Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sufficient Evidence Is In For The FAA To Ground Boeing's 737 MAX 8 In U.S. Of A.

Image result for brane space, MAX 8"
Profile of a catastrophe: Using catastrophe theory, with ordinate denoting (g - L) or g force to attain takeoff, vs. L, load of plane. Abscissa denotes angle of attack which reaches "catastrophe" at 0.5 radians (About 28.6 deg.)  Before this (~ 27 deg) MAX 8 auto-correct system  (MCAS or similar) kicks in to drive nose downwards. If pilot does not disconnect and instead fights controls a series of perturbations (a o s,  b o s)  leads to cusp catastrophe.  Here a  denotes reaction of pilot to auto-control nose dip, and  denotes response of MCAS to a o . Generally, catastrophe occurs after 4 (= s) perturbations near critical angle (0.5 rad.)

"Two pilots reported their aircraft unexpectedly pitched nose down after engaging autopilot following departure. Another pilot reported a “temporary level off” triggered by the aircraft automation. The captain of a November 2018 flight called part of the aircraft’s flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

“The fact that this airplane requires such jury rigging to fly is a red flag,”  he wrote in a report to the federal Aviation Safety Reporting System. The captain added that part of the plane’s flight system is “not described in our Flight Manual.” -    From lead story 'From The Flight Manual To Automation, Why Pilots Have Complained About Boeing's 737 MAX 8'.  USAToday

The patter of PR from the FAA and its  Neoliberal enablers is that (WSJ today, p. A1):

"The investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions."

Which is utter bollocks, and indeed in the wake of Britain and EU nations now taking action, i.e.  in the  former not only grounding its own MAX 8 flights, but barring others (from other nations) from entering- is less and less cogent as an excuse.  Not to mention after the Chinese aviation authority explained their grounding decision - of their entire fleet of MAX 8 jetliners- was based not only on the Ethiopian crash that took 157 lives. It was also based on (ibid.):

 "previously unreported incidents in which Chinese 737 Max pilots received unreliable readings from sensors used to ensure the aircraft is flying at the correct angle."

Let us also quickly note the same dismissal -what I call "first world chauvinism"-   cannot be invoked here, i.e. "this is just a training and culture issue, ya know black and brown people lack proper experience and training.".  It can't because nearly all Chinese commercial pilots are former military jet aircraft pilots with thousands of hours experience in all manner of conditions, weather etc.  That the sensors gave "unreliable" readings is also extremely concerning given a correct response to incorrect readings could well trigger the computerized MCAS   ("Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System')  that was tagged in the earlier Lion Air crash.  It is almost certainly implicated in the Ethiopian crash as well, given the observed steep angle and  difficulty reported in vertical attitude control.  Which suggests a factor directly connected to the plane's "angle of attack".

Another aspect: both crashes occurred soon after take off, within minutes, when the aircraft  was trying to attain a proper lift and ascent angle. This is also the interval when other factors most directly come into play, namely the plane's load (total weight) , as well as g- forces and how these combine to either enable sufficient liftoff speed, or - possibly in the case of the Ethiopian crash --  create too slow a speed,  interpreted as a stall by the MCAS.  In this case, the MCAS will automatically kick in to aim the jet nose downwards and affect vertical stability. 

 It can also kick in if the pilot is manually flying the plane and sensors detect the nose of the plane is too high, i.e. the angle of attack is too great.  In such an event the nose of the plane is automatically pushed down.. It is interesting here that in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes the ends arrived in literal nose dives - one into the Java Sea, the other into land (leaving a crater).  This attests to the fact the MCAS was indeed responsible, for whatever reason.

Here is something to think about:  What if - as in the case of the Chinese pilots (who reported "unreliable readings from sensors") - the Ethiopian pilot beheld the sensors relaying  (mistakenly) that the angle of attack for takeoff as too low..  Then,  taking the sensors to be accurate, he attempted to correct the angle by manually pointing the nose upward?  Well, as noted before,  the MCAS would be triggered, forcing the nose downward.  The pilot at this point may panic, and make an even greater effort to force the nose upward - but be overridden by the MCAS.  (Most recent reporting in the WSJ (3/13, p. A13) disclosed that in fact Boeing since learned the Lion Air angle sensors gave incorrect readings. Hence, the pilot responding to such incorrect readings would have initiated a catastrophe such as depicted in the top graphic.)

 The observations of Col. Stephen Ganyard (USMC, Ret.) last night on ABC news, spoke to the tragic outcome: "What we know is that soon after takeoff the plane was porpoising, moving up and down'.

 The erratic motion described  indicates the pilot was definitely struggling for control, perhaps trying to keep the plane's nose up, even as the automated MCAS  kept driving the nose down - until the plane finally went into steep descent into the ground.    Rachel Maddow's exposure (last night, MSNBC) of a publicly accessible pilot database- where U.S. pilots report aircraft issues  - also blows the lid off the claim from the FAA that the problems are limited or not serious, see  e.g.


Indeed, the fact so many pilots reported vertical control issues is damned troubling, i.e. from one pilot: 

"On Day 3 of 3 departing in a MAX 8  after a long overnight I was well rested At departure we had strong cross winds directly off the right wing.  The aircraft accelerated normally and the Captain engaged the 'A' autopilot after reaching set speed.  Within 2 to 3 seconds the aircraft pitched nose down.  I called 'descending' just prior to the GPWS (safety system) sounding 'don't sink, don't sink'. The Captain immediately disconnected the autopilot and pitched into a climb.

The remainder of the flight was uneventful.  We discussed the departure at length and I reviewed in my mind our automation setup and flight profile but can't think of anything that would pitch nose down so aggressively."  

The pilot's report is chilling to say the least, because it evokes thoughts of what the Indonesian (Lion Air) pilot and Ethiopian pilot may also have confronted.  Some may then ask, "Why didn't they just disconnect the autopilot?"  Hold strain there.  One experienced American pilot on the NBC Evening News Monday night admitted he "might not remember"  to do that, especially in an emergency situation.

All of this suggests a major design flaw in the aircraft which - it is true - may only be manifested in 10 out of 10,000 flights. But even that is too many given we are now supposedly in an era of unrivaled safety for commercial aviation.  That is,  essentially zero crashes unless the piloting human goes "haywire" and acts to take the plane down himself. (The classic case was Andreas Lubitz, Germanwings pilot who crashed his jet into a mountain on Oct. 9, 2015.  A similar situation likely accounted for Malaysian Flight 370 which vanished in 2014.  Almost certainly one or both pilots deliberately flew the jet way out of its intended course - for whatever reason.)

 All of this is why the FAA is making a major error in not  immediately  following the advice of Sens. Diane Feinstein and Blumenthal to ground the jets   This is especially pertinent now as we learn European authorities have now grounded the planes, following earlier moves by aviation regulators in China, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia to prohibit the jets from flying. In all, more than half of the 737 Max 8 aircraft in the world have been pulled from use since an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed on Sunday, killing 157 people.

The one country holding back?   The United States.  Why? Because it doesn't give two shits about its citizens' safety, only profits from share prices. The WaPo reported Monday night Boeing asked the FAA not to ground planes because share prices would sink $5 billion or more.  There you have the reason in a nutshell for the FAA's refusal to act.

As with the case of privacy sharing of all our data, not to mention GMO foods, the Neoliberal narrative is that money matters over all else.  Citizen security and safety is a secondary issue, if that. Profits uber alles! This is in direct contradiction to the precautionary principle, i.e. it is the duty of the manufacturer to prove his product is safe, not for others to try prove it isn't.  Invoking this principle in good faith, the FAA as a genuine regulator invested first in public safety would ground all MAX 8 planes until the current investigation is complete.  By continuing to fly these planes despite the cumulative incidents (including the Chinese reports of inaccurate sensor readings) the FAA's actions border on the reckless and criminal.  

Ok, maybe we can only go so far as to assert myopic - i.e. seeing only monetary losses when one of the mandates for the establishment of the agency was:  making and enforcing safety policy.  However, the other was:  to "promote the business of aviation."  But as air travel specialist Peter Greenburg put it, "they can't do both". Indeed. So we see the agency bowing to Boeing's scare tactics pressure re: loss of share value, loss of profits.

This shtick is not too dissimilar from the FDA's when they agreed to corporate pressure (see '60 Minutes' and the interview with former FDA commissioner David Kessler)  to change the label on Oxycontin and other opioids (in 2000) from "use only short term" to "approved for long term use" e.g.

This  "opened the floodgates" to the opioid crisis (in Dr. Kessler's words).

Thus, in each case -  FAA and FDA  -  we behold federal agencies rendered captives to corporate powers.  This is likely on account of the revolving door between corporate lobbies and the agencies - with employees of the latter constantly moving to the former and back again.  At least Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to grasp the principle, as she said earlier today:

"The world has now witnessed the second tragic crash of one of these planes in less than six months. While we do not know the causes of these crashes, serious questions have been raised about whether these planes were pressed into service without additional pilot training in order to save money. Today, immediately, the F.A.A. needs to get these planes out of the sky.”

The UK civil  aviation authority also respects its citizens, as it announced as prelude to its grounding the planes:

"Given the similarity of the two accidents, it has been decided that as a precautionary measure that all” 737 MAX flights “should stop until appropriate safeguards are in place. This is needed to assure the  that the aircraft involved are fully compliant with internationally recognized standards.”

Look, if nearly 350 lives were lost to terror attacks on planes in two incidents the authorities would be on this like a ton of hot bricks. But since money is involved, they stonewall.

  We essentially KNOW the FAA will act  as well if there's another crash of the MAX 8, especially with an American- based airline.  But the question for many of us is: Why wait for that to happen?   Why not act now as a precautionary response, until  all the data come in?

Well, money is the answer, of course!  It's all about the Benjamins!

See also:


"Modern aviation is so incredibly safe, so to see two of the same types of new planes crash so close together should be concerning, if nothing else.
But at some point doesn’t the US (and to a lesser extent, Canada) come out of this looking ridiculous? Boeing is standing behind their plane. The FAA is standing behind Boeing. American and Canadian airlines are standing behind the plane. It’s the US and Canada against the world, it seems.
Are they actually 100% certain that there’s nothing systematically wrong with the 737 MAX, including the way pilots are trained to fly it? Do they think the concerns of every other relevant aviation authority in the world are unfounded? If they even have the slightest concern about the integrity of the plane, shouldn’t they put lives ahead of profits?"

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