Former Boeing Engineers Say Relentless Cost-Cutting Sacrificed Safety
The failures of the 737 Max appear to be the result of an emphasis on speed, cost, and above all shareholder value.
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May 9, 2019 - by Peter Robinson for bloomberg.com
The simulators in which pilots train to fly airliners are engineering marvels in themselves. Picture a squat pod raised 10 feet in the air and mounted on spider legs that let the whole contraption move up, down, left, right, forward, and back.
To meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements, the pilots sitting inside must be shown a realistic representation of what they'd see outside a real cockpit, so images are projected onto a curved mirror. Many simulators use cinema-quality sound to create a cacophony of alerts and warnings. Each machine costs as much as $15 million, and airlines pay hundreds of dollars an hour for pilots to use one.
As Boeing Co. developed the 737 Max, the newest version of its most profitable and now most infamous plane, engineers repeatedly invited FAA officials to look over their designs in one of the company's Seattle simulators—an even more realistic mock-up incorporating pieces of actual aircraft. One purpose was to find out how to ensure that pilots switching to the new plane from previous 737 models never had to get inside one for what's known as Level D training. "We showed them all these scenarios, and then we'd ask, 'Would this change equal Level D?' " recalls former Boeing engineer Rick Ludtke.
Boeing got what it wanted: Pilots moving from a 737-800 to the 737 Max would need at most Level B training, which they could complete in an hour or two on an iPad. That let airlines deploy the $120 million plane more quickly. For Boeing, it was an important selling point that gave customers one less reason to defect to its European rival Airbus SE...