What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 MAX?
Malfunctions caused two deadly crashes. But an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty.
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September 28, 2019 - By William Langewiesche for nytimes.com
- The rush to lay blame was based in part on a poor understanding not just of the technicalities but also of Boeing's commercial aviation culture
On Oct. 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 taxied toward the runway at the main airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, carrying 189 people bound for Bangka Island, a short flight away.
The airplane was the latest version of the Boeing 737, a gleaming new 737 Max that was delivered merely three months before.
The captain was a 31-year-old Indian named Bhavye Suneja, who did his initial flight training at a small and now-defunct school in San Carlos, Calif., and opted for an entry-level job with Lion Air in 2011.
Lion Air is an aggressive airline that dominates the rapidly expanding Indonesian market in low-cost air travel and is one of Boeing's largest customers worldwide. It is known for hiring inexperienced pilots — most of them recent graduates of its own academy — and for paying them little and working them hard.
Pilots like Suneja who come from the outside typically sign on in the hope of building hours and moving on to a better job. Lion Air gave him some simulator time and a uniform, put him into the co-pilot's seat of a 737 and then made him a captain sooner than a more conventional airline would have.
Nonetheless, by last Oct. 29, Suneja had accumulated 6,028 hours and 45 minutes of flight time, so he was no longer a neophyte. On the coming run, it would be his turn to do the flying.
The deregulated Indonesian airline industry was also attracting attention, but not of the desirable kind. Accompanying the drastic expansion in traffic was a disproportionate rise in accidents.
There were many contributing factors, mostly among the budget carriers but affecting Garuda as well: an onrush of inexperienced pilots willing to work long hours for low pay; discouragement among mechanics, ramp workers and dispatchers; pressure to keep airplanes flying despite component failures that should have grounded them; the falsification of cargo and passenger manifests; dual maintenance and flight logs; and corruption permeating the entire system, including even air-traffic control.