Boeing plane this week, as previously reported by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) chief.
Pierson, a former Navy Captain is seen as a key whistleblower, who was a central figure in the Boeing 737-MAX engineering program between 2015-2018.
His first hand accounts of the factory in Renton point to systematic prioritization of profit and speed over safety and security, and Pierson is of the impression that the re-certification of the plane was too rushed, and focused too little on areas outside of the ‘MCAS’ system, which has been a central focus.
He alleges they may still be dangerous.
In layman’s terms, MCAS is designed to help correct issues of climbing too steeply and causing a stall, where the computer uses augmented reality to assess the best course of action. In both 737-MAX crashes, the MCAS system overriding pilots was seen to be a core failure, when faults in the sensor sent the planes into unrecoverable dives.
Pierson, however, alleges that while the MCAS is almost undoubtedly working properly now, the plane’s incredibly complex wiring system and structural faults may also play a key issue – and those have not been properly addressed. The 737-MAX is certainly not the most natural glider, by any account.
In his paper, the whistleblower alleges that maintenance records for the two 737-MAX crashes, and other recently delivered 737-MAX aircraft shows an extensive list of part replacements which are untypical of brand new aircraft, and point to wider factory and quality control flaws. Basically, flight control problems were raised before the crashes, in systems, parts and areas outside of MCAS.
Captain Sully Sullenberger, the acclaimed pilot whose swift action contributed to safely landing a flight doomed by birdstrikes on takeoff in the Hudson River without loss of life, has echoed and backed Pierson’s concerns.
“Ed Pierson’s report is very disturbing, about manufacturing issues in the Boeing factories that go well beyond just the Max, and also affect… the previous version of the 737,”
“There are many critically important unanswered questions that must be answered. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must finally become more transparent, and begin to provide information and data, so that independent experts can determine the worthiness of the work that’s been done.”Sully Sullenberger
Boeing and the FAA have been quick to dismiss Pierson’s claims, stating methodical reviews have already been carried out. The FAA insists that investigations found “no evidence” that production flaws played a part in the two fatal crashes of the Boeing 737-MAX, which claimed 346 lives, despite clear evidence to systems failures.
Huge Pressure On Europe
Patrick Ky, the head of Europe’s EASA, which is in charge of aviation safety is now in a highly unenviable position. Last week, Ky stated the 737-MAX would be cleared to fly in Europe as of this week, and that decision appears to be affirmed. Ky responded to the claims stating the EASA looked into whistleblower accounts.
Pierson’s paper was published just a day after Ky’s initial certification announcement, and such allegations would be hard to ignore in the current climate. It’s unclear how many of Pierson’s allegations could’ve been reviewed in depth since the publishing last week and the re-certification this week.
At the very minimum, the allegation command a transparent look into the EASA and FAA recertification processes, and whether sign offs have been carried out on the specific systems and issues raised by Pierson. If they were not a part of the focus, it would seem very difficult to go ahead and give a final green light until more is known.
There’s certainly less pressure to rush planes back into the sky, with most of Europe in strict lockdown. If the EASA were to delay re-certification, or to ultimately request more fixes, it would become quite a ‘pants pulled down’ moment for both the United States FAA and Boeing, which have almost collaboratively launched an “all clear” campaign.
The EASA already expressed discontent with the FAA, when stating it would no longer necessarily rely on the findings of the FAA when conducting any new certifications. In previous years, efforts were made to encourage interdependence between the two, to reduce time and costs in getting planes in the air. It basically asked the agencies to trust each others work.
We’ll update this story as Europe continues its recertification process of the 737-MAX. In the meantime, there are plenty of handy tips for avoiding the 737-MAX entirely.