Boeing battling intense global scrutiny
There were no survivors from the 737 MAX Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, but unlike the majority of such accidents, these two tragedies have far wider ramifications for the aviation industry. Read More » They draw attention to at least two aspects of airline operations that only have become evident in recent years.
Being first to market with a new jet used to be a winning formula for carriers striving to stay a step ahead of rivals. No more. Being a launch customer is proving to be a risky and costly business.
Two prime examples were the long delays in the introduction of the A380 and 787 Dreamliner. There were serious issues with lithium batteries igniting on the Dreamliner and later, problems with Rolls-Royce engines that forced the grounding of several of the type.
For Qantas, the dramatic engine explosion on a Qantas A380 not long after it took off from Singapore was caused by a poorly produced Rolls-Royce fuel pipe. Similar issues, this time with Pratt & Whitney engines on the new A321 neo, have again caused in-flight shutdowns and groundings.
The MAX was not so lucky. The Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents raised the question of whether the certification process, for both airframes and engines, is sufficient when aircraft operating technology is becoming more complicated than ever.
The second issue prompted by the MAX crashes is whether pilot training is keeping abreast with the cockpit of new model airliners. Clearly not enough attention has been given to conversion training for pilots on the MAX. They found themselves at a loss when new technology, to which they were not accustomed to or maybe did not know was available, misbehaved.
Following a number of incidents of pilots reacting wrongly when cockpit technology backfires, many training academies have adjusted their courses to ensure students learn to fly with the technology but also are properly trained to “fly the plane” without it.
As for the certification of aircraft, their systems and engines, no matter how thorough the ground and flight tests are, there are faults that won’t show up until these aircraft are operated under the pressure of day-to-day commercial flying. And then there is the regulatory issue. Exemplary standards must be maintained to ensure new aircraft types have undergone the testing necessary for safe flight. There is no harm in requiring new, higher levels of testing before these machines fly with passengers on board.
Associate editor and chief correspondent
Orient Aviation Media Group