Airline Pilots Raise Training Concerns About Boeing's 737 Max

Nov 15, 2018
Originally published on November 15, 2018 7:22 am
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Airline pilots are raising concerns about the newest version of Boeing's most popular aircraft, the 737. This comes after the deadly crash of one of those planes in Indonesia last month. We're talking here about the 737 MAX. And pilots say Boeing did not provide information or training for a critical new flight control system. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: When designing new versions of airplanes, manufacturers like Boeing want to keep many elements as similar to the previous model as possible.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: Well, you want commonality for purposes of training and just ease of operations for the airlines.

SCHAPER: Richard Aboulafia, an aviation industry analyst with the Teal Group, says that helps airlines keep costs down. So Boeing plays up the similarities in sales pitches for the newest version of the 737, the MAX. But there was one critical difference in the MAX that pilots at American, Southwest and other airlines say they were never told about, a new automated flight control system.

DENNIS TAJER: We had no idea, none whatsoever.

SCHAPER: Captain Dennis Tajer flies 737s for American Airlines and is spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. He says pilots were not informed until shortly after a 737 MAX operated by Lion Air nosedived into the Java Sea October 29, killing all 189 people on board. Indonesian crash investigators say it appears that a sensor on the plane falsely reported that the nose was too high and the plane was stalling, even though it was not. The flight control system automatically pointed the plane down, a corrective action that was not needed. Investigators cannot say yet if that's what caused the crash, but Boeing immediately issued a safety bulletin about how to regain control if such a dangerous event occurs.

737 pilot Dennis Tajer calls that situation both professionally and ethically insulting.

TAJER: It shakes the trust you have in the manufacturer. Why weren't we told about this?

ABOULAFIA: I understand where the pilots are coming from.

SCHAPER: Again, aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia.

ABOULAFIA: It looks like an error of omission.

SCHAPER: Boeing does not acknowledge any such omission of critical safety information from its 737 MAX training manuals. In a statement, a spokesman says the two urgent updates sent out since the Lion Air crash re-emphasize existing procedures.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.