Op-Ed: Deregulation strikes again – FAA, Boeing and 346 737 Max deaths

Posted Jul 27, 2019 by Paul Wallis
The Boeing 737 is a well-known design, used worldwide, and a natural choice for many airlines. When the 737 Max arrived, the FAA allowed Boeing to guide the management of the MCAS system which later caused crashes.
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX jets at the airport in Urumqi  China  in June
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX jets at the airport in Urumqi, China, in June
New revelations of a stunningly irresponsible but truly typical saga of deregulatory culture haven’t exactly impressed anyone. You can read the whole hideous saga in The New York Times, and it’s pretty comprehensively damning.
The MCAS system, identified as the culprit in the crashes, was basically rubber-stamped. A few seconds of saved bureaucratic time later killed hundreds of people. The tale of woe extends to not even telling pilots about how the new system operated and what to do when it malfunctioned.
The deregulation that killed so many
Sad to say, the story gets much worse, and much more dangerous, after the crashes and revelations. It’s amazing how monumentally unimpressive this story is. The FAA is responsible for air safety. Like public sector regulators worldwide, it suffers from the almost total ignorance of politicians.
Most politicians have no idea what the public sector is for, or why it’s necessary. Reading from the ancient political script, they talk about cutting red tape. Deregulation is the one and only acceptable mantra.
This idiotic cultural cliché allows any number of serious breaches of law, safety issues, pollution, food contamination, etc. worldwide. Deregulation has been the single biggest asset to the rise of global crime on all levels. It also helps to cause lots of deaths and suffering as deregulated sectors pull every trick they can get away with to make more money. Enforcement and compliance are barely tolerated, let alone carried out.
Ryanair says problems with Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft mean it will have to close bases
Ryanair says problems with Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft mean it will have to close bases
The 737 Max debacle was based entirely on the deregulation principle, in so many ways. In the case of the FAA, a clear path of deregulatory cultural failures led to many deaths, and a totally avoidable, seriously flawed, not to say downright obscene, outcome for Boeing. You’d think that would be bad enough. It’s worse.
Boeing has for decades been one of the leading manufacturers of top quality aircraft sold around the world. The 737 is a very popular plane. Just about everyone has flown in one or other models of this fundamentally good, practical design.
To follow the logic which led to the 737 Max, some points:
1. The 737 Max is a good example of the famous American phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Upgrades to aircraft are often necessary to update and replace outmoded systems and manage new performance dynamics.
2. However- Some systems are able to automatically manage flight performance. The MCAS system had the ability to push the plane downwards by 2.5 degrees, all on its own as a safety backup. This means MCAS can do some pretty drastic corrections in the air, which it did, killing a lot of people.
3. The basic 737 design didn’t have any serious stall safety issues to start with. Exactly why Boeing even felt the need to fix a non-existent problem with a very reliable plane is highly questionable. The actual risk of stall was minimal; 737s are pretty good all-round planes. All planes can stall, but if your design doesn’t have that problem, why “fix” it? How many 737s have actually had stall issues in flight? Can’t be many.
4. The major problem with “fly-by-wire” systems is that a lot of automatic systems cut in when the plane’s in trouble. That’s OK to a point, but when the pilots have no idea how to manage the situation, it can be lethal, and that’s the primary cause of the 737 crashes.
5. Excuses from the FAA for not regulating or handing over approval for core 737 systems included “added cost to Boeing”, “Boeing timelines” and similar non-excuses. It’s nothing to do with the FAA whether a manufacturer incurs costs. Safety is the ONLY issue.
The 737 Max obscenity, explained
The nice, smug deregulatory environment allowed Boeing to approve its own systems, without FAA oversight. The MCAS system was given the OK. Then for some mysterious reason the MCAS system receded from view in the information available to pilots. The MCAS system was downplayed to the point that it was considered a minor issue.
It was also downplayed to the point that pilots obviously didn’t know how to manage MCAS when it cut in. The company actually asked the FAA for permission to “remove mention of MCAS from the pilot’s manual”, according to The New York Times. So there was absolutely no chance of the pilots having any way of managing MCAS when things went wrong.
Boeing, meanwhile, simultaneously assumed that pilots would respond to the MCAS correction in 3 seconds…? They would respond to a serious flight issue with no information provided to them, in 3 seconds? Hardly needs to be explained, does it? The pilots couldn’t possibly have done anything, given 3 seconds or 3 years, about a system they knew nothing about.
The other questions - Why?
The tiresome American/UK “Oh you naughty corporation, have a few more billion, dearies” approach to regulation has been a saga of disasters since Reagan and Thatcher.
This is the outcome of deregulation for the 737 Max:
1. This “minor” system killed 346 people.
2. It destroyed the 737 Max as a model.
3. It single-handedly destroyed Boeing’s longstanding market credibility.
4. It has proven that the deregulatory approach simply cannot work on any level.
5. The FAA is now widely seen as a mediocre, ineffectual, and worse, quite unreliable agency in the most basic facets of its own operations.
Exactly why Boeing allowed its very high standards of production and design to slip to this extent is a question for the company. Why the company wants to lose so many billions with these piddling, petty tricks and shoddy shortcuts is a question for its shareholders.
Why the FAA wanted to delegate and deregulate itself to total failure is a question for the US government. Qualified experienced people did question multiple aspects of the 737 Max, and simply weren’t allowed to do their jobs. That’s the definition of an agency which is totally incompetent at its own most basic levels. If and when the US government ever becomes capable of understanding questions, let alone answering them, it’ll be a very interesting line of questioning. This agency has clearly failed at an apocalyptic level in the name of deregulation, and that’s apparently the current norm.
Imagine a scenario where a new system is fitted on to a plane and nobody has any idea what it will do. The solution is to not tell anyone and make sure the people who know how to analyze the system aren’t allowed to investigate. Now imagine the level of intellect of anyone who would create such a situation. Is that sufficient cause for alarm? You’re actually paying people to cause these disasters, morons.
Just one more question - Why everyone, including airlines affected by the 737 Max won’t mount a series of multi-billion dollar class actions against Boeing, the FAA and subcontractors is another question. The answer should be quite visible, pretty soon.