Pilot Union Defends Ethiopian Pilots, Questions 737 MAX Cert


The head of American Airlines’ pilot unit strenuously defended the pilots of Ethiopian Air 737 MAX that crashed in March and he questioned the certification process in place when the MAX was approved. Allied Pilot Association President Daniel Carey made the remarks in a transcript released ahead of a House hearing on the 737 MAX.

The hearing is part of the House’s Subcommittee on Aviation “Status of the Boeing 737 MAX: Stakeholder Perspectives.” In addition to Carey, other speakers will include Sharon Pinkerton, Airlines for America; Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA; Randy Babbitt, Former Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration; and Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

In defending Ethiopian Air and its crew, he says, “I can tell you that the members of APA are offended by remarks made by those who seem to blame the pilots killed in those two crashes. Some negative aspersions have appeared in the press relating to the quality of pilots trained in Africa. I am here to tell you that I worked in Africa and trained African pilots to fly large aircraft. I am very familiar with Ethiopian Air’s pilot training program and facilities, and I can tell you that they are world-class. In fact, while not one U.S. airline has a MAX simulator, one non-U.S. airline does—Ethiopian Air. To make the claim that these accidents would not happen to U.S.-trained pilots is presumptuous and not supported by fact.”

Looking forward to the MAX’s return to service pending approval of the software changes, Carey says, “I believe that the Boeing engineers have indeed made significant positive changes with the new software fixes, many of which our pilots demanded when we met with Boeing officials in November 2018. There are now redundancies embedded in the aircraft in the event of the ‘firing’ of MCAS. However, at APA we remained concerned about whether the new training protocol, materials and method of instruction suggested by Boeing are adequate to ensure that pilots across the globe flying the MAX fleet can do so in absolute complete safety.”

“With regard to the public policy issues generated by the fatal MAX crashes, the foremost and most urgent, in my view, is assessment of the adequacy of the FAA aircraft certification process. This is a complex subject because the certification process is extremely sophisticated. So, I do not have all the answers about ways to improve the FAA aircraft certification process, but I do have some questions: 1) First, is the FAA sufficiently independent of the manufacturers so as to provide a legitimately rigorous audit of the manufacturers’ design and engineering? 2) Second, should a ‘federated’ system, which may lead to an unrecoverable event, ever be certified by the FAA? 3) Third, should an FAA aircraft certification—such as a 737 designation from 1967— have a date for termination or sunset? 4) Finally, is the FAA sufficiently equipped to ensure that pilot training protocols are vigorous and robust as aircraft are becoming more and more technologically sophisticated?”

In his summation, Carey says that “this is a global aviation crisis of trust and will require global solutions to restore and bolster aviation’s global safety culture and reputation. As sad and grim as these crashes were, there is an opportunity to lead and bring something positive out of this darkness.”

Watch the live House committee hearing here. 

Marc Cook
KITPLANES Editor in Chief Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for more than 30 years. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. He’s completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glasair Sportsman 2+2, and currently flies a 2002 GlaStar.

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  1. Ethiopian Airlines is noted for its’ training program.
    You cannot train for things that you don’t know about; the MCAS was not disclosed.
    Air Canada also has a MAX simulator; no use without proper programming based on actual systems.
    One root cause of the MAX issue is how the stick force gradient problem was dealt with.
    When you add area forward, you must add area aft; when that area is horizontal, the larger and further forward nacelles, horizontal area needed to be added aft; a larger stabiliser.
    That is the aerodynamic solution; what one would expect as a proper “Fix”.
    If a mechanical solution was desired, a Stick Pusher would be the norm, not a system which automatically runs the trim to the limit, over-riding the elevator power.

    • I disagree.
      EVERYONE knew about about MCAS auto-trim after the first crash.
      There is no reason why Ethiopian pilots were not aware of trim issues some 5 months later.
      I’m just a GA pilot and I read up on the symptoms and solutions.
      I guarantee that if I was a real pilot and my butt was in the left seat of a 737 MAX that I would have investigated and worked out “what ifs” in case I felt the trim shoving the plane where I did not want it!

  2. Seriously? First, the one of the basic rules for flying an aircraft in an emergency is: Fly the Aircraft. The power remained in climb power throughout the emergency all the way until it crashed going well over VMO. The faster the aircraft flew , the more down nose pressure was exerted on the stabilizer. They clearly had no sense of this basic fact of how the stab trim works. Clearly as they exceeded VMO, a high speed stall was not remotely a possibility. With the flaps out on takeoff and the speed rapidly increasing, a slow sped stall was not remotely a possibility. Clearly they had no knowledge of the concept of pitch, power and airspeed as they relate to the possibility of a stall. They also had no knowledge of the well know concept of slowing things down when you have an emergency going on. If they had kept the flaps in the takeoff setting and reduced power, MCAS would never had engaged in the first place. Additionally, a slower speed would have provided the chance to handle the stab trim forces. I repeat they never reduced the power from normal climb power, which ultimately made the aircraft uncontrollable.
    Second, they failed to follow the procedure outlined in the Boeing update to all Max operators after the first crash. They finally turned the the stab trim switches to cutoff, as called out in the Boeing procedure. But because the low time co-pilot moved the manual trim switches in the wrong direction, the captain elected to reengage the stab trim cutoff switches to on. This set the stage for the stab trim to move to a position, whose force could not be physically overcome because of the ever increasing airspeed, as a result of the fact the power was never reduced.
    Obviously Boeing screwed up big time by designing a safety system with a single point of failure, with the system totally dependent upon a single AOA prob. With no backup and a comparator system with the right AOA, this was an accident waiting to happen. Also by making a warning light/system an expensive option, they removed another backup to a single point of failure of a so-called safety system. Additionally, they went from a modest movement of the stab trim with a MCAS engagement to a aggressive movement, which could quickly make a bad situation uncontrollable if certain basic common sense rules for dealing with an emergency were not followed.
    All the points that Carey raised in his testimony are fair points to consider, however in the end it was a poorly designed system and a lack of basic flying knowledge that ultimately led to these deadly accidents.

    As a point of reference to my experience to make the above comments, I have forty-nine years of safe flying, thirty-six years of Navy and airline flying with 20,500 plus flight hours.

  3. A large load of dangerous nonsense from someone who ought to know better.

    “…should a ‘federated’ system, which may lead to an unrecoverable event, ever be certified by the FAA?”
    Got a yaw damper? It’s federated.
    Does your autopilot-cum-flight-control-system have “modes?” It’s federated.
    Does your automation allow real-time participation of human pilots? It’s federated.
    The head of a pilots union should be careful what he asks for.

    “…should an FAA aircraft certification—such as a 737 designation from 1967— have a date for termination or sunset?”
    Spoken like someone who fully expects to retire every aircraft in the civil fleet, within 20 years of certification. That’s not the way the real world works. Ask any DC-3 pilot.

    In my worthless opinion, Boeing’s MCAS is a crappy kludge. But ANY rated pilot should be able to cope with a runaway trim event. Period. All publicly available evidence shows that four of them apparently couldn’t – because they clearly didn’t.

    Carey isn’t being helpful. Too bad.