Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The Boeing 737 MAX and Alaska Airlines Flight 1282

Luke Bodell (via Hacker News):

In August, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD) warning MAX operators about using the engine anti-icing system in dry air. The AD came about following in-flight testing, which found that deploying the anti-icing system for longer than five minutes under specific conditions led to overheating and damage to the inlet cowl.

Boeing states it is working on a “long-term solution” for the problem, which would be rolled out across the entire global Boeing 737 MAX fleet.

The temporary solution is to tell the pilots not to forget to turn off the anti-icer. This is reminding me of the Therac-25 except that, as with Mac and iOS permission prompts, Boeing is setting it up so that any mishaps become the operator’s fault.

The Guardian (via Hacker News):

US regulators have ordered the temporary grounding of 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft following a cabin panel blowout late Friday that forced a brand-new airplane operated by Alaska Airlines to make an emergency landing.


A passenger sent the broadcaster KATU-TV a photo showing a gaping hole in the side of the airplane next to passenger seats. The airline said the plane, carrying 174 passengers and six crew members, landed safely.

Evan Smith, who was among those on board, told KATU that a boy sitting in a row with his mother had his shirt sucked off him and out of the plane. “His mother was holding on to him,” he said. “You heard a big loud bang to the left rear. A whooshing sound and all the oxygen masks deployed instantly and everyone got those on.”

Leslie Josephs (via Hacker News):

United Airlines said Monday that it has found loose bolts on door plugs of several Boeing 737 Max 9 planes during inspections spurred when a panel of that type blew out during an Alaska Airlines flight using that type of aircraft last week.


The National Transportation Safety Board said the accident would have been worse at cruising altitude when passengers and crews are walking around the cabin.

But the accident places fresh scrutiny on Boeing, which has spent years trying to clean up a host of quality defects, while also ramping up aircraft production, including of the 737 Max. CEO Dave Calhoun has spent months trying to assure airlines, investors and financial analysts that the company is improving its supply chain and working to resolve its quality problems.

Seanathan Bates (via Hacker News):

Found an iPhone on the side of the road… Still in airplane mode with half a battery and open to a baggage claim for #AlaskaAirlines ASA1282 Survived a 16,000 foot drop perfectly in tact!

When I called it in, Zoe at @NTSB said it was the SECOND phone to be found. No door yet😅

And no auto-lock.

Seanathan Bates:

In case you didn’t see it, there was a broken-off charger plug still inside it! Thing got yanked out the door

Craig Poxon:

The other end of the cable?

Rhett Allain (2011):

This isn’t really breaking news, but there was this story of a guy that dropped his iPhone 4 out of a plane. The man was quite happy to find his iPhone unharmed. It was partially protected by Griffin case, but still this got me thinking. Was this a miracle or not so crazy?

He estimates the terminal velocity at 27.2 mph.

Wes Davis:

The takeaway from the story is that a phone can only go so fast, and how much the landing surface gives in reaction to the falling phone is important — ground in a wooded area will displace a lot more, accepting and spreading the impact more than, say, concrete. Plus, the iPhone 4, like the phone that dropped from Friday’s flight, was in a case, increasing its odds of survival.

Reuters (via Hacker News):

The cockpit voice recorder data on the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet which lost a panel mid-flight on Friday was overwritten, U.S. authorities said, renewing attention on long-standing safety calls for longer in-flight recordings.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Jennifer Homendy said on Sunday no data was available on the cockpit voice recorder because it was not retrieved within two hours - when recording restarts, erasing previous data.


The U.S. FAA has previously rejected the NTSB’s call for retrofitting aircraft with new cockpit voice recorders, saying the costs would be significant at $741 million versus $196 million under incremental upgrades it proposed.

Several pilot groups oppose longer recordings.

“(It) would significantly infringe upon the privacy rights of pilots and other flight crew members, as well as drastically increase the likelihood that CVR recordings will be misused or disseminated without authorization,” the union representing pilots for Atlas Air told the FAA last month.

Even 2 hours would have been enough if there had been a way to automatically halt the auto-erasure in the event of a safety issue occurring.

See also: Hacker News.


Update (2024-01-10): Zeynep Tufekci:

We’ve since learned all this may not have been a complete surprise. The N.T.S.B. told reporters that a pressurization warning light in this plane had come on three times before, at least once in flight, during its short time in service. The maintenance crews had checked and cleared the light, but Alaska Airlines thankfully restricted the plane to flying over land so it could return rapidly to an airport if it came on again. Whew. If the door had blown out at high altitude and over the ocean we may not have had the same happy ending.


The jet involved in Friday’s blowout is brand-new, having been put in service in November. After a cabin-pressurization system warning light came on during three flights, the airline stopped flying it over the Pacific to Hawaii. Some aviation experts questioned why Alaska continued using the plane on overland routes until it figured out what was causing the pressurization warnings.

Homendy said Monday, however, that NTSB has seen no evidence to link the warnings with the blowout of the door plug.

Via John Gruber:

There may be no evidence yet, but what are the odds that a door plug that blew off a brand-new jet mid-flight — in a fleet of planes they’ve now discovered have loose bolts holding those doors in place — wasn’t to blame for the cabin-pressurization warnings? And, even if it’s true that the pressurization warnings were unrelated to last week’s incident, that’s even worse for Boeing — that would mean they have a problem with these door plugs and an as-yet undetermined other problem.

John Gruber:

But the phone had no passcode[…] I find that almost as crazy as the phone surviving a 16,000-foot drop, but I’d probably be shocked to know how many people rock the no-passcode lifestyle. I just don’t get it, given how Face ID makes it feel like you don’t have a passcode.


(Judging by this thread, it’s also apparently quite common for people to turn off Auto-Lock in Settings → Display & Brightness.)

Update (2024-02-06): Liz Alderman (via Slashdot):

In the long-running duel between the two aviation rivals, Airbus has pulled far ahead.

Gareth Corfield (2020, via Hacker News):

Boeing’s 737 Next Generation airliners have been struck by a peculiar software flaw that blanks the airliners’ cockpit screens if pilots dare attempt a westwards landing at specific airports.

Gareth Corfield (2020, via Hacker News):

The US Federal Aviation Administration has ordered Boeing 787 operators to switch their aircraft off and on every 51 days to prevent what it called “several potentially catastrophic failure scenarios” – including the crashing of onboard network switches.

Reddit (via Hacker News):

Kayak’s New Flight Filter Allows You to Exclude Aircraft Models From Your Results

Gary Leff (via Hacker News):

A reader at respected airline industry site Leeham News offered a comment that suggests they have access to Boeing’s internal quality control systems, and shares details of what they saw regarding the Boeing 737 MAX 9 flown by Alaska Airlines that had a door plug detach inflight, causing rapid decompression of the aircraft.

The takeaway appears to be that outsourced plane components have so many problems when they show up at the production line that Boeing’s quality control staff can’t keep up with them all.

David Koenig (via Hacker News):

The leaders of United Airlines and Alaska Airlines took turns Tuesday blasting Boeing over manufacturing problems that have led to the grounding of more than 140 of their planes, with United’s CEO saying his airline will consider alternatives to buying a future, larger version of the Boeing 737 Max.

Ryan Beene and Julie Johnsson (via Hacker News):

Boeing Co. faces a major commercial setback after the US Federal Aviation Administration froze planned production increases for its 737 Max aircraft, a move that interrupts the planemaker’s growth ambitions at a time of surging demand and intensifying competition with Airbus SE.

Patrick Smith:

The nose wheel of a Boeing 757 jet fell off and rolled away while the plane was waiting on the runway for takeoff clearance, with almost 200 people on board.

Delta Air Lines Flight 982 was moments away from taking off from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta on Saturday when the wheel “came off and rolled down the hill,” according to a preliminary report from the Federal Aviation Administration published Monday.

Kyra Dempsey:

A just organizational culture recognizes that a high level of operational safety can be achieved only when the root causes of human error are examined; who made a mistake is far less important than why it was made.

David Roth:

As someone who has been on four different Boeing-made airplanes in the last week, I can attest to the limits of this fantasy in the face of the prospect that a door on your airplane—the production of which was outsourced and subcontracted by a flub-prone duopoly to save some money; the installation and inspection of which was overseen by an overworked and multiply pressured person working in a conflicted and careless system, also to save some money—might blow off at altitude. There are some problems an individual is not equipped to fix, and “airplane now has moonroof” is one of the classics, there.


There’s a bit in Maureen Tkacik’s comprehensively damning 2019 feature about Boeing in The New Republic that I keep coming back to, both here and in general. The central tension of that story is about how, as a former Boeing physicist told Tkacik, “a long and proud ‘safety culture’ was rapidly being replaced… with ‘a culture of financial bullshit.’”


The erosion of Boeing’s former, engineer-driven culture and the rise of its ravening and reckless financial-capitalism one can be traced, in Tkacik’s story, in part to Boeing’s 1997 purchase of the failing aerospace company McDonnell Douglas. The merger was more or less the corporate equivalent of inviting a vampire to cross your threshold. The heedless, shortsighted cost-cutting and contingency of the smaller and more dysfunctional company took hold at the larger and more effective one; little by little, and then all at once, Boeing got to work on making its products worse—as much worse as they could be without tanking the stock price, and occasionally, tragically, even worse than that.

Angus Whitley and Julie Johnsson (via Hacker News):

Boeing Co. found more mistakes with holes drilled in the fuselage of its 737 Max jet, a setback that could further slow deliveries on a critical program already restricted by regulators over quality lapses.

The latest manufacturing slip originated with a supplier and will require rework on about 50 undelivered 737 jets to repair the faulty rivet holes, Boeing commercial chief Stan Deal said in a note to staff.

Update (2024-02-14): David Koenig (via Slashdot):

The new chief of the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that his agency is midway through a review of manufacturing at Boeing, but he already knows that changes must be made in how the government oversees the aircraft manufacturer.

FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker suggested that Boeing — under pressure from airlines to produce large numbers of planes — is not paying enough attention to safety.

See also: How Boeing Lost Its Way (via Hacker News).

Update (2024-02-23): Dominic Gates (via Hacker News):

Boeing has ousted the leader of the 737 MAX program at its Renton plant and reshuffled its leadership team at the Commercial Airplanes division, effective immediately.


Ed Clark, vice president of the MAX program and general manager at the Renton facility, will leave the company. He’s being replaced by Katie Ringgold, the current vice president 737 delivery operations.


Clark is an engineer. His successor Ringgold has business degrees. However she began her aviation career performing avionics systems maintenance and troubleshooting on C-130 cargo aircraft in the U.S. Air Force.

Update (2024-02-27): Gregory Polek (via Hacker News):

The FAA blamed Boeing for a deficient safety culture in a 50-page report issued on Monday[…]


In a review of the employment culture at the company, an expert panel found what it called gaps in Boeing’s safety journey and that a majority of employees did not show “skillful awareness” of the concepts of just culture and reporting culture.

The panel further reported that it could not find a “consistent and clear” safety reporting channel or process within the business unit. It also noted that employees do not understand how to use the different reporting systems and which reporting system to use and when. The panel expressed concern that the confusion might discourage employees from reporting what they see as safety problems.

Oriana Pawlyk (via Hacker News):

Pierson [former Boeing senior manager] is again trying to sound the alarm. Regulators ultimately approved the plane to return to the air nearly two years after the 2019 crash, but Pierson still doesn’t trust the MAX line — the modernized, more fuel-efficient version of Boeing’s predecessor planes.

I just don’t think it’s safe. I said I purposely scheduled myself not to fly [on a MAX].


That’s all Boeing does is talk. The leadership doesn’t get down there and get involved with the people that are building the products. They don’t value the engineers, they think the engineers are replaceable. You can’t take a 20- or 30-year employee and just dump them off to the side and think that you’re going to find somebody off the street that’s going to be able to do what that person does. Then they don’t have the support mechanisms and they’re tired and they’re fatigued and they’re working like dogs — they can make mistakes.


They spent 90 percent of their energy telling the media things [like] “renewed quality” and using language in their press releases and their financial statements like “a renewed safety focus.” And then meanwhile, I’m hearing from people, “No, it’s actually just as bad or worse in the factory now than it was before.

4 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I can't remember when, but I think within the past ~20 or fewer years, after an incident but also a safe landing, the cockpit crew knew to pull a circuit breaker to the voice and flight data recorders so they wouldn't be overwritten before authorities could obtain them.

> Several pilot groups oppose longer recordings.
> “(It) would significantly infringe upon the privacy rights of pilots and other flight crew members,..."

Pilots and crew have an expectation of privacy when on the job? HAHAHAHAHA! Welcome to OUR world.

@Paul According to Reuters, that’s still how it’s supposed to work, but they forgot to pull it in all the chaos.

> Even 2 hours would have been enough if there had been a way to automatically halt the auto-erasure in the event of a safety issue occurring.

When do you halt though?

Often one safety issue is the start of a chain of issues.
And if you build a system to auto-stop in some defined circumstance, then that can potentially fire incorrectly

There _is_ a breaker that the crew could pull once safely landed and back at the gate - but unsurprisingly in all the excitement, they forgot.

Leave a Comment