Months before Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed on its way to Nairobi, US-based pilots had reportedly expressed concerns about the Boeing 737 Max 8 to federal authorities, according to The Dallas Morning News. Sunday’s 737 Max 8 crash was the second since October 2018, when the same type of aircraft crashed in Indonesia, killing 189.
According to the Morning News, the complaints “reference problems with an autopilot system, and they all occurred during the ascent after takeoff. Many mentioned the plane suddenly nosing down.” As has been widely reported, the MCAS system on the plane (its anti-stall feature), has proven tricky for pilots to override. A malfunction of the Angle of Attack sensors, which track the plane’s pitch, can trigger the MCAS and force the nose of the plane to drop in order to prevent a stall.
One pilot described the continued use of the plane without proper training “unconscionable” due to the vast differences between this and previous 737 models. In response to the two crashes, the FAA released a statement, saying that their administration, “continues to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX.” Meanwhile, the pressure is mounting for 737 Max 8s to be grounded in the United States — especially with countries like China, Singapore, The Netherlands, the U.K., Iceland, Germany, and more halting flights on the equipment in and out of their airspace.
Is the panic warranted? While calls to ground all 737 Max 8s have come from both the Association of Flight Attendants and American Airlines flight attendants’ union, other aviation groups, such as American Airlines and the President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, support continuing to fly the aircraft, according to CBS News. The FAA has continued to insist that it has found “no systemic performance issues,” and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, along with her team, even flew on a 737 Max 8 from Austin to Washington, D.C., asserting there’s no need to ground any planes.
The Points Guy, Alan Diehl — a former safety investigator for the likes of the FAA and the U.S. Air Force and author of Air Safety Investigators: Using Science to Save Lives One Crash at a Time — wrote that, while Boeing made some serious missteps in introducing the new technology that likely caused the crashes, there’s no need to ground these planes. Diehl asserts that it’s just a matter of properly introducing pilots to the new technology. It’s worth noting however, that new training initiatives — so that overriding the computer becomes second nature to pilots — would require at least a temporary hiatus for airlines with 737 Max 8 fleets.