How Boeing Can Fix the 737 Max
Thanks to the two recent crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max, catastrophic problems within Boeing itself—as well as questions regarding the effectiveness of the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—have become a consistent topic of public concern. Although the 737 Max airplanes have all since been grounded, this is just the first step in a long process to get Boeing’s credibility back, and provide the safety needed to use the technology in place.
The cause of the crashes was found to be mainly the malfunction of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation system (MCAS) technology implemented on these new 737 Max aircrafts. The erroneous data coming from the sole angle of attack (AOA) sensor that the MCAS takes its information from caused the system to overreact and make the plane nosedive. While the 737 Max does happen to be equipped with two AOA sensors, the MCAS is only programmed to retrieve information from one at a time, which is highly problematic. It has proven to be quite unsafe to solely have one source of data for the MCAS, as failure of this source leads to a failure of the entire system and aircraft.
In order to get these planes airborne again, Boeing needs to begin by revamping the MCAS technology that put its aircrafts in such dangerous situations. By changing the technology to rely on both AOA sensors that the 737 Max is already equipped with, rather than only feeding information to MCAS from one of the sensors, Boeing can reduce the probability of a singular sensor failure resulting in an accident.
The two sensors will keep each other in check, as the MCAS will shut down if there is a large discrepancy between the readings from the sensors. This major software update will provide Boeing with the assurance that the MCAS is receiving the right information, as well as reacting correctly to this information, unless the unlikely situation where both sensors happen to fail occurs, and both output the same wrong information. In this case, the pilots will have to take over, maneuvering the aircraft to the correct angle, which is precisely what they tried to do in the two crashes. Despite their efforts, it was extremely difficult to override the system in these particular instances.
The new update to MCAS will allow for easy pilot maneuverability when it makes a substantial error, making sure there is a strong backup plan for this unlikely emergency scenario. This will provide peace of mind to pilots flying the 737 Max, as well as passengers on the aircrafts, who now know that their safety does not depend on a singular, error-prone source.
Written by William Turchetta, Edited by Devaansh Mahtani & Alexander Fleiss