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    The danger of flying on Boeing 737 Max planes

    The danger of flying on Boeing 737 Max planes

    The danger of flying on Boeing 737 Max planes
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    By Captain A Ranganathan   IST (Updated)

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    Two fatal crashes of a brand new aircraft in the space of four months should raise the red flag sky high. European Union Aviation Safety Agency and aviation authorities of several countries have grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes and many have banned even flights into or out of their territory.

    Two fatal crashes of a brand new aircraft in the space of four months should raise the red flag sky high. European Union Aviation Safety Agency and aviation authorities of several countries have grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes and many have banned even flights into or out of their territory.
    God forbid, if an American had died in either of those crashes, US aviation regulator FAA would have leapt to ground these planes as it would face multiple lawsuits.
    In India, aviation regulator DGCA ordered the grounding of the Max with immediate effect on Tuesday. But low-cost airline Spicejet defied the order and operated flights with abandon. The incompetence of DGCA was exposed on Wednesday when it modified its order and stated that the grounding is effective from 1600hrs to help aircraft return to maintenance bases. The regulator should know better — that carrying passengers on such flights is playing with lives.
    Dangerous Design Flaw
    Meanwhile, the aircraft maker Boeing is soft-pedaling the issue for a dangerous design flaw. Unfortunately, FAA has silently helped the company in this dangerous venture by approving the Max as a single category as a B737NG. The engines on the Max are bigger and more powerful and they are located further ahead on the wings, the main reason for them to introduce the “Stealth” feature MCAS ( Manouvre Compensation Augmentation System). I am calling it Stealth as the Operations Manuals for pilots and Engineering manuals are silent on this feature.
    After the Lionair crash, Boeing came up with a procedure used for a Runaway Stabiliser, saying that the action would have stooped the rogue nose-down Stabiliser trim of the MCAS. The flaw started with erroneous Angle of Attack sensor indication, which gave a false input that the aircraft was beyond the stalling angle and the airspeed indication was unreliable. The pilot has to identify the correct failure from a strange system that created multiple failures.
    Modern aircraft systems are supposed to be designed with redundancy, and multiple failures were a thing of the past. Yet, Boeing, in order to keep the Max in the normal 737 category, has introduced unwritten features that are turning out to be dangerous.
    In the Lionair crash, the pilot struggled with flight control and airspeed problems from 3,000 ft onwards, ultimately ending up in a high speed /high rate of descent dive. All on board perished.
    In the Ethiopian airlines crash, it has happened from around 1300 ft above ground, again a high rate of descent dive into the ground, killing all on board. Two American pilots flying in the US had made voluntary safety reports that the aircraft went into a dive when the autopilot was engaged.
    Mocking Passenger Safety
    For Boeing to make a statement that the Max is a safe aircraft and it is being made safer is mocking passenger safety.
    We have had two pilots reporting aircraft going into a dive when autoflight was engaged. We have had two fatal crashes that killed more than 350 passengers. Lionair went into a steep dive from 5000 ft where the flaps were retracted and autopilot engaged.
    Ethiopian Airlines plunged from 1300 ft with flaps extended and in manual flight. Both pilots reported flight control malfunctions and wished to return to land. There appears to be a serious design flaw as well as a software malfunction if the MCAS and associated systems keep placing the aircraft into a steep dive at low altitudes.
    As the fatal crashes took place in an uninhabited area, the death toll was confined to those on board. If they were to happen in densely populated cities such as Mumbai or Delhi, the numbers will be in thousands. When DGCA and airlines speak of safety being paramount, it is not just those on board but also the collateral damage on the ground that has to be considered.
    Will basic sense and wisdom dawn on our authorities?
     
    Captain A Ranganathan is an aviation safety expert. The views are personal.
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