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The emerging 737 Max scandal, explained
It's more than bad software

By Matthew Yglesias@mattyglesiasmatt@vox.com Mar 29, 2019, 9:10am EDT
© 2019 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Source; excerpts follow.

This is an interesting article; it drills deeper into the circumstances (and context) of the 2 deadly accidents which led to the grounding of the Boeing 737-MAX. According to the article, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) which is suspect in both accidents, is essentially Boeing's "fix" for putting larger diameter engines on an aged airframe.

While I'm not saying this is "the story", it's a compelling read.


… The story begins nine years ago when Boeing was faced with a major threat to its bottom line, spurring the airline to rush a series of kludges through the certification process — with an underresourced Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seemingly all too eager to help an American company threatened by a foreign competitor, rather than to ask tough questions about the project…

Both the 737 and the 320 come in lots of different flavors, so airlines have plenty of options in terms of what kind of aircraft should fly exactly which route. But because there are only two players in this market, and because their offerings are so fundamentally similar, the competition for this slice of the plane market is both intense and weirdly limited. If one company were to gain a clear technical advantage over the other, it would be a minor catastrophe for the losing company….

Under the circumstances, Boeing's best option was to just take the hit for a few years and accept that it was going to have to start selling 737s at a discount price while it designed a whole new airplane. That would, of course, be time-consuming and expensive, and during the interim, it would probably lose a bunch of narrow-body sales to Airbus…

But in August 2011, Boeing announced that it had lined up orders for 496 re-engined Boeing 737 aircraft from five different airlines.

It's not entirely clear what happened, but, reading between the lines, it seems that in talking to its customers Boeing reached the conclusion that airlines would not wait for them. Some critical mass of carriers (American Airlines seems to have been particularly influential) was credible enough in its threat to switch to Airbus equipment that Boeing decided it needed to offer 737 buyers a Boeing solution sooner rather than later…

Read full article

2 Comments On This Entry

Years ago I head the problem with the FAA is that it has two jobs. One is to promote air travel and related industries. The second is air safety. It should be split into two departments.


According to the article, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) which is suspect in both accidents, is essentially Boeing's "fix" for putting larger diameter engines on an aged airframe.

I'm not convinced that it's an 'aged' airframe that's the problem; a good design is timeless and lends itself to 'upgrades' as needed, my three favorite aircraft have all been in service 50+ years with all going through various evolution and upgrades over the years:

- Lockheed L-188 'Electra'(1958) which became the Navy's P-3 'Orion' in the early '60s, still flying, and last I knew of were up to the 'K' series. I don't believe they've built any "new" ones since the early 1990s, they just keep upgrading the old ones.

- Douglas DC-9, aka Navy C-9A 'nightingale' (1965). Strictly speaking the last "DC-9" was built in '82, though the core design lived as the MD-80, MD-90, and then the Boeing 717 after the merger. For that size aircraft, you just can't improve on "perfection"... the 737 is what happens when you try by aiming for 'cheap' rather than 'good'.

- Lockheed C-130 (1956). I don't know what Rev they're up to now, but they're still going strong; My house is on the approach to Dobbins Air Base just north of Atlanta, and they come in regularly.

The problem is NOT the airframe, but that they added larger engines just to be able to cram more sardines into the can. The 737 "Max 8" (7M8) - the aircraft in question - has two more rows of seats that the 737-700 which is an identical airframe. It's the equivalent of putting a larger engine in a VW Rabbit so that you can cram in 2 more passengers and their luggage - at some point you become on the wrong side of the physics curve.
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