The pilots say that Boeing down-played the risks of potentially deadly software–all so customers could get a better deal over Airbus.
Boeing is being sued by hundreds of pilots, all of whom are accusing the company of an “unprecedented cover-up” of the “known design flaws’ in its 737 MAX 8 jet-planes.
The Max 8 and its faulty Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, were involved in two fatal crashes within the span of a half-year. Miscommunications between an external sensor and anti-stall software brought down a Lion Air flight in October and then an Ethiopian jet in March.
More than 300 people were killed between both accidents.
Now, pilots claim that Boeing knew flaws within MCAS were dangerous and potentially deadly—but chose to cover them up and downplay their severity, all to maintain a competitive advantage over rival Airbus.
MCAS, says the suit, lent MAX planes “inherently dangerous aerodynamic handling defects.”
But MCAS’ inherent instability may have been emplaced by design. In order to create the MAX, Boeing had to retrofit newer, larger and more fuel-efficient engines to the fuselage of existing 737 aircraft.
The larger engines changed the plane’s aerodynamic profile so much that it would’ve been prone to pitching upward mid-flight. Some models showed the pitch could be so dangerous that it could cause or contribute to an irrecoverable stall.
The role of MCAS was to detect the MAX’s “angle-of-attack.” If the plane’s nose was pitched too steep—putting at risk of a stall—the software would activate and aggressively push the aircraft in a safer direction.
However, MCAS is likely to have caused the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters. Relying on a single sensor—which failed or otherwise miscommunicated on both planes–MCAS erroneously believed the doomed flights were ascending at dangerously steep angles. When MCAS activated, its performance was so aggressive and so stubborn that the pilots were unable resist the planes’ autopilot dragging them back to ground.
After MCAS’ probable role in the crashes came out, critics accused Boeing of playing lax with safety. For instance, engineers made a ‘cockpit display alerting mismatched [angle-of-attack] readings to MAX pilots an optional extra.”
The lawsuit alleges that such a design was reckless.
“Boeing’s defective design causes the MCAS to activate based on the single input of a failed AOA sensor without cross-checking its data with another properly functioning AOA sensor,” the lawsuit states. Pilots also say they were kept in the dark about the developments, with MCAS never being adequately explained in training briefs.
The lead plaintiff, reports ABC Australia, is listed in the lawsuit simply as “Pilot X.” He or she believes that Boeing “decided not to tell MAX pilots about the MCAS or to require MAX pilots to undergo any MCAS training” so that customers could put pilots on “revenue-generating routes as quickly as possible.”
Pilot X, adds ABC, chose to remain anonymous “for fear of reprisal from Boeing and discrimination from Boeing customers.” He and his colleagues are hoping to recoup damages, as they “suffer and continue to suffer significant lost wages, among other economic and non-economic damages” from the MAX 8’s indefinite grounding.
Collectively, the pilots hope to win damages for monetary and mental distress, while “[deterring] Boeing and other airline manufacturers from placing corporate profits ahead of the lives of the pilots, crews, and general public they service.”