#FAA

Slapping the FAA in the face

Since when did the POTUS become an expert on air safety? What is the point of the FAA if the occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue issues executive orders to ground planes the regulator has deemed airworthy?

The problem for the airlines is not so much the inconvenience of fleet reduction but the astronomical cost of storage. Planes are very brittle. It’s not like a car one puts on bricks in the garage when it won’t be used during the winter.

Planes require the fuel tanks to be full to prevent the risk of damage under the beating sun. The engines must be run everyday to prevent build up of foreign objects. The wheels must be rotated to prevent flat spotting the tyres. One plane sitting on a tarmac that an airline wants to return to service runs at $100,000/mth. Southwest has 31 and American 22. So between them $5m/mth will be wasted.

For Boeing, depending on how quickly this gets sorted, the supply chain which has lead times up to 9 months could create havoc with suppliers. With the 787 delays, things got so bad that some suppliers needed to be bailed out. It is unlikely to see a delay anywhere near the magnitude of the 787 but the disruption can have substantial side effects including lay offs.

Once again the planes are safe to fly without the AOA. It’s a 50 year old airframe with 1 billion hours under its belt. It’s a software issue. Adequate pilot training is all that is required to make it safe to fly.

Worst of all it’s a complete slap in the face for an organization with an exemplary record on air safety to be given a lesson by Trump. The FAA and NTSB take their roles incredibly seriously and the recommendations they have made after accidents has made flying today safer than ever. Bad call Mr President.

Fake News about Boeing’s CEO & Trump call

Business Insider has reported that the Boeing CEO Dennis Mullenberg pleaded with President Trump to prevent the MAX8 from being grounded. Here’s why the story is totally implausible:

1) the Boeing board would have Mullenberg’s head if he entertained the prospect of getting Trump to influence the regulator.

2) that would imply the FAA was susceptible to influence from outside forces. It is clearly not. No president would have the slightest say in the matter. As said in previous posts, the FAA has openly stated it is safe to fly without AOA activated.

3) Boeing has 4,800 outstanding orders for MAX8. Why would it run the risk of knowing it had a Ford Pinto to thrust some short term deliveries to pad its P&L while it knew more crashes were inevitable? Hardly a sensible marketing strategy. Boeing would panic more about losing 4,800 orders than delaying the delivery of 100 planes in coming months. Why run a greedy corporate narrative?

4) airlines can’t immediately switch to Airbus A320s as they’d join the end of the queue of the 4,000 outstanding orders. Moreover airlines can’t switch pilots from B737 to A320 on a whim. Airlines can’t wait 6 years for deliveries.

Boeing spokespeople said clearly it was a call to reassure safety. That’s a basic given. Why try to even make up a story about suggesting Trump and Mullenberg were involved in a conspiracy? More TDS. Shameless.

Boeing 737 MAX-8 piñatas

The loss of life through any accident is tragic. Make no mistake. Yet if aviation authorities (AA) across the world were truly worried about the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX-8 they’d have grounded it after accident #1 when they’d learnt about the faulty AOA sensor issue. They could have issued Boeing with an immediate action to fix it. They didn’t. Just let the FAA do its work and adopted its resolutions. Now it appears they’ve merely followed the followers. It is as if they’ve felt social media pressure to cover their behind so as not be the last AA do so. It’s irrational. Think of it as aviation piñatas. Bashing with a blindfold.

China was the first to ground the plane. The stunt was in part a trade related issue because the FAA airworthiness directive wasn’t just issued inside a cornflakes packet and as the strictest aviation authority should carry weight. The FAA has said the evidence is not broad enough to justify a ban.

Having been a former aerospace analyst, this is the first time in a very long time CM can remember that a virtual global ban was put on any aircraft type. When Qantas flight QF32 (an Airbus A380) had an uncontained engine failure which ruptured the wing tanks and severing hydraulics, the airlines grounded their own planes as a safety measure, not the authorities. Singapore Airlines suspended its A380 flights for one day before resuming operations.

When AA587 crashed in Queens after the tail and engines sheared off, Airbus A300s weren’t summarily grounded. When AF447 crashed into the ocean off Brazil, A330s weren’t grounded as a precaution.

The Boeing 737-400 series had inert fuel tank issues where near empty scenarios could cause the vapor to ignite in the centre tank and lead to a deadly explosion. Several did explode. Some in the air. Some on the tarmac. These planes weren’t grounded. World aviation authorities, like Australia, issued advisories on how to ensure it doesn’t happen. Not knee jerk copy thy neighbor responses.

The list of 787 airworthiness directives (from fire issues, wings, flight controls to landing gear) stands at 52. FIFTY TWO. Sure a 787 has not crashed yet but where have the authorities been trying to ground the type until it has no ailments at all? Do they need a crash to rally into action? Or do they look at the issue on its individual merits? The 737 can fly without this AOA safely, which is why the FAA still allows its operation.

This seems to be follow the pattern of board governance today. Aviation authorities reacting with emotion, not data. Seemingly acting for fear of a twitter backlash rather than applying common sense to a problem and shutting out noise. Are social media trolls experts on aviation matters? Yet another “it’s better to be morally right than factually so” argument it would seem.

Maybe the biggest qualification is whether airlines ground them because passenger refuse to board 737 MAX-8s where they’re allowed to operate. However most passengers don’t look at the “registration plate” affixed to the top of the front left hand door jam as they board to see what type of plane they’re on. They don’t look at the safety placard in the seat pocket. Most certainly don’t pay attention to the cabin attendants during the pre flight safety instruction.

By the way, flight AA293 from Miami to Washington DC is scheduled to land 11 minutes early today. It’s a MAX-8. Passengers in America are prepared to put their faith in the FAA not the whims of social media activism led policy to unnecessarily ban something to appear virtuous.

Boeing 737 MAX-8 – question the pilots not the plane

There is something to be said about the group think behind countries stepping up to ground the 737 MAX-8. Of course safety is of maximum importance. It always is. However had the FAA held the slightest inkling that switching off the Boeing 737 AOA would still cause crashes it would be grounded immediately. The FAA is comfortable that airlines that follow the updated airworthiness directive (AD) will not experience danger. So confident in that decision the AD called for a continuation.

If anything blanket groundings are more a slap in the face of pilots in questioning their skill to fly these planes without all of the gizmos. As a passenger you should question the airlines that ground as a reflection on the level of pilot training and confidence in them during a crisis situation.

It’s a bit like having your parking camera and sensors go on the blink. Is reversing into the car space with your left arm on the passenger seat looking over your shoulder impossible without these aids? No. Do you stop driving your car because you’re afraid you can’t park it? The problem is all of these aids are to a point dumbing down the ability to drive using feel. Perhaps we should demand The NHTSA grounds Tesla for the spate of autopilot accidents ending in death of drivers.

Would Boeing risk such massive corporate negligence by letting the planes still fly if they had the slightest doubt switching off the AOA would cause more crashes? This is not a Ford Pinto moment. It’s a serious flaw to be sure but the plane has got a clean bill of health without autopilot AOA. That’s why the FAA hasn’t grounded it.

Boeing assures customers it has a software upgrade to be released in coming weeks. There are 4,800 orders outstanding. The new Leap X engines are so much more efficient than the CFM-56 variant they replace. The secret sauce in the engines is made by NGS Advanced Fibers (50% owned by Nippon Carbon) in Japan. Airlines want them. Period. Efficiency helps them stay in business.

The Boeing 737 fleet has done around 1 billion flight hours combined. This is a 50 year old plane which has been modernized. Think of it like a Porsche 911. The basic shape is the same. The plane is airworthy. The software is faulty. As passengers we should pray that the pilots have the skills when the systems fail, not fail when the systems let them down.

Boeing 737 MAX-8 – FAA continues airworthiness directive

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a continued airworthiness directive (AD) notification for the Boeing 737 MAX-8 after the crash of flight ET302. Note there have been 15,342 ADs issued by the FAA. 46 have been issued in the last 60 days. While we probably don’t give it much thought when we board a flight, that’s how much scrutiny goes on behind the scenes.

As tragic as the preventable loss of life was, the FAA had issued training procedures on 7 November 2018 to overcome the angle of attack (AOA) problem post the Lion Air flight JT610 MAX-8 accident on 29 October 2018. Many airlines assured the FAA that their crews have been trained to handle the issue in case of malfunction.

Former NTSB member John Goglia noted that while many pilots have learned to fly aircraft with complex electronic aids, those in countries with less developed aviation industries have less experience flying without them.

The FAA views the MAX-8 as a safe aircraft provided the erroneous AOA data is dealt with correctly. Boeing will fix the problem to ensure the product’s reputation. To the FAA, if the AOA couldn’t be disabled then the aircraft would be grounded.

Note Boeing has 4,800 orders outstanding for the MAX type. Around 230 are in service. The aircraft is the most popular selling commercial jet plane worldwide.

It’s not the first time Boeing has had issues with the 737.

In 1991, the first of a series of rudder hard overs caused several crashes until one pilot managed to save his plane which suffered the same fault for investigators to understand the problem and rectify it.

As for air safety, US Census data points to an1 in 205,552 chance of dying in an aircraft vs. 1 in 4,050 dying as a cyclist, 1 in 1,086 risk of drowning and 1 in 102 in a car crash.

How cyber (in)secure is civil aviation?

IAI

If you have a spare 15 minutes it is worth looking at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) video presentation on the state of cyber within the civil aerospace industry. It is not all bad but there is a real need to step up investment to guard against ever more sophisticated attacks. Cyber used effectively can thwart attackers but so many systems within airports are connected – passenger data, baggage handling, airport security. Air Traffic Control (ATC) can be hacked with ghost planes by spoofing messages and pretending the hacker is airborne.

IATA predicts that the number of passengers travelling by plane is set to double by 2035. In the IATA 2017 Annual Report it notes,

In 2016 some 3.8 billion passengers safely took to the air and some 54.9 million tonnes of goods were delivered as air cargo… There was one major accident for every 2.56 million flights using jet aircraft in 2016. While this was a slight step back on the five-year average (one accident for every 2.77 million flights), flying remains the safest form of long-distance travel…Aviation’s importance goes far beyond the 63 million jobs and $2.7 trillion in economic activity that it supports. 

There is no question the quality and advancement of hardware technologies in aerospace has been a large factor in improving safety. Whether the use of carbon fibre composites in fuselages and wings or the growth in ceramic matrix composites in engines to allow higher temps in the engine to raise fuel economy and reduce emissions. If we think that getting drugs approved by the FDA is hard, getting hardware approved by the FAA is even more difficult. A drug can cause side effects. A plane can’t afford to have any problems for the life of it, usually 25 years or more.

Software (e.g. TCAS, automated landing) has played no small part in enhancing safety but providing adequate protection to ensure systems function as intended is the weakest link. As the speaker says in this video, “we need to collaborate“.

We can’t afford to wait for the first aircraft to go down by such cyber attack means before we act. Remember post 9/11 that impregnable cockpit doors were made mandatory. The doors also allowed the pilots to prevent activation of the entry code to prevent would be hijackers from entering by taking a stewardess hostage. In March 2015 a Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, activated this function when his pilot took a restroom break  to commit suicide along with 150 passengers. The activation codes used by the pilot did not work. Technology can sometimes have unforeseen consequences.

Slightly off topic, though no less important, alcoholism and flying is also an issue. The FAA sites, a minimum “8 hours from “bottle to throttle.”” Between 2010 and 2015, FAA records show 64 pilots in the US were cited for violating the alcohol and drug provisions, and in 2015, some 1,546 personnel who must ensure airline safety, including 38 pilots, tested positive for one or more of five illegal drugs. In India, between 2011 and 2016, a total of 188 pilots across the country were found to have high blood alcohol levels during checks.

Kobe Steel scandal may make Takata look like a picnic by comparison

543EDF33-C545-4343-873D-0A270B7710B4.jpeg

Actually this could be so much worse than the Takata scandal. Kobe Steel’s data falsification on its products – especially to Subaru Corp – could raise the risk of insolvency of the former. Subaru is responsible for the MOST crucial part of the Boeing 787 – the centre wing box (CWB). While Boeing has assured us that there is no imminent safety risk, the question is one of determining the fatigue of the substandard materials supplied to Subaru by Kobe are part of the CWB. What many fail to realize is that commercial aircraft approval by the regulators makes getting drugs approved by the FDA as easy as shelling peanuts. Every time a plane is in the air it has to be as near as makes no difference 100% safe. Drugs that give you a side effect of drowsiness is not a big deal to the FDA. In fact for aircraft it gives “do not operate heavy machinery” a whole new meaning.

The CWB effectively is the piece that connects the wings to the body. It is without doubt the most important structural piece on the plane. Worse, it is perhaps the most difficult part to replace in terms of man hours. Effectively the plane would have to be broken apart and reassembled. The sheer logistics of this would also be mind boggling. The retrofit (if even feasible) would be a $20-30mn per job including the parts, labour and time out of service (compensation to airlines) and recertification. That’s per aircraft. So that would cost around $10-15bn.

The question then becomes of the 500 odd 787s in service what the FAA decides to do. Perhaps the planes’ useful 25 year life are reduced to 15 years. That would smack residual values and airlines would demand compensation for the gap and the potential for lost revenues. So were 500 aircraft to lose 40% of the serviceable life at $150mn a copy that is $75bn.

While this is worst case scenario analysis for Kobe Steel which would be liable for the lot, we are staring at the risk of a wipe out. Kobe Steel has $1.8bn in cash. Somehow it’s $8bn market cap may fall much further.

Hardly any of this is priced because the FAA doesn’t take things lightly until it has all the facts.

This article is not intended to be sensational rather highlight the potential for a huge weight from the US (not Japanese) regulator to push for a safety recall of epic proportions. We won’t know yet but buyer on dips beware.