Tag: Safety

Is Anyone Surprised by This?

Because I see the news that the Keystone Pipeline just had an oil spill of almost ½ million gallons to be profoundly unsurprising.

Trans Canada (or whatever the f%$# they are called these days) has a long history of spills and poor safety practices:

Approximately 383,000 gallons of crude oil have spilled into a North Dakota wetland this week in the latest leak from the Keystone Pipeline, further fueling long-standing opposition to plans for the pipeline network’s extension.

With about half an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of oil covering roughly half an acre, the leak is among the largest in the state, said Karl Rockeman, who directs the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality’s division of water quality. But the spill does not appear to pose an immediate threat to public health, he added, as people do not live nearby and the wetland is not a source of drinking water.

For environmental groups, though, the leak was further evidence that Canada-based pipeline owner TC Energy should not be allowed to build the controversial Keystone XL addition, which would stretch more than 1,000 miles from Alberta into the United States. The Trump administration approved the plan in 2017 after years of protests, but the project was blocked by a federal judge who called for further study on environmental impacts.

“With each one of these major spills that happens on the Keystone pipeline system, it becomes clearer and clearer that this is not safe,” said Doug Hayes, an attorney leading the Sierra Club’s work on Keystone XL. Critics worry about a similar mishap contaminating one of the hundreds of waterways along Keystone XL’s expected path, he said.

The 737 MAX Crisis is now Criminal

First, we have now learned that Boeing asked FAA suppress references to the MCAS from their training report and lied to the FAA, probably so that their marketers could claim that retraining was minimal:

Boeing’s MAX crisis deepened Friday with new controversy around an exchange of bantering texts between senior pilots that suggested Boeing knew as early as 2016 about the perils of a new flight-control system later implicated in two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.

The exchange of messages in 2016 between the two lead technical pilots on the Boeing 737 MAX program was released Friday after regulators blew up at the company for belatedly disclosing the matter. The messages reveal that the flight-control system, which two years later went haywire on the crashed flights, was behaving aggressively and strangely in the pilots’ simulator sessions.

In the exchange, one of the pilots states that given the behavior of the system, known as a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), he had unknowingly lied to the FAA about its capabilities.

“It’s running rampant in the sim on me,” 737 Chief Technical Pilot Mark Forkner wrote to Patrik Gustavsson, who would succeed him as chief technical pilot. “I’m levelling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like craxy. I’m like, WHAT?” (Spelling errors in the original.)

“Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious,” Forkner added.

The exchange shows that the aggressive behavior of MCAS was known to Boeing even ahead of flight testing, and that these top Boeing pilots were caught off guard by the system’s power.


The emails show how Forkner, though he had experienced this errant behavior of MCAS, later urged the FAA to keep information about the system out of pilot manuals and MAX training courses.


Boeing has known about the messages for many months. It provided the exchange in February — the month before the second crash in Ethiopia — to the Department of Justice, which had opened a criminal investigation into the development of the 737 MAX, according to a person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity about confidential legal proceedings.

However, Boeing only provided the messages on Thursday to the chief attorney for the Department of Transportation, the federal agency that includes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

That delay prompted FAA Administrator Steve Dickson to write a short, sharply worded letter to Muilenburg Friday, declaring, “I expect your explanation immediately regarding the content of this document and Boeing’s delay in disclosing the document to the safety regulator.”


“Are you OK with us removing all reference to MCAS from the FCOM (Flight Crew Operating Manual) and the training as we discussed, as it’s completely transparent to the flight crew and only operates WAY outside of the normal operating envelope,” Forkner wrote.

Having convinced the FAA of that, Forkner then traveled the world talking to foreign regulators also working to certify the MAX. On Nov. 3, 2016, he wrote an email to an FAA official, joking that he was “doing a bunch of traveling … jedi-mind tricking regulators into accepting the training that I got accepted by FAA.”

In a separate email to an FAA official in mid-January 2017 — two months after the text exchange when he had noted the “egregious” behavior of MCAS — Forkner suggests two changes to the “differences training” that pilots were to undergo in order to move from flying the prior 737 model to the MAX.

The first change was to delete a reference to MCAS.

Safety, schmafety, we have planes to sell.

If someone does not face criminal charges over this, something is profoundly wrong with our justice system.

Dead Man Walking

Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing has been removed as chairman of the board.

The official argument is that he needs to focus on immediate matters at hand, but this is clearly a warning as well as a preparation for his eventual removal:

Boeing Co.’s board stripped Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg of his dual role as chairman on Friday in an unexpected shake-up at the highest ranks of the company amid the prolonged crisis of its 737 MAX plane.

Boeing said it took the action to allow Mr. Muilenburg to focus on running the company as it returns the MAX fleet to service after it was grounded world-wide in March following two fatal crashes in less than five months.

The leadership change came hours after a panel or air-safety experts sharply criticized Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for missteps that led to the crashes, which killed all 346 people on flights in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The report has added to criticism in Washington, D.C., where lawmakers are considering potential changes to aviation oversight.

David Calhoun, a senior Blackstone Group Inc. executive who has been the board’s lead director, will become its chairman. The board has “full confidence in Dennis as CEO and believes this division of labor will enable maximum focus on running the business with the board playing an active oversight role,” Mr. Calhoun said in a statement.

This is clearly a warning shot across Muilenbugg’s bow, and it’s also setting him up as a skapegoat for the 737 MAX debacle.

I expect him to be out before New Years Day, 2021.

The 737 MAX Debacle is Driven by Profits Trumping Safety

It turns out that the predecessor system for MCAS, which was used on Boeing’s military tankers, was both less aggressive, and easier for the pilots to override.

So, why did Boeing create the clusterf%$# that crashed two planes?

The obvious answer is that Boeing has sold the MAX on not requiring pilot recertification, which is not an issue in the military market.

This was a deliberate choice by the suits:

Boeing Co. engineers working on a flight-control system for the 737 MAX omitted key safeguards that had been included in an earlier version of the same system used on a military tanker jet, people familiar with the matter said.

Accident investigators have implicated the system, known as MCAS, in two deadly crashes of the jetliner that killed a total of 346 people.

The engineers who created MCAS more than a decade ago for the military refueling plane designed the system to rely on inputs from multiple sensors and with limited power to move the tanker’s nose—which one person familiar with the design described as deliberate checks against the system acting erroneously or causing a pilot to lose control.

“It was a choice,” this person said. “You don’t want the solution to be worse than the initial problem.”

The MAX’s version of MCAS, however, relied on input from just one of the plane’s two sensors that measure the angle of the plane’s nose. The system also proved tougher for pilots to override. Investigators have implicated the system in the fatal nosedives of a Lion Air jet in October 2018 and of an Ethiopian Airlines MAX in March. Indonesia is expected to fault that MCAS design, in addition to U.S. oversight lapses and pilot missteps, in its final report on the Lion Air crash into the Java Sea, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Now, Boeing’s expected fix for the 737 MAX will make its MCAS more like the one used in the tanker, according to people familiar with the matter.


Boeing developed the MCAS for the military tanker around the early 2000s, another person familiar with the project said. The tanker was a military derivative of Boeing’s wide-body 767 commercial jet and included pods on its wings used for air-to-air refueling of fighters and other war planes. Those wing pods added lift and caused the tanker’s nose to pitch up in some flight conditions, risking the plane’s ability to meet Federal Aviation Administration safety requirements, people familiar with the matter said. So engineers devised MCAS software, which automatically pushes down the tanker’s nose if necessary, to comply with FAA standards, these people said.

In a key difference from the subsequent version of the system used on the MAX, the system on the tanker moves the plane’s horizontal stabilizer—the control surface perpendicular to the airplane’s tail—once per activation and not repeatedly, the person familiar with the tanker project said.

The tanker engineers also gave the system only limited power to nudge the plane’s nose down to ensure that pilots would be able to recover if it accidentally pushed the plane into a dive, said the person familiar with the tanker’s MCAS design. That meant MCAS had little authority over the stabilizer, which made it much easier for pilots to counteract.

The question raised is, “Why the disastrous changes in the system?”

This was keeping retraining to a minimum, and it killed people.

About the 737 MAX………

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has issued a report saying that FAA inspectors for the 737 MAX were not qualified:

A whistleblower has claimed America’s Federal Aviation Administration misled investigators checking whether FAA personnel were fully qualified to sign off Boeing 737 Max training standards.

A letter published by the US Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) claims that the FAA had contradicted itself in statements it made about air safety inspectors’ (ASIs’) qualifications and their competence to sign off crucial Boeing 737 Max training standards and materials.

Potentially, a whistleblower told the OSC – essentially a federal watchdog – 11 out of 17 ASIs working for the FAA’s Seattle-based Air Evaluation Group either did not have the right classroom training or the required on-the-job training to perform their duties correctly.

The allegations will pour fuel on the fire burning under Boeing’s 737 Max and its controversial MCAS software system, which was sneakily included in the new airliner in such a way that it could take control from the pilots in a way which wasn’t obvious to them to avoid a stall.

I think that recertification of the 737 MAX is going to be a lot more difficult than Boeing envisions, because neither the EU nor China are going to take the FAA’s word on this.

More Bad News for Boeing

Europe’s aviation safety agency, which is conducting its own independent review of Boeing’s grounded 737 MAX, is not satisfied with a key detail of Boeing’s fix to the jet. It wants Boeing to do more to improve the integrity of the sensors that failed on the two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people.

And it’s demanding that Boeing demonstrate in flight tests the stability of the MAX during extreme maneuvers, not only with Boeing’s newly updated flight-control system but also with that system switched off.


Boeing has publicly said it hopes for FAA clearance for the MAX in October so that it can return to passenger service in the U.S. this year.

Typically, overseas regulators follow the FAA’s lead. But after the MAX crashes revealed shortcomings in the FAA’s certification process, that’s no longer certain.

One of Ky’s slides cited a letter EASA sent to the FAA on April 1, less than three weeks after the MAX was grounded, that laid out four conditions for it to allow the MAX to return to service.

The first condition stipulated is, “Design changes proposed by Boeing are EASA approved (no delegation to FAA).”

The second is that EASA complete an “additional and broader independent review” of the aircraft, beyond the specific design changes to the flight-control system that went haywire on the crash flights.


Although Boeing has updated MCAS so that it now takes input from both Angle of Attack sensors on the MAX instead of only one, and won’t operate if they disagree, Ky indicated EASA finds this insufficient.

I would note that in order to meet the EU requirements, Boeing will have to make physical changes to the aircraft to change its aerodynamics, which is exactly what they were trying avoid through the MCAS system in the first place.

Boeing is in a world of hurt in the best case scenario.

Airbus and Boeing Juxtaposed

It turns out that much like its 737 MAX counterpart, the Airbus A321 NEO also has a pitch up issue.

There is an important difference though, Airbus actually spent the money to make sure that was well tested and thoroughly redundant, while Boeing did it on the cheap:

The European Aviation Safety Agency EASA has issued an Air Worthiness Directive (AD) to instruct operators of the Airbus A321neo of a Pitch instability issue.

EASA writes “excessive pitch attitude can occur in certain conditions and during specific manoeuvres. This condition, if not corrected, could result in reduced control of the aeroplane.

We analyze how this is similar or different to the Boeing 737 MAX pitch instability issues.


As the AD does not apply to the in-service A320neo, the issue must not be connected to the pitch instability which comes as a natural consequence of mounting the larger neo engines on the A320 series. It can be restricted to how the A321neo version of the ELACs handles the aircraft’s controls in an excessive pitch up condition.

Since publishing the article Airbus has provided us the following information:

The issue is an A321neo landing configuration at extreme aft CG conditions and below 100ft only issue, discovered by Airbus and reported to AESA. Violent maneuvers in for instance a go-around in these conditions can cause a pitch up which the pilots can counteract using their side-sticks. No FBW nose downs or similar is commanded, it’s just the FBW doesn’t neutralize the pitch-up (like FBW using the Airbus style flight laws are supposed to do), the pilots have to do it. Airbus has assisted AESA in issuing the AD which restricts the aft CG used in operational landings until the ELAC software is updated.

Our comment: The Airbus information explains why the issue is limited to the A321neo. The A321 has a different flap configuration than the A320/A319, giving a more nose-down approach angle (a lift curve with a transposed AoA vs. lift range). It seems this difference can set the condition for the pitch-up which the FBW at this point does not compensate for. The Pilots have to do it. The FBW will take away this pitch-up in a FBW software release available 3Q2020.


Like the 737 MAX, the A319/320/321neos are affected by the mounting of larger engines with their larger nacelles ahead of the center of gravity, Figure 1.

Figure 1. A321 shown on top of A321neo. The larger engine nacelles are marked with a violet color. Source: Airbus and Leeham Co.


There are several takeaways from the above:

  • As we have written in the MAX articles, pitch instabilities in certain parts of an airliner’s wide flight envelope are common.
  • It comes down to how these are addressed to produce a safe aircraft. In the case of the MAX and A320, software-based control logic is used, controlling the movements of the horizontal stabilizer and elevator.
  • The key is how these controls are designed, tested and implemented.
  • The original MAX implementation was inacceptably badly done. It relied on a single sensor, commanded unnecessary repeated nose-down trim commands and didn’t have any global limitation on its authority.
  • The Airbus version for the A321neo has a solid implementation based on adequate hardware/software redundancy and relevant limitations on its authority. But it can be improved (see our Airbus update on cause and fix).

Similar problems, and in one case they aren’t killing people, because they aren’t letting finance and marketing drive basic engineering decisions.

Yeah, That Will Help

You remember how Comcast re-branded itself as Xfinity, and suddenly all their problems with people hating them and their horrible service went away?

Yeah, me neither, but it appears that Boeing thinks that this it might work for their 737 Max aircraft.

I think that they really do not understand the gravity of their problem:

Boeing Co. is open to dropping the “Max” branding for its latest 737 jetliner, depending on an assessment of consumer and airline responses to an aircraft name that’s been tarnished by two fatal crashes and a three-month grounding.

“I’d say we’re being open-minded to all the input we get,” Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith said Monday in an interview on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show. “We’re committed to doing what we need to do to restore it. If that means changing the brand to restore it, then we’ll address that. If it doesn’t, we’ll address whatever is a high priority.”

For now, executives insist they have no immediate plans to drop the Max name for something less associated with tragedy, such as the product numbers that marked earlier generations of the company’s best-selling aircraft. A name change would be a retreat for the planemaker, which has worked hard to capture the imagination of travelers with monikers such as Max and Dreamliner, as the 787 is called.

Clearly, inadvertently programming your airplanes to become implacable death machines is not your problem, it is all just a f%$#ing branding problem.

We need to burn down every business school in the nation.

Something Is Very Wrong

It looks like Boeing altered changed the operation of trim and autopilot switches in the 737 MAX for no discernible reason.

This makes no sense, which leads me to believe that, somehow or other, this was driven by some sort of bizarre business case:

In the middle of Boeing 737 cockpits, sitting between the pilot seats, are two toggle switches that can immediately shut off power to the systems that control the angle of the plane’s horizontal tail.

Those switches are critical in the event a malfunction causes movements that the pilots don’t want. And Boeing sees the toggles as a vital backstop to a new safety system on the 737 MAX – the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) – which is suspected of repeatedly moving the horizontal tails on the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights that crashed and killed a total of 346 people.

But as Boeing was transitioning from its 737 NG model to the 737 MAX, the company altered the labeling and the purpose of those two switches. The functionality of the switches became more restrictive on the MAX than on previous models, closing out an option that could conceivably have helped the pilots in the Ethiopian Airlines flight regain control.

Boeing declined to detail the specific functionality of the two switches. But after obtaining and reviewing flight manual documents, The Seattle Times found that the left switch on the 737 NG model is capable of deactivating the buttons on the yoke that pilots regularly press with their thumb to control the horizontal stabilizer. The right switch on the 737 NG was labeled “AUTO PILOT” and is capable of deactivating just the automated controls of the stabilizer.

On the newer 737 MAX, according to documents reviewed by The Times, those two switches were changed to perform the same function – flipping either one of them would turn off all electric controls of the stabilizer. That means there is no longer an option to turn off automated functions – such as MCAS – without also turning off the thumb buttons the pilots would normally use to control the stabilizer.

Peter Lemme, a former Boeing flight-controls engineer who has been closely scrutinizing the MAX design and first raised questions about the switches on his blog, said he doesn’t understand why Boeing abandoned the old setup. He said if the company had maintained the switch design from the 737 NG, Boeing could have instructed pilots after the Lion Air crash last year to simply flip the “AUTO PILOT” switch to deactivate MCAS and continue flying with the normal trim buttons on the control wheel. He said that would have saved the Ethiopian Airlines plane and the 157 people on board.


Lemme said he’s surprised that Boeing made the change to take away the functionality that could have allowed the pilots to shut off MCAS without shutting off the electric switches at their thumbs.

“I don’t get it at all,” Lemme said. “I don’t see what the benefit was for making that change. It was like change for change’s sake.”

Seriously, what the F%$# were they thinking?

Look Out Below

Boeing, signalling what might be an extended grounding, has announced that it is curtailing production of the 737 MAX:

Boeing’s decision Friday to reduce the production rate on the 737 MAX was a surprise in timing and scope.

This came so quickly and was steep, cutting production from 52 MAXes per month to 42. It comes on the heals [sic] that a second software problem was found, delaying submission of the MCAS software upgrade to the FAA for review and approval.

The production rate cut is effective in mid-April. This is lightning speed in this industry, where rate breaks, as changes are called, typically have 12-18 month lead times.

Boeing hasn’t announced what the second software problem is. LNA is told it is the interface between the MCAS upgrade and the Flight Control System, but specifics are lacking.

LNA interprets these combined events as indicative the MAX will be ground well past the Paris Air Show in June.

The impact to Boeing is going to be huge: customer compensation, deferred revenue, lost revenue, potentially canceled orders and potential lost orders in sales campaigns. The hit to the Boeing brand and impacts of multiple investigations won’t become clear for months to come.

Also, we are seeing airlines scrambling to lease aircraft to replace their grounded MAX airliners.

Boeing is in a world of hurt.

I’m Not Sure that Boeing Can Make Aircraft Anymore

It now appears that the Ethiopian Air pilots followed Boeing’s protocols for dealing with a runaway trim and that the system still drove the aircraft into the ground:

The pilots of Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302 apparently followed the proper steps to shut down an errant flight control system as they struggled to regain control of the 737 MAX aircraft shortly after takeoff. But according to multiple reports, data from the ill-fated aircraft’s flight recorder revealed that the anti-stall feature of the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was triggered at least three times—and at least one time after the pilots followed the correct steps to shut it down.

Both Reuters and The Wall Street Journal report that the air crew followed procedures laid out by Boeing following the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX in October, according to officials briefed on the initial findings of the investigation. But the pilots failed to regain control of the system, and the MCAS was reactivated again—triggering yet another automated correction of the aircraft’s stabilizers that would have pushed the nose of the plane down.


To prevent the MCAS from continually pushing the nose down in the event of bad sensor data or some other software failure, Boeing instructed pilots to deactivate the system using procedures already in place for dealing with runaway stabilizer control systems in other 737 aircraft—flipping two stabilizer trim “cutout” switches to the “cutout” position. Failure to do so could result in the system pushing the stabilizers to their movement limit—putting the aircraft into a steep dive. The pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines flight did flip the cutout switches, and they cranked the controls to attempt to regain positive stabilizer control. But they continued to have difficulty controlling the aircraft.

It is not clear at this point whether the pilots purposely reactivated the MCAS’ stabilizer control or if the software reactivated on its own after shutdown. While a Wall Street Journal source said that it appeared the pilots turned the system back on in hopes of regaining control over the stabilizers, Reuters reports that the software may have reactivated without human intervention, and further investigations of that possibility are ongoing.


If the air crew did follow Boeing’s instructions on recovering from an MCAS system failure, the information emerging from the Ethiopian Airlines crash investigation raises more questions about Boeing’s response to the Lion Air crash five months earlier and the Federal Aviation Administration’s review of that response.

Every time we get more information on MCAS and the crashes, it just gets worse and worse, and now it seems that there are some very basic problems on their factory floor, as the Air Force has paused deliveries of the KC-46 tanker because of problems with foreign objects being found in delivered aircraft.

Seriously, that is aircraft building 101:  Don’t leave sh%$ in a plane when it rolls off the production line:

The Air Force has stopped accepting deliveries of Boeing Co.’s new refueling tanker aircraft for the second time in a month because of debris found in closed compartments, according to Secretary Heather Wilson.

The halt in deliveries of the KC-46A Pegasus is the latest issue to plague the $44 billion effort to create the first U.S.-built flying gas station for the Pentagon’s fleet since the KC-10A Extender in 1981.

“We actually stopped again,” Wilson said Tuesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Wilson told lawmakers that the Air Force found “foreign object debris” in closed compartments of the aircraft.

Elaborating on the trash left behind by workers, Wilson told the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee later in the day that it was a “manufacturing discipline” issue on the assembly line where “we saw a breakdown.”

“If you drop a wrench you have to find a wrench,” she said. “You have to wipe down surfaces so you don’t have pieces of aluminum that over time get in the midst of things and cause serious problems.”

Boeing has lost its way.

It has been relentlessly chasing MBA-think and over-inflated executive compensation, and making aircraft has become secondary.

I so hope that I am flying Airbus to Portland in June.

Boeing’s Problems Metastasize

I am sure that the operators of aircraft are going over their procedures and training as we speak:

Boeing’s 767-based tankers use a version of the pitch augmentation system that grounded the 737 Max 8 fleet, the manufacturer and U.S. Air Force officials say.

The disclosure provides a new data point in the unfolding story of how Boeing installed the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on the narrowbody airliner fleet.

Both the KC-767 and KC-46 fleets delivered to air forces in Italy, Japan and the U.S. rely on the MCAS to adjust for pitch trim changes during refueling operations.


By 2011, Boeing had already delivered KC-767s to Italy and Japan fitted with the first version of MCAS. The use of the system then spread as Boeing won the Air Force’s KC-46 contract in February and launched the 737 Max 8 in August. ………

The U.S. Air Force has launched a review of flight procedures for the KC-46, a spokeswoman says.

“The USAF does not fly the models of aircraft involved in the recent accidents, but we are taking this opportunity to exercise due diligence by reviewing our procedures and training as part of our normal and ongoing review process,” she says.


The 737 MAX Is Grounded

The U.S. FAA, relying on refined satellite tracking data and new physical evidence that more closely links two crashes of Boeing 737 MAX 8s, grounded Boeing’s newest narrowbody Mar. 13, with immediate effect.

The move ends three days of cascading groundings after the Mar. 10 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (ET302) accident, and leaves the world’s MAX fleet grounded.

“On Mar. 13, 2018, the investigation of the ET302 crash developed new information from the wreckage concerning the aircraft’s configuration just after takeoff that, taken together with newly refined data from satellite-based tracking of the aircraft’s flight path, indicates some similarities between the ET302 and [October 2018 Lion Air Flight] JT610 accidents that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed,” FAA said in its emergency order.

FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell, speaking to reporters after the order was released, made it clear that FAA made the decision to ground the aircraft. “The FAA is the safety authority for emergency airworthiness directives and orders,” he said. “FAA made the decision.”

After the EU grounded the aircraft in Europe, the FAA really had no choice.

Sucks to be Boeing Right Now

Boeing added new flight modes for the 737 MAX, and this was justified: The new engines are larger and further forward, and so they can induce a pitch up moment under certain circumstances.

With the recent crash in Ethiopia, facing flight operations bans in much of the world, the problem seems to be a business decision to minimize these changes when selling the plane to airlines, and minimie transition costs:

Has the world’s aviation community lost faith in the FAA? Country by country and airline by airline the past 48 hours have seen more than half the global 737 MAX fleet grounded in response to the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 on Sunday. Both Boeing and the FAA say it is still too soon to act; they lack confirmed and compelling data to determine the cause of the crash and any potential remediation efforts. But the world is not willing to wait.

China was first to act, a strong play given that the country is home to the largest active fleet of the type with 93 flying. Indonesia followed shortly thereafter. That country was already on edge with respect to the type, with the Lion Air crash the first hull loss for the MAX just months ago. Ethiopia joined as well, grounding the remaining four frames in its flag carrier’s fleet.

And many other countries, including all of the EU.

On Tuesday morning in Chicago, after half the world’s 737 MAX planes were grounded either by regulators or the airlines that operate them, Boeing issued an updated statement. It implies that the actions are premature, but acceptable as a response to local sentiment.

Safety is Boeing’s number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX. We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets. The United States Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators


In the meantime, a global revolt of sorts is calling both Boeing and the FAA’s judgement into question. Is the regulator effective or is it granting the companies it oversees too much control of the process? Can the manufacturers be trusted to place safety above profits? Can the regulators?

This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the willingness of the Agency to make tough regulatory calls that adversely affect businesses in the name of safety. And there is absolutely a balance that it must strike. Proving a negative – the plane will never crash – is impossible and there are very real costs with every ruling it makes. But a growing collection of nations believes that inaction by Boeing and the FAA is a mistake.

Gee, you think?

There has to be an MBA at the bottom of this.

Elon Musk Is Killing His Workers

But Hey, They Get Free Frozen Yogurt, So It’s All Good

Have you looked at the Tesla Motors safety record at their palant?

It is Charles Dickens work house bad:

When it comes to building cars in America, most big names have chosen to set up shop in rural states which carry a large presence of automaking production facilities, but not Tesla. Instead, the electric giant set up shop in Fremont, California where it relies on the work of an estimated 15,000 workers and contractors who make building its cars possible.

While the number of active workers may be more than any other manufacturer who produces cars in the US, Tesla has seemingly also discovered that more employees mean more risk to injury that needs to be stymied. In fact, data collected by Forbes shows that Tesla has accumulated more than three times the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations that its top 10 competitors amassed from 2014-2018.

A fish rots from the head, and Elon Musk does not give a flying f%$# in a rolling donut about his employees, or labor law, or settlements with the SEC, so this is not a surprise.

If you are thinking of buying a Tesla, remember that some literal blood probably went into is manufacture.

I’m With NASA on This

NASA has said that it is profoundly uncomfortable with man rating the SpaceX booster, because one of its core technologies, super-cooled propellants, would require that fuel be loaded when the astronauts are already in the capsule.

I agree.  Cooling LOX and kerosine well below their boiling point prior to loading does increase the total mass of fuel in the tank, but, because of thermal issues, this requires very fast loading immediately before launch, and as such is a menace:

When Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX were looking to make their Falcon 9 rocket even more powerful, they came up with a creative idea — keep the propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size, allowing them to pack more of it into the tanks.

But the approach comes with a major risk, according to some safety experts. At those extreme temperatures, the propellant would need to be loaded just before takeoff — while astronauts are aboard. An accident, or a spark, during this maneuver, known as “load-and-go,” could set off an explosion.

The proposal has raised alarms for members of Congress and NASA safety advisers as the agency and SpaceX prepare to launch humans into orbit as early as this year. One watchdog group labeled load-and-go a “potential safety risk.” A NASA advisory group warned in a letter that the method was “contrary to booster safety criteria that has been in place for over 50 years.”

Concerns at NASA over the astronauts’ safety hit a high point when, in September 2016, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blew up while it was being fueled ahead of an engine test. No one was hurt, but the payload, a multimillion-dollar satellite, was lost. The question on many people’s minds at NASA instantly became: What if astronauts were on board?

The fueling issue is emerging as a point of tension between the safety-obsessed space agency and the maverick company run by Musk, a tech entrepreneur who is well known for his flair for the dramatic and for pushing boundaries of rocket science.

he concerns from some at NASA are shared by others. John Mulholland, who oversees Boeing’s contract to fly astronauts to the International Space Station and once worked on the space shuttle, said load-and-go fueling was rejected by NASA in the past because “we never could get comfortable with the safety risks that you would take with that approach. When you’re loading densified propellants, it is not an inherently stable situation.

(emphasis mine)

Think about Autopilot.

Also notice the next bit:

SpaceX supporters say tradition and old ways of thinking can be the enemy of innovation and thwart efforts to open the frontier of space.

Greg Autry, a business professor at the University of Southern California, said the load-and-go procedures were a heated issue when he served on Trump’s NASA transition team.

Note that Musk, and the rest of the “eBay Mafia”, made their fortunes by exploiting an area of regulatory forbearance, which allowed them to operate without the (expensive) consumer protections that banks were required.

And note that Greg Autry, is a f%$#ing Business Professor talking about literal rocket science.

Launching unmanned payloads is not as much of an issue, because if Musk attempts to launch something unreliable, the insurance industry will price it into their premiums.

This is not possible with a life on the line.

I would note that even with the NASA safety standard of 1 in every 270 flights with a death, it means that you have a 50% chance of death after 186 flights, and this is what the dotcom and the business types find to be an insufficiently risk-taking culture.

Seriously, this is not ordering shoes online.

One Setback from Being a Bond Villain

You may recall that roughly a month ago, Tesla was kicked off the NTSB investigation of its fatal “autopilot” crash for issuing self serving pres releases, which the NTSB frowns upon.

Well, it can now be revealed that when the NTSB called Elon Musk, he hung up on them.

I am a firm believer that a leader needs to be receptive to criticism and differences of opinion.

William Durant, founder of General Motors, famously would defer major decisions if there was no opposition, on the theory that the lack of dissent meant that there had not been enough consideration of the downside.

Elon Musk clearly has some problems:

On April 11, Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, called Tesla CEO Elon Musk to tell him that the federal agency was taking the unusual step of removing the company from its investigation into a fatal March 2018 Tesla X crash in California.

Now, as Bloomberg reports, Sumwalt says that Musk abruptly ended the call, according to remarks that the safety official gave before the Society of Air Safety Investigators’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter dinner on Thursday.

“Best I remember, he hung up on us,” Sumwalt said.

In a short email sent to Ars, Christopher T. O’Neil, the NTSB’s chief of media relations, confirmed Bloomberg‘s description of the call.

“The account of the Chairman’s remarks is accurate,” O’Neil wrote.


On April 12, the NTSB formally removed Tesla as a party to the investigation into the crash.

“The NTSB took this action because Tesla violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB,” the agency wrote. “Such releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the traveling public.”

For its part, Tesla said, in fact, that it withdrew before being booted out of the investigation.

A spokesperson even said that the NTSB was “more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety.”

No Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Die

I am not explicitly stating that Elon Musk has a screw loose, but I am saying that we should be very concerned if he buys a white Persian cat.

And for the next Trick, United Airlines Will Boil a Baby

I wish that I was joking:

While aboard a grounded flight destined for Texas, a Colorado mother said she thought her son was going to die in her arms as temperatures in the cabin spiked.

Emily France’s 4-month-old son Owen had to be hospitalized after overheating on a United flight waiting to depart Denver International Airport.

France and Owen boarded United Airlines flight 4644 around 1:20 p.m. on Thursday, expecting to take off thirty minutes later.

While sitting in her assigned seat at the rear of the plane, France said the cabin was already noticeably hot. 

After the flight was delayed due to re-fueling and a reroute caused by bad weather, France told the Post she tried to cool her son using wet wipes. Eventually flight attendants brought France and another mother ice to press against their children’s bodies.

France was allowed to exit the aircraft for approximately 20 minutes, according to the Post, but was then asked to return for takeoff. Once back on board, the plane pushed away from the gate, but with temperatures still sweltering, things continued to worsen.

“His whole body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head and he was screaming,” France told the paper. “And then he went limp in my arms. It was the worst moment of my life.”

France told the Post that she and other passengers begged to return to the gate, but ground and air crews seemed to be debating how to best handle the situation.

“This should never have happened,” United Airlines said in a statement to NBC News. “We are profoundly sorry to our customer and her child for the experience they endured. We are actively looking into what happened to prevent this from occurring again.”

They could have let people off the plane while they were waiting.

They could have turned on the APU to supply some cooling.

If the APU was not working, they could have cooled off the plane with a start cart.

They did none of these things, because  ……… United Airlines.

“Friendly Skies,” is grammatically correct irony.

Good Point………

Chris Dillow makes a very good point, that the fire at the Grenfill highlights an important point, that politics is actually a life and death, and not a chummy sporting event where civility is prized above all else.
While I disagree that with Mr. Dillow’s hope that this tragedy will lead to a change in politics is viewed by our politicians and pundits, he is right about the reality of politics.

This sh%$ is real:

There’s one aspect of the Grenfell catastrophe that is perhaps under-appreciated – that it should finally kill off what is perhaps the dominant conception of politics in the media.

I’m thinking here of the idea that politics is an Oxford Union-style game. There’s jockeying for position, gossip and backbiting in which (over)-confidence, fluency and a particular conception of “credibility” are prized above all, but the game is mostly among jolly good chaps. And it’s a low-stakes one. The worst crime is to conduct a “car crash” interview, and the losers retire to spend more time with their trust funds and sinecures.

We see this idea of politics in the matey undertow between presenters such as John Pienaar and Andrew Neil and their narrow roster of guests; the idea that politics is something that only happens in Westminster; the ostracism and patronizing of those whose class, gender or ethnicity excludes them from the game, such as John Prescott, Angela Rayner and Diane Abbott; and the popularity of Boris Johnson, the epitome of Oxford Union politics. One reason why John McDonnell is so hated is that he sees that politics is not just a debating game.

This idea of politics is, though, a lie. The truth is that politics has always been a matter of life and death – especially (though not only) for the worst off.

For me, one of the most memorable political exchanges of the 1980s was when a heckler shouted to Neil Kinnock that Thatcher had “showed guts”, to which Kinnock replied: “It’s a pity others had to leave theirs on the ground at Goose Green to prove it.” That retort caused outrage because it reminded the political class of the nasty fact that political decisions, rightly or wrongly, have lethal consequences.


Herein lies my hope. Grenfell might – just might – be a turning point. It shows that politics can no longer be seen as a debating game from which the poor are excluded. It must instead become a serious matter which has life and death consequences, in which the interests and voices of the worst off are finally given full value, and in which there’s no place for childish games.

I hopes that this horrific event will lead the political class, will take politics more seriously as a result.

I despair of this ever happening.

This is a Feature, Not a Bug

Over at Bloomberg, we have a bit of history which describes how US Chipmakers dealt with the toxicity of their manufacturing processes by moving overseas, where they could harm brown people and no one would care:

Results in epidemiology often are equivocal, and money can cloud science (see: tobacco companies vs. cancer researchers). Clear-cut cases are rare. Yet just such a case showed up one day in 1984 in the office of Harris Pastides, a recently appointed associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


SIA, representing International Business Machines Corp., Intel Corp., and about a dozen other top technology companies, established a task force, and its experts flew to Windsor Locks, Conn., to meet Pastides at a hotel near Bradley International Airport. It was Super Bowl Sunday, January 1987. “That was a day I remember being at a tribunal,” Pastides says. The atmosphere “bordered on hostility. I remember being shellshocked.” Soon after the meeting the panel formally concluded that the study contained “significant deficiencies,” according to internal SIA records. Nevertheless, facing public pressure, SIA’s member companies agreed to fund more research.


Pastides felt vindicated. More than that, he considered the entire episode one of the greatest successes in public-health history, as do others. Despite industry skepticism, three scientific studies led to changes that helped generations of women. “That’s almost a fairy tale in public health,” Pastides says.

Two decades later, the ending to the story looks like a different kind of tale. As semiconductor production shifted to less expensive countries, the industry’s promised fixes do not appear to have made the same journey, at least not in full. Confidential data reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek show that thousands of women and their unborn children continued to face potential exposure to the same toxins until at least 2015. Some are probably still being exposed today. Separate evidence shows the same reproductive-health effects also persisted across the decades.

The risks are exacerbated by secrecy—the industry may be using toxins that still haven’t been disclosed. This is the price paid by generations of women making the devices at the heart of the global economy.


Yet in virtually every study published since the 1990s, Kim read one form or other of the same phrase: The global semiconductor industry had phased out EGEs in the mid-1990s, signaling the end of reproductive-health concerns. The statements made sense. Not only had IBM and other companies publicly announced that the use of EGEs had been discontinued, but the chemicals also had become classified as Category 1 reproductive toxins under international standards, and European regulators had placed them on a list of the most highly toxic chemicals known to science, designating them Substances of Very High Concern.

Still, something nagged at Kim. In focus groups, young South Korean women working in chip plants told Kim’s colleagues it was not uncommon to go months, or even a year, without menstruating. (Some saw these potentially ominous changes to their reproductive systems as blessings, not warnings. It was just easier not to have periods.) As in the U.S., women dominated production jobs in South Korea’s microelectronics industry, which employs more than 120,000 of them, mostly of childbearing age; they’re often recruited right out of high school. Kim and a colleague decided they needed to conduct a new reproductive-health study. They faced a challenge, however, that Pastides and the other U.S. researchers hadn’t, at least on the front end: a lack of industry cooperation.

In 2013 they persuaded a member of South Korea’s parliament to pry loose national health-insurance data. They got five years of physician-reimbursement records through 2012 for women of childbearing age working at plants owned by the country’s three largest microelectronics companies: Samsung, SK Hynix, and LG. Samsung and SK Hynix accounted for the vast majority of women in the study, as the two have long been among the world’s largest chipmakers. The data covered an average of 38,000 women per year. From that number, the researchers looked at the records of those who had gone to doctors for miscarriages.

The results were both undeniable and shocking to Kim, just as they had been for Pastides almost three decades earlier. She found significantly elevated miscarriage rates and a rate for those in their 30s almost as high as in the U.S. factories. And the findings were conservative, because many women don’t go to the doctor for miscarriages, and because production workers couldn’t be separated in the study from those who worked in offices. “This was not the result I had expected,” Kim says.

As an aside here, this is another argument for single payer in some form, it creates a demographic database that is both available and universal that can be used to find problems like these.


After the outcry in the U.S. in the 1990s, chemical companies said they’d changed the formulations for the photoresists and other products they supplied to chipmakers, including those in Asia. But testing data obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek show that changes weren’t made quickly or, in some cases, completely.


Kim, the epidemiologist, says the secrecy of these settlements is a reason there was so little discussion for so long of the risks in chipmaking. “It was not published in academic papers,” she says. “Just some hidden settlements between the companies and some victims.”

Even today, the chipmakers themselves sometimes don’t know what they’re bringing into their facilities and exposing their workers to. That’s what SK Hynix discovered in 2015 after hiring a team of university scientists to assess the toxic risks in two of its plants.

Some of their results were made public in Korean, but many of the findings remain confidential. An extract of the research reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek shows scientists found that the plants used about 430 different chemical products each. These included more than 130 deemed to be dangerous enough that employees exposed to them must undergo special health checks; those chemicals are called CMR agents—shorthand for carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins. In addition to benzene and EGEs, they’ve historically included arsenic, hydrofluoric acid, and trichloroethylene.

The ability to directly or indirectly poison unsuspecting employees is one of the goals of globalization.  It’s all about labor and regulatory arbitrage, which is why promises of labor, safety, and environmental protections that we hear about whenever they want to push through a trade deal are empty.

Allowing the 1% to f%$# the rest of us is the goal of modern trade deals, so it’s no surprise that this is their actual effect.