The 737 MAX Is Back. Now What?

It’s back. The 737 Max is now, once again, legal to fly. It reminds me of those stories about a person accused of a crime they didn’t commit. The cops frame him. A zealous prosecutor offers a plea deal of a few years to avoid a trial that might mean a life sentence or the death penalty. So the guy takes it.

A third-world airline — one that for years required copilots to work for free — had a problem with a Max five flights in a row. The stabilizer trim motor, which plays a role in controlling the plane, operated when it should not have.

On the first three flights, the pilots dealt with the problem using the procedure in the flight manual. Each time, after landing, the pilots reported the problem to maintenance. The problem was caused by a faulty sensor. Repeatedly, instead of fixing the problem, maintenance cleared the plane for flight.

On the fourth flight, the pilots did not know how to deal with the problem. Fortunately, a pilot from another airline was in the cockpit who knew the procedure and told the pilots at the controls what to do.

On the fifth go-round, by the bad luck of the draw, the people (I can’t bring myself to call them pilots) in the cockpit didn’t know the procedure for dealing with the problem — a procedure they were supposed to memorize — even existed.

Following the crash, Boeing, knowing it was innocent, sent out a memo that pilots should know the procedure. The procedure has existed since the maiden flight of the 707. Every real Boeing pilot knows it by heart. But third-world aviation being what it is, Boeing needed to tell the airlines to get their pilots up to speed.

That outraged the CEO of the airline. The government officials responsible for supervising the airline weren’t thrilled to be nailed either. So, like bad cops, they framed Boeing.

Just as rape victims are accused of complicity, Boeing was vilified as incompetent, as was the FAA. The media knows a good thing to build circulation when they see one. Aviation matters should be decided by people who know at least a little about aviation. But our president overruled the FAA and put the Max in the slammer for a crime it didn’t commit. It’s public record that he bought an airline in 1989 for $365,000,000. Gold-plated fixtures in the toilets didn’t make the airline fly, Three years later he shelled out around $30,000,000 when forced to dispose of it

Now, after serving a two-year sentence, Boeing’s 737 MAX is out on parole. You may be asking yourself if should you fly it. The correct question is, should the plane have been grounded in the first place? No, it shouldn’t have been. The airline should have taken the rap, along with its governmental accomplice.

Let me make this perfectly clear. Since the beginning of time jet-airliner-wise, every Boeing pilot at a real airline has memorized the procedure for uncommanded operation of the stabilizer trim positioning motor. Every Boeing pilot at a real airline has practiced the procedure in the sim.

As a result, if you could find a half-senile 100-year-old Boeing 707 pilot, put him in the cockpit of a 737-Max, and — unannounced and unwarned — present him with the problem that brought down the Max, he would fix the problem in a matter of seconds.

There is a huge difference between a pilot who has memorized a procedure and practiced it in the simulator and a pilot who doesn’t even know the procedure exists.

But in the world we live in, most people — even reporters on aviation — can’t tell the difference between fact and fake, Boeing paid the price of taking a plea deal instead of fighting for justice. There was nothing wrong with the Max that a real airline’s mechanics would have been unable to fix the first time it was reported. And, there was nothing wrong with the Max that a real airline’s pilots wouldn’t have corrected in the air as soon as it happened.

So Boeing, having seen some governments can’t be counted on to regulate their airlines, has included in its redo of the Max, the requirement that pilots be properly trained in the procedure real Boeing pilots can carry out in their sleep.

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Tom Bunn is a retired airline captain and licensed therapist. He is the originator of the SOAR Fear of Flying Program.

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Capt Tom Bunn

Capt Tom Bunn

Tom Bunn is a retired airline captain and licensed therapist. He is the originator of the SOAR Fear of Flying Program.

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