Will Hutton Completely Misunderstands The Boeing 737 Max Problem

That many people do not understand complex technological points is obviously correct. Engineers get paid lots for a reason, this really is rocket science. This restriction to the talking being done by those who know what they’re spouting about does not, of course, apply in the fields of politics nor rhetoric. Which gives us Will Hutton, as ever that one man argument against political technocracy. It might be possible that the mandarins running the world for us will make it a better place but not if Will Hutton is one of them it won’t.

Willy wants to tell us that the Boeing 737 Max problem is all because Boeing has too much power to regulate itself, government doesn’t impose upon it enough. The example being:

The story begins in 2011. Europe’s new Airbus 320neo, with its superb fuel efficiency and low operating costs, had picked up 667 orders at the Paris air show, a record for a commercial aircraft. Worse, American Airlines had done the unthinkable: it had ordered 130 of the new Airbus and 130 of the older one. Boeing’s relationship with American was foundational: it could always rely on the airline for its bedrock business, an insider, all-American affair. Now American had dared to buy European in unprecedented volumes: it was a competitive necessity to match rival airlines. Boeing had to respond. But instead of developing a whole new plane that could carry heavier, fuel-efficient engines, it made the fateful decision to bolt them on to a variant of its 737 series. Since the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the key to safe flying has been to organise the pitch of the plane so that its aerodynamics work to prevent stalling, a complex interrelationship between the angle and shape of wings, the distribution of weight and the power of the engines. If you intend to use a heavier, more fuel-efficient engine, it will throw everything out of kilter. Essentially, you have to design a new plane.

See that? New engines, need a new airplane. And this was all in competition with the Airbus 320 neo. Hmm, OK. So, Willy, what does neo stand for? New engine option:

The Airbus A320neo family (neo for new engine option) is a development of the A320 family of narrow-body airliners produced by Airbus. The original family has been renamed A320ceo, for current engine option.

Now it may well be that Airbus did it better than Boeing did but there’s no conceptual difference here. Will Hutton is being an ass and isn’t that a surprise to us all?

In the world of aerospace, such judgment calls should have required an entire recertification process and verification by a third party. That did not happen.

It didn’t to the A 320 neo either:

The first flight of the neo occurred on 25 September 2014.[20] Its Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM geared turbofan (‘GTF’) engine was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration on 19 December 2014.[21] After 36 months, the A320neo and A321neo had flown around 4,000 hours for certification of the two powerplant versions.[22] This is about three-quarters of the certification effort of a new design.

Hutton is thus fundamentally wrong, isn’t he? Largely due to the manner in which he is speaking out of his fundament.

But, of course, this is Willy, of course there is more!

For decades, regulation in the US has been hamstrung by the libertarian charge that government is inefficient and always wrong, taxes are a coercive infringement of individual liberty, and regulation inhibits private sector dynamism. The Federal Aviation Authority has an enviable technical reputation, but over the past decade it has suffered from successive budget cuts and government shutdowns as the Republican party has waged war on federal spending and federal agencies.

From 2009 to 2019 the FAA budget has risen from $14.6 billion to $16.1 billion.

Only in WillyWorld is this a budget cut. The cretin.

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Dodgy GeezerDavid McCormackClimanQ46Rhoda Klapp Recent comment authors
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Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

The Air France Airbus loss seems to have been a similar problem to the B737Max one. One might think a backup routine would detect nose below the horizon with airspeed increasing and altitude reducing as probably a bad situation. (I’m still saying it’s software as a software change can fix it.)

Mark Hike
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Mark Hike

They are different issues even though the origin was similar (i.e. erroneous data reading). The Air France issue was that the automatic pilot was disabled after the erroneous input and the pilots didn’t handle it correctly. The Boeing issue was that the automatic control (MCAS) REACTED to the erroneous input and forced the plane despite pilot intervention.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Er….perhaps? In what sense do you think it was similar. They both hit the deck. They could both have avoided this if their pilots had done things differently. There the comparison ends. Flight 447 stalled in, while the two 737Max crashes flew straight in. The loss of Flight 447 was due to the automatic controls turning off when the pitot tubes iced up. But the junior pilot who was flying the plane was frightened, didn’t understand what that meant, and kept pulling back on the stick until the aircraft went into a stall from which it never recovered. The 737Max… Read more »

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Nose down, speed increasing towards the mach is fine at the right altitude but not at the wrong one. Especially if the MCAS thinks it is dealing with a stall, which it patently isn’t. With airliner g limits there’s a point at which you can’t recover without pulling the wings off. If you don’t consider that bad, well. I think it is at least worthy of an alarm. Oh, the incidents are similar because a bad input is causing software to make a wrong choice. As you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of a false reading the solution is to… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Where was the wrong choice on 447? There was no input out of spec, and the software behaved perfectly. it noted that the pitot tubes were iced up, that it could not obtain meaningful airspeed readings, and passed control to the pilot. As designed. If you’re interested, a major contribution to the Ethiopian Airlines crash was too many alarms confusing the pilots. Your comment about pulling wings off is patent exaggeration, and nothing whatsoever to do with the problem. The issue with a stall is angle of attack. The MCAS thought that was too high, because of a faulty sensor.… Read more »

literate3
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literate3

Technocracy and “Will Hutton” should not appear in the same sentence except as antonyms. He studied “Sociology and Economics” at Bristol and later “Business Adminstration” – no trace of technology

Judge
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Judge

$14.6 billion in 2009 equates to $17.2 billion in 2019 after inflation, so there has been a cut in real terms. Nothing to do with Willy’s argument, of course, and I wouldn’t claim to know which is the ‘correct’ number of billions to be spending on the FAA.

Jim Mooney
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Jim Mooney

You are making fun of a perfectly valid argument, which does not invalidate it. The sensors weren’t the problem. They tried a cheap software fix for a
Physical problem. The plane was misdesigned so it couldn’t fly level,
because it would have cost more to redesign the airframe properly for
the big new engines that unbalanced the body. And they even went cheap
on the software fix on training. It was all bean counters

thammond
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thammond

Yet hundreds of the new 737s fly level every day for much of the day (or did). Hundreds did not crash. This seems to be a particular problem at a particular time in a flight when the autopilot thinks the plane is stalling when it is not. Nothing to do with level flight at all.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Um. It is pretty clear now that it is a problem with the way the MCAS system handles the Angle of Attack data. When the AoA sensor goes wrong and thinks that the aircraft is stalling, it pushes the nose down, even if you are in level flight. Which means that eventually you hit the deck…

Matthias Penzlin
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Matthias Penzlin

Volkswagen was punished with 30 billion $, and nobody was directly hurt or suffered by it. (Attorney General: Mr. Schneidermann Judge: Charles Breyer) All clear? (regarding NOX: about 5.000 tons by the VW cheating, compared to 25.000.000 tons by thunderstroms) By the faulty constructed 737 MAX (inherent unstable when liftoff) over 340 people died. (they construced it in this way, not because it was impossible to do it in the right way, but only because it was cheaper to keep the body and placement of the airfoils und ‘stabilize’ it with software. Because a good examination authority would have concluded… Read more »

thammond
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thammond

Worse, the 737 and A320 share an engine option – the CFM International LEAP.

Q46
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Q46

… and more deaths attributable to the global warming scam and the ‘steps’ taken to stop Nature.

Q46
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Q46

Reading the comments below, I wonder why they are going to all the bother and expense of holding an air accident investigation, analysing the flight data recorders and issuing a report rather than merely consulting the omniscient geniuses herein. I’ll throw in my two pennorth. The airline flying the largest fleet of this variant the longest, is a USA domestic airline which has had no problems. The two airlines whose planes crashed have only a few and not for very long and from that part of the World not US nor Europe. I recall it was a similar case for… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Have you got data for the hours that American Airlines (which I presume you mean) has been flying the 737Max for? The first aircraft in service was only end of May 2017, and that was for a Malaysian airline. I suspect that they have been flying longest…

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

As far as I can tell, the 737Max is not unstable in normal flight, but at the limits of its flight envelope its controls can become difficult to operate effectively. This is, of course, more dangerous than a forgiving design, but only in a situation which should never be encountered in practice. The aircraft passed certification. The accidents are NOT occurring because the aircraft is unstable. They are occurring because a safety feature meant to assist in an extreme situation is functioning in error. And, importantly, because the pilot training does not cover this situation well, or even at all.… Read more »

thammond
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thammond

Hutton is just simplistically anti-American and pro-EU.

Esteban
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Esteban

Apart from the tech issues, Willy is making a classic mistake re: businesses and their callous disregard for the lives of their customers. Assume that Boeing (or its management) really only cares about $, no concern at all about morality, the value of human life, etc. They obviously look for the cheap solution to any problem in design to maximize profits, right – who cares if it’s risky? Except when planes crash it is rather expensive. Customers park the planes you’ve sold them, cancel or put new orders on hold, trial lawyers circle like sharks, you have to spend millions… Read more »

Climan
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Climan

This issue to me is really about engineering rather than Boeing. Engineering is one of the few professions where most practitioners are NOT in ultimate control, unlike for example medicine and science. Several years ago, frustrated with multiple cock-ups in an engineering project, I wrote these words as part of my resignation:

A formal set of rules is needed to prevent subversion of the Engineering Process by those with a purely cost or timescale agenda.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Alas, a formal set of rules simply adds the ability to game them to a manager’s repertoire…

David McCormack
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David McCormack

I’ve no axe to grind with either Tim or Willy and don’t wish to weigh in on the political charges made by either. But there is at least one fundamental difference between what Boeing did with the 787MAX and Airbus did with the 320neo. Due to it being two decades older than the 320 (i.e. from the era of small diameter, low-bypass engines), the basic 737 geometry has wings that sit much closer to the ground. Accommodating the much larger engines on the MAX meant having to position them significantly ahead of said wings. This altered the CoG so dramatically… Read more »