The Government is the Root of All Evil
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh claims 737 Max crashes may have been caused by Boeing trying to adhere to environmental regulations. He conveniently used the word, “may”.
Limbaugh is forever attempting to link all problems to the federal government. In the case of the 737 Max crashes he is either uneducated on the matter or purposefully ignoring the facts.
The irony in Rush’s statement is that the Government, as in the FAA, is at least partially responsible for the problems with the 737 Max. Not because of burdensome oversight and regulations, but because they had handed much of the oversight over to Boeing themselves.
Competition Drove Changes to 737
Boeing’s primary concern for updating the venerable 737 was not environmental regulation compliance but rather competition from the Airbus A220. The A220 had been upgraded with larger more fuel efficient engines and was selling like hotcakes and undercutting the traditional 737’s sales substantially. Not because it was more environmentally friendly, but because it was cheaper per passenger mile to fly than the 737.
To compete Boeing decided it would also add larger more fuel efficient engines to it’s 737. But there was a problem. The new fuel efficient engines were substantially larger than the old engines. Big enough that when mounted in the traditional position on the 737 wing it didn’t allow enough ground clearance. So Boeing engineered a solution. They created a new engine mount that literally pushed the engine farther forward of the wing and this allowed the engine to be lifted up. In fact it caused the engine to be partially above the wing. This new orientation created issues. When the plane was under hard acceleration it altered the aerodynamics of the plane and caused the plane’s nose to rotate up. It could push the nose up so far that it could cause the plane to stall.
The flight characteristics had changed enough that the current 737 pilots could easily accidentally stall the aircraft.
This was not something that in and of itself deemed the design unsafe, but it did mean that pilots would have to be re-certified to learn how to fly the new plane.
The executives of Boeing told the engineers that building a plane that would require airlines to re-certify their 737 pilots was not an option.
The upgraded Airbus A220 did not require the A220 pilots to be re-certified and Boeing didn’t want the expense of this to hinder their sales.
The engineers were also told that re-engineering the entire aircraft was not financially feasible. They needed to make the new engines work on the old aircraft if Boeing was going be able to compete with Airbus.
The engineers at Boeing hit upon a solution. Create software that would control the pitch of the aircraft and make it “seem” to the pilots that it flew like the traditional 737. With the software automatically dampening the planes natural tendency to want to lift it’s nose, it would seem that it flew very similarly to the original 737. They named this new system the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS.
Worried that highlighting the existence of this software/system might cause the FAA to question whether this plane actually flew like the original 737, Boeing buried it’s existence in the technical details of the manual and did not easily provide information how to disable it. MCAS was also set it up so that it would not turn off when the traditional autopilot was disengaged. They were worried that pilots would accidentally stall the aircraft with the autopilot disengaged, so MCAS stayed engaged even when the autopilot system was deactivated.