Top Letters And Comments, June 28, 2019


Automation And The Boeing 737 MAX

It is clear to me, there is a basic disconnect by designers/engineering/manufacturing, with the art of flying. Automation is supposed to augment or replace hand-flying. To accomplish that, the design team has to clearly understand flying. Not only from the basic lift/thrust/drag/gravity, but how an airplane feels when flying in all regimes of flight. Likewise, when pilots are largely depending on the automation to bear the heaviest burden of the flight from gear up to short final, it is not hard to understand the loss of hand-flying skills. Throw in the cost matrix of both certification for the manufacturer and hand-flying time expense to the airline, we have created the perfect storm of “who’s flying the airplane”.

Where does automation start/end and where does hand-flying start/end? And who or what should be intervening when either the automation or hand-flying skills go south? And what do you do when both systems are failing at the same time?

I have always believed that in both crashes, the crews were doing everything they could to save the airplane. I have always believed they were well trained. So far, the data from both crashes have demonstrated both crews were facing significant conflicting information and initially did exactly what Boeing said needed to be done, in the order Boeing had dictated. When all of that failed, both crews explored other options…all of this in a matter of a short period of time. Even Sully, well prepared for an MCAS event, seems to barely have managed to regain control…and he was in a sim, not an airplane full of people.

As sims are so good to mimic actual flight, it is still only simulation, in a sim in perfect mechanical condition mimicking a brand-new airplane. Throw in 800+ hours air-frame/engine time in a particular density altitude/wind/visibility/cloud cover with 800+ hour engines, control responses, etc….in other words an airplane whose dynamics are slightly different than a brand new one.

But a sim does not mimic a “used” airplane. Real life flying in “used”, dirty, chipped, possibly previously abused airplanes is what the art of flying is all about. The art of flying dictates how we handle an airplane that has had much maintenance done on airplane and the degradation that can cause. All of the above contributes to the actual conditions and the flying characteristics of those two MAX airplanes at the very moment MCAS went bonkers. This is where the art of hand-flying is so important.

We are facing the harsh realities of the collision between automation, eroding flying skills, designers disconnected from the realities of used airplanes while actually in flight. Simulation is great, tactile feed-back is sorely needed, but in the end, the art of hand-flying cannot be replaced by automation that believes every flight is in a brand-new airplane, in a flight regime that is only as good as the minds of the programmers. And if those programmers do not fully understand the realities of “used’ airplanes” in a largely polluted environment, it is only capable of simulating things in a perfect world.

We don’t live in a perfect world, nor do we fly perfect airplanes.

Jim Holdeman

That’s the rub: how can a pilot be sure they are overriding automation faults that should be overridden? How do they know it was a mistake in engineering or a computer glitch or, possibly, desired but unexpected behavior? How do they know that they won’t make things worse? Those things have happened. Certainly, any automation that controls the plane, whether in airspeed, attitude or navigation, shouldn’t rely on a single sensor or other information source (or at least shouldn’t operate if that information is faulty). And all pilots should know of all changes to the automation, including the authority given the automation (which is my primary gripe against MCAS; does a situation exist where its maximum authority could possibly be needed?) That being said, it is possible to override the MCAS system, but first you have to recognize what has gone awry, and quickly. Any failure at that task and the result is very bad.

R. Phillips

Skydiving Crashes

May all those who have perished in skydiving aircraft accidents RIP, including the accident in Hawaii.

As far as increased FAA oversight is concerned, Paul is right, they don’t have the expertise or the resources to do that job. As far as rule enforcement, or lack thereof, the difference between FSDOs is not exclusive to skydiving ops. Even though Washington has issued rule interpretations, the different FSDOs out there run their own district like their own kingdom, each with their own interpretations of the rules. This issue is just as prevalent in Pt135 ops as in other aviation activities. It drives the various director of operations that I have worked for absolutely nuts!

Mr. Schindler’s idea of an endorsement for jump pilots is an interesting one. My response to that is who would sign off on that endorsement? When I started jumping after several years of flying jumpers, I could not find any flight instructor who would be interested in flying jumpers.

Most of the time the insurance companies have higher standards to be eligible for coverage. Problem there is that there is no insurance for piston powered jump planes and most DZs operate with no insurance at all. Coverage for turbine airplanes usually does not cover the act of skydivers leaving the airplane.

Most people have no idea what it takes to get a pt 135 or 121 certificate from the FAA. Creating an operating certificate for pt 105 ops would shut down the industry for at least a year unless that creation was done just like the FAA did for pt91K ops. Even then the cost of a jump would at least triple in this country.

Pilot training for stalls is an issue throughout the industry, just check out the new regs sim schools have to teach now and the changes to ATP training rules.

I wish I had a solution to this issue. I have been lucky enough to have flown for and jumped out of planes that I felt were safe enough. I have also walked away from flying planes that I did not think were safe. The waiver that most jumpers sign to be able to jump does spell out the risks involved. Is this something that is being relied upon too much? Only the legal system will determine that.

Matt Wagner

Are The FAA’s New Streamlined Supersonic Testing Regs Worth the Bother?

Rules can prevent deaths such as in the 737 MAX case.


Regulations need to keep up with the times and not to special interests. If the science and common good says they need to tighten up, do it. If it says time to relax it then do it.


As long as these remain “testing rules”. Once tested, more rules for integration of SST’s will need to be formed.


It’s the FAA – guaranteed to be screwed up!


More 1%ers means more demand. It’ll go.


These are energy hogs and noisy. The world just does not need them.


Yes, high net worth individuals will pay for supersonic jets


Counterproductive on fight over lowering CO2.


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