Editorial Comment

There is an abundance of lessons to be learned from the Boeing MAX tragedies in Jakarta and Addis Ababa. Lessons about aircraft design, software, certification, safety culture, corporate decision-making, crisis reaction, communications. And training.

The entire global civil aviation industry has suffered, is suffering, from the wake turbulence, not just the US aircraft manufacturer and regulatory agency. The traveling public has not only lost confidence in one model; by extension, all aircraft, manufacturers and authorities are now suspect, and any incident on any flight is quickly magnified across social media. Whistleblowers and self-appointed pundits are granted instant credibility, even if their role and perspective is limited and lacking context.

Regaining shattered trust will be a prolonged process. One survey of flyers reported 70% would hesitate to book a flight on a MAX. One-fifth plan to wait until the aircraft has flown safely for a minimum six months. A smaller percentage say they will never again board the type, regardless.

Lawyerly statements will not satisfy. Dropping the MAX brand may be perceived as obfuscation. Savvy travelers, and nervous flyers, will be monitoring the scheduled aircraft type before booking a flight.

Even the FAA’s re-certification blessing will be viewed with skepticism, as the original process appears flawed, not least by other international agencies which plan their own evaluation of any aircraft system and training changes.

Public faith will only return through the demonstrated confidence of the people who know aircraft best, and whose lives are daily dependent on repeated safe operation – the pilots and cabin crews.

The training community are critical players in the process. There are allegations that airlines pressured Boeing to design the MAX to avoid ‘expensive’ simulator time during differences training. In the revamped training, there can be no question whatsoever that the pilots thoroughly understand the aircraft’s characteristics and potential malfunctions, and every Captain and First Officer is fully competent to manage any crisis. This would be a good time to apply the wealth of aircraft and simulator data available in a rigorous task analysis to develop an optimized curriculum with the latest training tools. If deemed necessary, bite the bullet and do some simulator sessions. And, as flight crews are re-trained, show elements of the training to the public and in pilots’ authentic words.

At the World Aviation Training Summit (WATS) in Orlando, 28-30 April, safety culture is a fundamental discussion theme, the thread running through all operational and technical considerations. And which must be the foundation for a flawless return to service of the MAX.

CAT is inviting representatives of the key stakeholders to address these challenges at WATS: Boeing, the FAA, the NTSB, other national regulators, airline operators, pilots, cabin crew, training experts. There is no better audience for such a dialogue than the 1,100-plus pilots, cabin crew, maintenance technicians and aviation training specialists from around the world. They are extremely knowledgeable, they know the right questions to ask, and their primary focus is aviation safety. If this group embraces the plan, it’s on a good track.

  • Where are we in the return to service process?
  • How are pilots being trained to manage the design changes?
  • What have we learned that can be applied to other aircraft, whether new development or current fleet?

In Japanese culture, when a precious vase breaks, it is repaired with a technique called kintsugi. The fragments are re-joined with liquid gold or silver, both restoring the vase and enhancing it.

The past cannot be undone. The scars will always be there. We have the opportunity to put the pieces back together, to make them stronger, more refined, more resilient.

Rick Adams, CAT Editor

Published in CAT issue 6/2019