Clowns Supervised by Monkeys

Crash site of Turkish Airlines Flight 1951, Boeing 737-8F2 (TC-JGE, “Tekirdağ”), at Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 2009-02-25 Copyright Fred Vloo / RNW (Creative Commons Generic 2.0 licence)

Clowns supervised by monkeys, is a description of Boeing that comes from one of its employees in an email in 2017. After two fatal crashes of 737 Max aircraft killed 346 people because of faulty Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software, a flight control subsystem designed to enhance pitch stability.

In addition, there have been multiple problems with 787 Dreamliners. Some of the problems involve leaking fuel valves and lithium-ion battery problems. Most recently, in 2019-12, it was revealed that Boeing removed copper foil that formed part of the lightning strike protection from wings of the aircraft.

Additional questions are being asked after yet another 737 made a “rough landing” on 2020-02-05 at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport. Three people were killed and 179 injured, of the 183 passengers and crew on board. Adding to this is a question about the legitimacy of the report on the 2009-02-25 crash of Turkish Airlines flight 1951.

This crash is the subject of Mayday episode 72 (aka Series 10 Episode 6) “Who’s in Control?” first shown 2011-02-28.

New York Times journalist Chris Hamby claimed in 2020-01 that the investigation either excluded or played down criticisms of the manufacturer in its 2010 final report, after pushback from Boeing and American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials. The Hamby article uses a 2009 human factors analysis by Sidney Dekker. In 2020-02, it was reported that Boeing refused to cooperate with a new Dutch review on the crash investigation and that the NTSB had refused Dutch lawmakers’ request to participate.

Then there is the KC-46 Pegasus, a military aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft developed from the 767 airliner. Numerous issues include its remote vision system, refueling boom, delivery with loose tools and other debris left inside planes after manufacture.

Software Verification

While not all issues are software related, several are. There seem to be significant flaws in Boeing’s software verification process. The heart of the problem is that Boeing has been given permission by the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to certify its own designs. That means that Boeing regulates itself.

The verification of software takes considerable effort, and expertise. Some experts claim that it takes an order of magnitude more (a fancy way of saying ten times more) to verify a software program than to develop and test it. Many also conclude that it takes a special type of person, frequently someone on the autism spectrum, to undertake such work. For extroverts, and other people far removed from autism, dealing with system verifiers can be problematic.

Airbus and Boeing refuse to compete on the basis of safety. Both companies pretend that they are equally safe, and that the only metric that needs to be taken into consideration by airlines is price. Unfortunately, safety is an issue, and some inconvenient metrics demonstrate this. The Airbus A320 family of aircraft competes against the Boeing 737 family. Airsafe’s fatal crash rates per million flights puts Airbus A320 family rate of 0.08 in contrast to Boeing 737’s family rate of 0.23 (Almost three times higher).

Lou Whiteman, an analyst at the Motley Fool, wonders if Boeing should be split up. He reasons that Boeing is too large and complex to manage effectively. The result is a series of blunders. Because of the dominance of Boeing, any failures have a massive impact on the entire U.S. economy.

Beyond Boeing to modern business culture, one of the challenges facing many companies is the use of extraverts as executives. These often have an ability to speak for themselves, even promoting themselves as executive material. Yet, an ability to listen may be, if not lacking, regarded as of secondary importance. Worse still is the situation where sociopaths and psychopaths become executives. Readers interested in the challenges posed by extroversion are encouraged to read Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

I’m allowing Fugboi to have the final comment originally posted as a comment in the Mentour Pilot video: “What’s wrong with Boeing? Answer: MCAS (Money Comes Above Safety)”

Some other materials:

Natasha Frost: How the McDonnell Douglas Boeing Merger led to the 737 Max Crisis

Leslie Josephs: Damning Boeing Messages

Theo Leggett: Boeing whistleblower raises doubts over 787 oxygen system

Mentour Pilot: What has happened at Boeing?

Trendnuz: Boeing Engineer Cited Focus on Profit over Safety