In late October, Indonesia’s Lion Air experienced what no company in the industry wishes to suffer: one of their flights, a Boeing 737 Max, crashed into the sea, killing everyone onboard. But in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy, more fingers are pointing towards the manufacturer. This event could lead to a Boeing crisis.
On October 29th, Lion Air Flight 610 suffered a control malfunction shortly after takeoff. According to transportation investigators, the 737 Max nosed-down more than 20 times. During this time, the pilots unsuccessfully wrestled with the onboard computer. Approximately 13 minutes after takeoff, the plane ended up in the Java Sea, killing all 189 passengers and flight crew.
At the center of the controversy is the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS for short. Boeing installed this system for stall prevention. However, a sensor within the aircraft apparently malfunctioned, providing MCAS with inaccurate data. This caused the protective system to nose dive to prevent a stall that wasn’t occurring.
The rub is that Boeing failed to inform airliners that they installed the MCAS in the 737 Max, which is the latest version of the long-running 737 series. Lion Air alleged that unfamiliarity with the system ultimately caused the crash.
While Boeing doesn’t deny the MCAS was involved in the crash, it assigned blame on Lion Air’s flight crew and maintenance team. As a result, Lion Air threatened to cancel its order for $22 billion with Boeing.
Boeing has a PR Crisis on its Hands
For its defense, Boeing noted that one day prior to the fatal accident, the same airplane experienced a similar issue with the MCAS. Further, Lion Air’s maintenance team had installed a new sensor just prior to the October 28th flight.
Was the sensor defective? Or was the installation itself faulty? Investigators are still scouring through the evidence. But the fact is that the October 28th flight suffered a similar nose-down incident, but were able to correct it.
Rather than fight the onboard computer, the pilots completely switched off automatic controls and instead went full manual. That immediately stopped the nose-down behavior. More importantly for Boeing, this action represents standard emergency protocol.
Therefore, Boeing asserts that inexperienced pilots and pilot error contributed to the doomed flight. Additionally, Lion Air should have grounded the October 28th flight for further inspection.
These are fair points. However, if this situation escalates, I believe a Boeing crisis is inevitable. That’s because the overriding issue here is the manufacturer’s lack of communication. They didn’t inform airliners that they installed the MCAS for the 737 Max. According to several pilots associations, MCAS is not present on prior versions of the 737.
Essentially, Boeing relied upon other parties to correct a situation with the MCAS if one occurred. While the Flight 610 crew should have switched to manual mode, Boeing has an obligation to communicate their new system. You can’t just assume that all pilots will react in the same manner.
Indeed, we’re taught not to assume anything as it can result in undesirable consequences. In Boeing’s case, it killed hundreds of innocent lives. I’m afraid this is just the beginning of their troubles.