Three Points: Monday for Max, divesting Belfast, Aeroflot’s evacuation disaster

Issue No. 1

Second Monday for Max

Before the week even got rolling, there was a gush of reporting Sunday on Boeing and the 737 Max. When Southwest’s pilots union leadership met with Boeing in Reno after the Lion Air crash, Capt. & President Jon Weaks asked “Are there anymore surprises?” The answer apparently was yes. TAC reported (four days after the meeting) on the AoA indicator’s addition to Southwest’s 737 Max fleet back in November. We now know the addition of the AoA indicator on the primary flight display was because the AoA disagree notification wouldn’t function without it. However, in March, Southwest hadn’t been given the full picture, according to the Wall Street Journal. The AOA disagree wasn’t active at all. Boeing had known since 2017 that it wasn’t functioning, but didn’t tell airlines or the FAA. Yes, pilots don’t use the disagree message for essential flying, but American Airlines’ pilot union spokesman Capt. Dennis Tajer notes: “This slow toxic drip of full disclosure only after full discovery … (has) got to stop if we are going to rebuild the trust that has been so deeply violated.”

Dominic Gates at the Seattle Times has another reporting tour de force in the paper’s Sunday edition on the Organizational Delegation Authority system used to certify Boeing planes by the FAA (including the 737 Max) with changes made in the reporting structure under the modified Authorized Representative system. A must read.

The Washington Post also has a deep dive into the dynamics of the Boeing board of directors. It’s extremely rare to have two Boeing directors on the record anywhere. Boeing’s board discussions are typically considered at Fight Club-levels of opacity. Worth noting, the first reporting on a second Muilenburg phone call to Trump the day of the grounding.

60 Minutes Australia also devotes a full episode to the Max grounding. For those closely following the grounding and the on-going investigations, much of this will be re-hash of what you already know and leaves out some pertinent context. However, the episode also buries the lede. 60 Minutes says it interviewed an active Boeing employee who is also serving as an FBI informant. The key quote: “MCAS was designed using data from only one of the sensors because we knew the FAA would not have certified a two sensor system without level D [simulator] training.”

Bombardier Unloading A220 Wing Plant

Bombardier last Thursday decided to put their Belfast and Morocco aerostructures facilities up for sale. Belfast is home to manufacturing of the A220’s composite wing. “This is a strategic move and the timing is right,” says Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare. So who’s buying? Local news reports suggested China was interested in purchasing the factory, along with its other Northern Ireland aerospace acquisitions, but JP Morgan notes: “We think Airbus will have significant interest in who acquires these assets and think that Spirit Aerosystems would be interested in acquiring them.” An acquisition by Spirit would mark a major diversification away from Boeing, a point of long-sought strategic stability for the company.

However, the recent history of the global aerospace industry leads in another likely direction. Own. Your. Wing. Boeing now builds 777X wings itself after the 787 development. Bombardier bought the Global 7500 wings from Triumph, which also unloaded the G650 wing back to Gulfstream and G280 wings back to IAI. In January, we noted the A220 program was the first in Airbus history, perhaps the first in aerospace, where the manufacturer with its name on the side actually produced none of the plane itself. Shenyang Aircraft Corp. already makes the center fuselage of the A220 and Xian Aircraft is responsible for all the A320 wingboxes going into Tianjin. But owning the A220 wing, and its composite resin transfer molding technology, may be a key Airbus wants to hold itself for its next generation single-aisle or any other move the company makes, a fact strongly hinted at by Airbus’ new CEO Guillaume Faury in our interview with him last June at the Paris Air Show.

Aeroflot’s Evacuation Tragedy

An Aeroflot-operated Sukhoi Superjet 100 caught fire on landing Sunday at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. At least 41 people were killed during the evacuation of the aircraft, which was significantly consumed by fire. Early reports point to a lightning strike that forced the return of Flight 1492 back to Moscow, followed by a hard multiple-bounce landing, according to footage from the scene. An unbelievably tragic situation and a stark contrast to the Miami Air 737-800 overrun in Jacksonville just a day earlier.

The industry has become accustomed to seeing accidents where (in most cases) everyone survives once the slides are popped. AeroMexico’s E190 Durango in 2018, American’s 767 in Chicago in 2016, Emirates 777-300 in Dubai in 2016, British Airways 777-200ER in Vegas in 2015, Asiana 214 in 2013, Air France A340 in Toronto in 2005. In most of the cases above, passengers were seen grabbing bags on the way out of the aircraft, as was reportedly the case in Moscow, slowing down the escape. The message from cabin crews to leaving your bags behind is perpetually reinforced, but a dark quirk of human nature seems to take hold in modern emergencies. As far as the 90-second evacuation requirement goes, it’s worth revisiting whether or not passengers grabbing bags will be/should be modeled as part of an evacuation test. The 2018 FAA Reauthorization (Sec. 337) calls for a review of the evacuation standards to be completed and submitted to Congress by October, but with the shutdown and 737 Max grounding, it’s assumed to be slipping to the right. There hasn’t been a full-scale evacuation test since the A380’s development in 2006 and on the 777-200 12 years earlier.

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