BOEING 737 max 8: A question of safety
Recently, there have been two major flight crashes which have shaken up the aviation industry. Last October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in Indonesia and in March, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed in Ethiopia. Both these crashes killed a total of 346 people, and astonishingly both tragedies involved the same aircraft model: the Boeing 737 Max 8.
Can it be written off as a sad and tragic coincidence? Unfortunately, for Boeing, I don’t think so.
The story begins with Boeing upgrading their aircraft with a new fuel efficient engine, in competition with Airbus. However, with the new engine in place, the airplane would take off at a slightly larger angle than it was supposed to. Instead of reengineering their aircraft, Boeing installed a software to automatically stabilise the aircraft and bring it to the right angle during take off. They called it the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
But what cost the lives of hundreds of people was the malfunction of MCAS. In both crashes after take off, the pilots struggled to gain altitude because MCAS was transmitting incorrect data and was misleading the plane to point towards the ground. MCAS overrode the pilot’s commands on the aircraft, giving the pilots no control at all as the plane nose-dived towards the ground. Reportedly, in the second plane crash with Ethiopian Airlines, the pilot was able to gain some control over the plane once MCAS took over, but it was too late to stabilise the plane as it hit an airspeed of 500 knots and crashed.
After these catastrophic incidents, all Boeing 737 Max 8 flight services are grounded for now. Boeing’s response to these crashes is to make the MCAS less aggressive and give the pilots training on how to control MCAS. However, I think that changing the software isn’t the solution everyone is looking for. It is a shortcut. A quick fix. Boeing should make the commitment to reengineer their aircraft and position their engines during take off as in the previous model.
I was rather disappointed (to put it mildly) to learn that Boeing covered up the reason why the plane crashed at first and did not try to fix the MCAS. Had there been adequate measures taken, the second crash could have easily been avoided. In modern times, this crash reminds us of the tragic incident of the Titanic, which was also “too big to crash”. In the Titanic, no one could even dream that it was going to sink, and similarly Boeing’s hot-selling plane crashed contrary to people’s beliefs. Ultimately, the whole tragic episode throws up the one question: what should we trust, Artificial Intelligence such as MCAS or humans? Until this is resolved sufficiently, the Aircraft industry and the world is left in a state of limbo.