Boeing 737 MAX test pilot grappled with simulator flaws, too

Pilots have complained they did not know about the existence of MCAS for the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft before the Lion Air crash in October 2018. (AP)
Updated 19 October 2019

Boeing 737 MAX test pilot grappled with simulator flaws, too

  • Broader conversation appears to show the Boeing pilot was also grappling with a number of software problems with the flight simulator Btself
  • Pilots have complained they did not know about the existence of MCAS before the Lion Air crash in October 2018

SEATTLE: In newly released instant messages from 2016, a top Boeing 737 MAX test pilot tells a colleague that the jet’s MCAS flight control system — the same one linked to two fatal crashes — was “running rampant in the (simulator) on me.”
But the broader conversation appears to show the Boeing pilot was also grappling with a number of software problems with the flight simulator itself, according to a former Boeing test pilot who analyzed the transcript and who had direct knowledge of the flight simulator at the time.
Such calibration problems may have contributed in some way to then-chief technical pilot Mark Forkner’s observations and conclusions about MCAS’ behavior, the former pilot, and a second former Boeing engineering employee, Rick Ludtke, said.
The messages, first reported by Reuters, appear to be the first publicly known observations that MCAS behaved erratically during testing before the aircraft entered service.
They sent Boeing’s shares tumbling, prompted a demand by US regulators for an immediate explanation, and a new call in Congress for the world’s largest planemaker to shake up its management.
At one point during the 9-minute conversation, Forkner tells colleague Patrik Gustavsson that he was in his hotel room “with an ice-cold grey goose” after a session on a flight simulator earlier in the day.
The Nov. 16, 2016 conversation took place four months before the US Federal Aviation Administration certified the MAX, the latest iteration of Boeing’s 737 aircraft, and two years before deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people.
That simulator, likely supplied by Textron Inc. company TRU Simulation + Training, was also still months away from winning FAA certification and had numerous technical problems that affected its performance, the former Boeing pilot said.
At one point in the exchange, Forkner tells his colleague the machine was “pretty stable” and he had signed off on some “DRs,” or “discrepancy reports” — likely meaning that they had resolved earlier issues, the two former Boeing employees said.
“But there are still some real fundamental issues that they claim they’re aware of,” Forkner said, likely referring to the manufacturer.
Boeing declined to comment. TRU did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Forkner’s lawyer David Gerger told Reuters: “The simulator was not reading right and had to be fixed to fly like the real plane.”
Earlier in their conversation, Gustavsson asks Forkner whether he could get anything done in the simulator or if he experienced the “normal chaos.” That likely refers to general software issues, the former Boeing employees said.
Forkner then says MCAS was “running rampant in the sim on me.” He describes what he experienced: “I’m levelling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like craxy (sic). I’m like, WHAT?”
Gustavsson responds that he experienced similar patterns with MCAS, “but on approach.”
“On approach” is when pilots line up the aircraft to land. At a certain elevation, pilots typically extend the aircraft’s flaps, the former Boeing employees said.
Boeing has said MCAS only operates when the flaps are retracted, so it would be unusual that Gustavsson would have experienced the same behavior on approach, with flaps extended, the former Boeing employees said.
“We don’t know if he is describing glitches in the simulation, or if it’s actually an MCAS misbehavior,” Ludtke said.
Pilots have complained they did not know about the existence of MCAS before the Lion Air crash in October 2018. In a separate set of emails released by the FAA on Friday, Forkner told the agency in January 2017 that the company would delete references to MCAS from the flight operator’s manual “because it is outside the normal operating envelope.”
In marketing the 737 MAX, Boeing said current 737 pilots would only need computer-based training on the new narrowbody model rather than simulator training, which is more costly. The FAA approved the training requirements when it certified the aircraft in 2017.


US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.