Boeing: “we didn’t deliberately hold back information”

Boeing cancelled a conference call with airlines, and issued a statement instead, following a drop in share price over the 737 Max anti-stall saga. Denis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing insisted the airline hadn’t deliberately held back information on the MCAS system, seen as responsible for the Lion Air loss and the deaths of 189 passengers and crew.

In fairness to Boeing, I have never believed they held the information back deliberately. I’d doubt anyone does. What they did do was decided that it was a low level system change that didn’t warrant high priority, for training or for information.

It was buried in the depths of the Flight Crew Operations Manual, which even the most enthusiastic of pilots would take time to digest.

That’s a judgement call, being made under the pressure of commercial operations – the time available to train pilots on conversion, and the amount of written information it’s viable for them to process beyond that.

In any event, a serious re-evaluation of how these things are decided and how the information is imparted to those who need to know, must be urgently re-evaluated, by airlines and by manufacturers.

This could have happened to any major manufacturer- I have no doubt Airbus are trawling through their operations making sure they haven’t made the same mistake. The point, is that all parties are pushing the need for revenue to the point where it CAN affect safety, in ways that cannot be ascertained until they happen in real life.

This is the age old issue of “commercial acceptability”. At what point is it considered acceptable by the manufacturers and service providers to put something on the market, where YOU the customer/passenger takes the risk of it going wrong?

We all live with this every day, nothing is perfect. However airliners are capable of bringing a disproportionate level of damage – those who die in a total loss event, those on the ground if it goes down in a built up area, the relatives, the emergency services.

We give airlines a huge level of commercial protection, they complain about revenue pressures at every turn; they and the manufacturers simply have to do better when it comes to evaluating risks in training.

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