A pilot from an American company told management a few months before the Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October that he was uncomfortable with the level of training he had received. before having to fly the Boeing 737 Max for the first time. But when he asked for more training, he encountered difficulties in obtaining it – and even a form of reprimand.
Like pilots from other US airlines using the 737 Max, involved in two fatal collisions in less than five months and killing nearly 350 people, this pilot was only required from the Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) to follow a video tutorial. on the new aircraft, as it was already certified to fly the previous versions of the 737 aircraft, on which the Max is based.
The US airline pilot contacted Quartz to share his experience preparing for Max's flight, but asked that his name and airline not be identified because he is not allowed to speak to the media.
After the accident in Indonesia, airlines using this model announced that they were beefing up their training to cover a new flight system that Boeing had installed in the aircraft, but whose pilots did not. have not been informed before this tragedy. The model was grounded after the crash last month with Ethiopian Airlines The preliminary report on this accident is expected today (April 4) and the aviation community – as well as the lawyers – will review closely the results.
Boeing had already been sued after the Lion Air crash. But the Ethiopian disaster has drawn attention to the design of the aircraft and Boeing's training recommendations, increasing the risk of a trial in the United States. Today (April 4), US law firms are considering filing the first undue death compensation claim on behalf of a US national against Boeing. Sanya Stumo, who died in the March crash, is the niece of US presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
"Just a different plane"
The pilot with whom Quartz spoke has about two decades of experience with his current airline and additional experience beyond. He received a two-hour video tutorial to be completed in April of last year, in accordance with the FAA's recommendation for certified pilots to pilot an earlier variant of the 737, to which the 737 Max is associated.
"After completing it, over the next two days, I started thinking that, you know, they said it was not a different plane, it was the same plane with some differences, "he said. "But I went back to my notes and on the iPad, I went through some information and realized that it was actually, it was the same cell." but there was a different instrumentation, some things were in different places, it was sitting on the ground differently and it was just a different plane.
At least two communications sent by the airline indicated that pilots would see some differences between what the iPad tutorial shows and the actual Max. He told his superiors that he was not comfortable flying the plane and asked for simulator training.
"I was going to see the plane for the first time 45 minutes before departure. I had 45 minutes to adapt to this new aircraft. After that, I would have 189 people behind me, "he said. "So I told the company that I did not feel comfortable as a pilot-in-command."
His request for a simulator was refused because the carrier did not have simulators for the Max. Even now, few airlines have Max simulators ready for training. A flight request with an instructor the first time was also initially refused. After a 45-minute conversation with the company's training department manager, the 737, she said she had agreed to fly with an instructor on her first Max flight scheduled for July between two West Coast cities. US.
"When we arrived in Los Angeles, there was no instructor, so I called the flight director to ask where the instructor was. He said he would call back, "said the pilot. A few minutes later, his chief pilot called him to announce his absence from the trip if he did not want to fly.
"I was punished not only for being removed from the trip and subtracting the pay on my part but having a "missed trip" in my schedule, which is the same as not to participate in the trip, "he said." I have never missed a trip and I I was shocked to find that even though I was sitting in the place of the plane when I left the trip, I had a missed trip done. "
The missed trip was worth about $ 3,000 in lost wages and was a black mark on her reliability record. He raised the issue with the union and filed reports internally and with the FAA. While the information on her experience was passed on to the other pilots, several people told her that they had expressed concerns about Max's training. "After that, everyone became very well known and since then I've probably guessed that 50 pilots are talking to me," he said.
The FAA did not answer the question of whether, prior to the Lion Air accident, the US pilots had expressed concerns to the regulator regarding the level of training that the aircraft had. they had received on the Max.
"Muscle memory" and Max changes
The video tutorial assigned to the pilots prior to the Lion Air accident did not cover a new stall flight system that was able to steer the aircraft sharply downward, a role that was highlighted in the preliminary investigation into this accident. This system is called the Maneuverability Enhancement System (MCAS). Another vital change related to the new system, namely that a control column intended to counter such maneuvers would no longer work as before, was also not communicated to the pilots.
"Under normal circumstances everything is working properly and we can make it work with a high degree of accuracy," said the pilot. "But if something goes wrong and we look for something, for example in the event of a fire or engine failure, a few extra seconds of information might be a problem."
For this reason, he firmly believes that simulator training for the Max is vital. "I think it would be the acceptable level of training," he said. "Give me the MCAS scenario just to build muscle memory of how to handle it."
The pilot expressed his concerns regarding the 737 Max – which he had finally flown for the first time only in December, less than two months after the Lion Air accident, with an instructor who was not able to fly. nor had he flown the plane before – still deepened after the disaster in Ethiopia and that he is keenly interested in what the investigators have discovered.
"I assume that all 737 pilots in the world were informed in detail after the Lion Air crash" to cope with the flight system's dive maneuvers, he said. "That's why I secretly fear that something bigger than that will happen and I'm going to turn off [switches to override MCAS] will not solve the problem. I hope it is not correct, I hope, but part of me says that it is bigger than that and that it will not work.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the black box data showed that Ethiopian pilots had completed the steps recommended by Boeing and the FAA following the Lion Air crash. But they have been unable to lift the plane and seem to have reversed some. The plane crashed six minutes after takeoff.
The Seattle Times said Peter Lemme, a former Boeing engineer, feared that in some cases it would not be possible to complete the prescribed checklist, which involves stabilizing the aircraft with a command dial, after have operated two switches to cut the MCAS power supply. The forces acting on the tail of the aircraft could potentially become too powerful for pilots to move the wheel to counter them, said Lemme.
Furthermore, a database of confidential safety reports from NASA-led US pilots recorded complaints from at least two pilots who piloted the Max, claiming that the plane had fished right then that they were in autopilot, that they were able to stop by stopping autopilot. However, the MCAS is not supposed to activate when the pilots are in autopilot mode, but only in manual flight mode. Boeing stated that it can not comment on this information.
What US airlines have said
In order to preserve the confidentiality of the pilot's identity, Quartz could not ask his airline to comment on the particularities of his particular situation. However, Quartz contacted the major airlines that operated the Max in the United States – US, Southwest, and UK – had their pilots requested additional training beyond the iPad video tutorial assigned prior to the launch. induction of the aircraft and, if so, how they were housed.
Southwest did not respond to the request for comment.
American referred Quartz to a comment on the training received by the pilots for the 737 Max, in which he stated:
The Boeing 737-800 pilots had to take extra training on the MAX 8, which included a one-hour lesson on some of the differences. No additional training was required as the 737-800 and MAX 8 have the same type certificates.
He also referred to a November statement in which Quartz stated:
We appreciate our partnership with Boeing, but were unaware of some of the features of the MCAS installed on the MAX 8. Work with FAA and Boeing is continuing, and we will continue to keep pilots informed of all updates.
For United Airlines, nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and our employees. We have been in close contact with investigators and Boeing to share data and cooperate fully with regulators. We also specified that our pilots are properly trained to fly the MAX safely.
He also shared an update from the union representing United who said:
Since May 2018, we have completed more than 23,000 flying hours and analyzed thousands of safety data points in our 737 MAX 9 operation. None of these data points have been attributed to performance or performance issues. mechanical. We will immediately relay any factual information relevant to our drivers and take all necessary action.