What Fate Awaits Boeing's 737 MAX?
As of Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all passengers and crew, there were 350 Boeing 737 Max planes in operation around the world. Further showing its popularity, there were also another 4,661 planes on back order from Boeing. The original 737 was first produced in 1967 and there have been 9000 planes produced in its lifetime, making it the best selling commercial jetliner of all time.
As time has progressed Boeing has made multiple upgrades to its 737 line, with the Max only being its latest upgraded version. Boeing jets are very popular among pilots, with a famous phrase that has become well-known in the pilot world of "If it ain't Boeing, it ain't going." This clearly shows there is a lot of loyalty to the aircraft maker among pilots. However, there is a downside to these jets, they are more complicated to fly and require significant training to be comfortable using the complex and high tech design of the cockpit.
The amount of technology that exists in the Boeing 737 Max cockpit makes it a very safe and modern plane to fly for a trained pilot, but for a pilot that isn't properly trained with enough experience, it can become a death trap. Rebellion has interviewed a number of commercial pilots over the last 24 hours with general consensus being that the plane should not be grounded in the US, but should be grounded abroad. Pilots in the US undergo much more training and are required to have a greater number of hours of experience to fly. 1500 hours as of the 2013 FAA bill that was enacted after the Colgan Air crash in upstate New York.
According to the Times of India, the majority of 737 pilots are not trained on the 737 Max simulator. There are only a handful of the simulators currently in the world. For pilots in India, they must travel to Singapore for the closest simulator to train on. For the many 737 Max pilots who trained on just 737 simulators, they can not practice the specifics of the autopilot. Specifically, the anti-stall mechanism which automatically points the nose down when autopilot detects a lack of lift under the wings. Preliminary investigations from the Lion Air crash over the Java sea last fall indicate the pilots were incompetent at working with the anti stall mechanism and did not know how to disengage it. So right after takeoff the plane might have been forced into an anti-stall nose down position which put the plane into a plunge, as the pilots could not right the position.
Unfortunately for the European equivalent of the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency or EASA is an agency of the European Union with responsibility for civil aviation safety, it can not direct a specific training objective to pilots across the continent to upgrade their skills with the 737 Max, because currently the authorities are unsure what specific training is required. Is this more of a general skills and ability question or are there specific lessons to be learned to make the 737 Max safe for all to fly? Many pilots think it is simply an issue of learning how to fly with the 737 Max's advanced autopilot.
Written by Alexander Fleiss