Garuda Indonesia late last week became the first airline globally to cancel orders for the Boeing 737 Max, citing passenger fear of flying on them.
The cancelled order, said to be worth in excess of $4.9 billion, came in the wake of audio from the cockpit of Lion Air Flight JT610 leaking into the public domain detailing the stoic efforts of the two pilots, who fought the aircraft’s computer system until the plane crashed into the Java Sea.
News of the cancellation and the leaking of details of the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) coincided with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announcing that it was inserting itself into a criminal investigation into the crash of Lion Air Flight JT610 last October 29, and the crash of Ethiopian Airline Flight 302 on March 1. Both flights crashed shortly after take-off, and both involved the Boeing 737 Max 8.
A federal grand jury in Washington, DC, USA is looking into the certification process that approved the safety of the new aircraft.
Boeing, its 737 Max 8 and Max 9, and the US Federal Aviation Authority (US-FAA) and the manner in which aircraft are certified in the USA have come under intense domestic, international, and media scrutiny in the wake of both crashes, which between them have killed 346 people.
A series of articles by The New York Times (NYT) has revealed critical details about the airplane, its certification process, its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), and the culture at Boeing of racing to get the 737 Max 8 finished ahead of Airbus SEs A320neo.
Allahu Akbar: Pilots remained calm until the end
Citing three sources who had heard the recording, but were not authorisesd to discuss its contents with the media, CNBC said that the two pilots remained calm up until the end, co-pilot Harvino speaking allowed “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) just seconds before the recording ended.
The CVR confirms that the doomed flight ran into problems immediately after take-off, Harvino reporting a “flight control problem” to Jakarta air traffic control just two minutes into the flight.
For the next nine minutes the aircraft constantly warned the pilots it was in a stall, forcing the nose of the aircraft down more than two dozen times as the two pilots fought to point it skywards.
With co-pilot Harvino at the controls, chief pilot Bhavye Suneja urgently flicked through manuals attempting to find the solution to a function that they, and 737 Max pilots globally, had not been informed of.
40 seconds to death
According to the NYT, 737 Max pilots who recreated the problems experienced by the Lion Air Flight in simulators in the USA over the weekend found that they had less than 40 seconds to identify the cause of the nose being suddenly pointed downwards, disable the MCAS, and restore the aircraft to climb.
While the few pilots who have so far tried the simulation have all managed to recover the flight, they had all been told about the MCAS function and the method for disabling it prior to attempting the simulation.
Citing two people involved in the testing, the NYT said that: ‘Under conditions similar to the Lion Air flight, three engagements over just 40 seconds, including pauses, would send the plane into an unrecoverable dive’.
The current version of the MCAS software engages for 10 seconds at a time, with five-second pauses in between. Pilots told the NYT that they were surprised at how powerful the function was when they experienced it in the simulator.
The NYT reports some of the tests were conducted at Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington, USA, where pilots from three American and two international airlines gathered to test modifications being made to the MCAS software.
The Garuda order might not be the only cancellation Boeing gets from Indonesia.
Lion Air co-founder Rusdi Kirana is reportedly still incensed at the comments by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg criticising the airlines “culture of safety” and pilots, and is reportedly examining the Airbus A320neo family as potential replacements for its 201 737 Max order with Boeing worth some $22 billion. Lion Air has already deferred delivery of four 737 Max’s it was due to receive this year.
To date 354 737 Max’s have been delivered worldwide, putting the odds of being involved in a fatal crash while flying in one at one in every 177 aircraft.
There is no indication of when the 737 Max’s will be cleared to fly, but in the meantime some are calling for the aircraft to go through a full airworthy certification, rather than one based on a 1960s aircraft.
Feature video CBS News
- Why the Boeing 737 Max needs a full airworthy review (video) (AEC News Today)
- Report: Off-duty pilot saved Lion Air flight day before crash (CNN)
- New details emerge regarding deadly Lion Air crash involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 (Global News)
- Indonesian airline Garuda cancels order for 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets (The Guardian)
She commenced as an intern at AEC News Today and was appointed as a junior writer/ trainee journalist on April 2, 2018