American Airlines Pilots Said the 737 MAX Was Safe, Now They Say Boeing’s Plan Isn’t Enough

After the Ethiopian Airlines disaster and before the FAA grounded the Boeing 737 MAX American Airlines pilots came out declaring the aircraft safe.

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), representing the 15,000 pilots of American Airlines, remains confident in the Boeing 737 Max and in our members’ ability to safely fly it.

The pilots for the world’s largest airline have the necessary training and experience to troubleshoot problems and take decisive actions on the flight deck to protect our passengers and crew.

They also underscored that American Airlines 737 MAXs were unique, “the only ones equipped with two [Angle of Attack] displays, one for each pilot, providing an extra layer of awareness and warning.”

Now that the aircraft is grounded, however, and Boeing is working to bring it back into service with updated software, procedures, and training, pilots say the plan isn’t good enough.


American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX Interior

There was no need to ground the aircraft, according to the airline’s pilots union. But it’s also not safe to bring back as-proposed. Those are two positions which are difficult, but not impossible, to reconcile.

A draft report by an FAA-appointed board of pilots, engineers and other experts concluded that pilots only need additional computer-based training to understand MCAS, rather than simulator time.

…[The pilots’ union] is arguing that mere computer explanation “will not provide a level of confidence for pilots to feel not only comfortable flying the aircraft but also relaying that confidence to the traveling public.”

It said the MAX computer training, which originally involved a one-hour iPad course, should include videos of simulator sessions showing how MCAS works along with demonstrations of other cockpit emergencies such as runaway stabilizer, a loss of control that occurred on both doomed flights.

APA also called for recurring training on simulators that includes scenarios like those experienced by the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines pilots, in addition to computer training.


American Airlines Flight Simulators, Fort Worth

More training is better, and that’s tough to argue against. The union likely also sees an opportunity for more paid time for its members.

And American Airlines is in something of a pickle. If the pilots say they need to be paid to do simulator training, that’s what is going to need to happen. During last week’s earnings call, CEO Doug Parker basically said it is the pilots’ call as to whether the aircraft is safe.

We -that’s what gives us – what will give us confidence and what will give the flying public confidence that the aircraft is safe to fly will be when American Airlines pilots say that it’s safe to fly because I can tell you for certain is that if an American owned pilot decides that their plane is safe to fly you can be a hundred percent certain of that and not because – not out of bravado, out of analysis, out of understanding the aircraft, out of training, out of knowing, they have been their co-pilot has been trained accordingly.

So absolutely our pilots will be not just involved and critical to this process will make sure whatever time the aircraft is deemed airworthy that our pilots will – that will have a leadership role in ensuring that they are comfortable with that.

It sounds like American Airlines pilots will be getting sim time coming up.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. @Alex_77W,

    THAT is the more appropriate suggestion.

    APA, more than any other org not named FAA or Boeing, seemed very quick after the Lion Air crash to consider the MAX8 airworthy before all facts or details were available. And within the recent past, for Southwest to highlight they weren’t informed of changes to AoA warning systems on the MAX8, it seems the APA had ulterior motives for their quick defense.

    That begs the question, what else are they glossing over?

  2. @PaulS

    Are you just picking Boeing aircraft models at random?

    The 777 has never had a single passenger fatality due to mechanical failure of the aircraft – it’s quite literally the safest wide-body aircraft ever built, potentially the safest of any type, ever, given its 24 years of service already.

  3. Gary- you and the other bloggers are all operating from the assumption that the 737 Max will fly again. Maybe it will, but I doubt it. The plane has a design flaw that Boeing corrected with software. That is to say, without the software fix, the plane will pull wheelies in the sky and stall. Boeing’s fix for this was to program the software to crash the plane into the ground during takeoff. As a layman, it seems insane to me that any software fix was ever considered a reasonable solution to this issue. It is akin to building a car without brakes, but then installing an algorithm to predict when the car will need to slow down in the future and easing off the gas, or choosing uphill roads to slow the brakeless car down. Of course the car will crash into things, it doesn’t have brakes, no software can fix that design flaw. We will see what happens, but I don’t expect the Max to ever fly again.

  4. American as a whole (corporate and pilots) more and more resemble the trump mafia, lying through their noses and flip-flopping as it seems convenient to them.

    I guess this is the new normal for our country, nobody pays attention to fact checking and anyone (powerful enough) can get away with pretty much anything.

  5. The APA union saying the 737 MAX is “safe” is not the same as all or even a majority of American Airlines pilots saying the 737 MAX is safe. There is a difference.

    A couple of weeks ago, during a weather delay, passengers had the option to deplane or stay on board. I stayed for awhile and was delighted to have a chat in the cockpit with the AA pilots about the 737 MAX. Suffice it to say they had some issues with the requirements, or lack thereof, for transitioning from the 737 to the MAX and the MCAS system. They didn’t contend the plane was “unsafe” though. That would be quite a statement.

    Getting extra pay for training didn’t seem to have anything to do with it. That might be the union’s issue. These pilots wanted to know their aircraft. Seems reasonable to me.

  6. @JFKPHL: they’re is one thing we can agree on in your comment: you are a layman.

    Of course it will fly again. There are very few systems in that plane that don’t require software. To say that it should work without software is just ignorant.

    Yes, they implemented the software incorrectly the first time. It will be better in the second iteration. But there was always going to be and always will be software controlling that plane.

  7. The only way to reconcile these statements is that it confirms that they are a bunch of liars.

    I will not fly the Boeing 737 Max for a long time — what other shortcuts did Boeing take that they kept secret?

  8. Not to state the obvious here – but there was a ton of information learned between those two statements, by everyone. Specifically around cases that Boeing that were solved but clearly weren’t upon further investigation in the weeks following – which is pretty much why the first statement says what it says, and why the second statement says what it is.

    I know that doesn’t fit the clickbait mantra, but you’re more than smart enough to know that.

  9. One one level it’s vaguely humorous, as if people forget the somewhat creepy ( and certainly premature) blustering and ringing endorsements by all the US carriers in the wake of the Ethiopian crash : “ full confidence in Boeing and in the ability of our pilots.,,best in the world…to fly it safely”, blah, blah, blah endlessly and conveniently. Until now.
    The MAX is as dead as a dodo. It will never fly. The fleets will be cannibalised or converted into regular 737s.
    What a tragedy that so many had to die as a consequence of some marketing scumbags prevailing over the many great people at Boeing who argued for a different approach. Classic case of paying lip service to safety while serving mammon.

  10. Gary,

    The problem is that the union, industry commentators (including you) and others made many rash comments right after the Ethiopian plane crash claiming that the MAX was safe to fly, that the Ethiopian and Lion Air pilots were poorly trained, that Boeing and the FAA did everything right in certifying the plane, etc. Those statements were misinformed and inaccurate. Most people knew it at the time, but many people (including you) kept making them. Everyone involves needs a thorough fix to the errors that led to the design flaws and poor software implementation on the plan – if that results in more delays and more training, so be it

  11. Im not sure why US bloggers are so under the spell of Boeing.

    These things will not fly again as there is a design error. A new type may fly after design is fixed. The existing ones will never see the sky again.

    AA making statements on this is a joke in itself as AA is about the least reliable airline one can think of. Zero credibility/

    The combination of AA and 737Max is an absolutely lethal one

  12. @Anthony – I *never* said Boeing did everything right in certifying the planes. I simply said that the early calls to ground the plane were based on insufficient information.

  13. Gary, your comments seem too cynical here. That said, given that we’re talking about a pilot’s union, you could be correct. 🙂

    As outsiders, though, there’s really no way to tell. I am amused by the folks who say they’ll “never get on a Boeing airplane again.” The reality, of course, is that being on a Boeing airplane is one of the safer places you can be in the world. Probably safer than being in your own bed.

  14. A single-component failure (Angle of Attack Sensor – AOA) should never be allowed to potentially down an aircraft. It appears that is exactly what happened on these 737MAX crashes. The 737MAX Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (FMEA) should have taken the Boeing engineers back to a redesign with 3 AOA’s to ensure 2 AOA’s signals always agree and more sophisticated software.

    I have little confidence that Boeing management can develop and field safe commercial aircraft after the grounding of the 787 and 737MAX fleets soon after fielding. The 737MAX MCAS software design was so lacking in providing an kind of redundancy or cross checks (only looking at 1 AOA per flight) – it should be an huge embarrassment to Boeing and an indicator of Boeing’s incompetencies.

    Boeing management should be held criminally liable after the Lion Air crash to the downing of the Ethiopian 737MAX aircraft killing all 157 people onboard. It may be just a single birdstrike to the single AOA being monitored that downed the Ethiopian aircraft. Boeing management knew that a single-component failure the AOA could potential down a 737MAX aircraft. It is unbelievable that Boeing would knowingly put the traveling public at this great risk.

    The 737MAX is an unsafe kludge aircraft by installing larger and heavier engines and installing them further forward with an increased upward tilt to allow the engines to clear the runway. This changed the aircraft center-of-gravity and thrust angle increasing the aircraft tendency greatly to pitch up and stall very quickly. The Boeing 737MAX should NEVER be certified again to fly the traveling public even with new software and redundant AOA’s. It is an unstable aircraft design that can’t be fixed due to oversized heavy engines.

  15. How many hours or cycles did the 737max and the 777 make with out an incident? I think that we are being a bit hasty to consign the 737max or the 777 or Boeing for that matter to the scrap heap. If my next flight is on ether aircraft, I will do so knowing that not only is this a great aircraft but the pilots are the best.
    Let’s get real

  16. @jm delisi

    I am just an interested layman but my understanding was that the longer/heavier fuselage of the -10 balances better with the larger engines and removed the need.

    @JFKPHL lol calm down and get a hold of yourself the plane can fly perfectly fine without the software – there is no software fix that would turn a brick into an aerodynamic machine. Without MCAS the pilots flying the MAX would have had to receive new training for the very different handling characteristics, something ironically all of the airlines had told Boeing they didn’t want. So, to avoid this Boeing put in this fatally flawed “safety system” to prevent stalls, which would have been slightly easier due to the engine placement of the MAX.

    This doesn’t excuse Boeing for their appalling software design decision that appears to have created a single-point failure vulnerability, but to say the basic design can’t fly without software, or that existing models will never fly again, is ridiculous. This information is all publicly available in the thousands of articles written recently on this subject. Geez.

  17. Maybe Paul S doesn’t want to fly on the 777 because of the trend towards 10-across seating. Doesn’t mean the 777 is unsafe. I can also see Paul S hesitating to fly on a 777X. Given Boeing’s last 2 airplane types, 737MAX and 787, faced fleet wide groundings who knows what issues the 777X will have.

  18. It is difficult to grasp the extent of the limitation of the design of the 737-Max. The Airbus that landed in the Hudson due to no engine power was Zero Fatalities because the pilot had extensive glider experience. Do airplanes experience complete loss of engine power and pilots and passengers live to tell about it? Yes.
    To convince me the 737 Max is airworthy, after the software is updated and pilots learn the new requirements, show me in the simulator that it can land safely in typical weather situations with no engine power. One stipulation: You cannot ask all the passengers to run to the front of the aircraft. (Nor program that in the simulator.)
    Then, Boeings CEO can take flight with the test pilots and demonstrate on the real deal. Or, with their personal approval, he can nominate a Member of the Board of Directors as a proxy, but no underlings.
    After these tests, I may be persuaded that in a worst case scenario, the pilots can just turn off the engines and “fly the plane” as they reportedly advised news media after the Lion Air disaster and the Ethiopian Air disaster.

  19. In hindsight it would have been better to ground the MAX after Lion Air. The Ethiopian crash provided no new evidence except that the same problem happened again. The MAX was a new plane that was in service in limited numbers. It could be easily taken out of service for a while. Had Boeing grounded it then and worked out a real fix in short order, public confidence and airline orders would not have been at much risk.

    Now the PR of two proverbial smoking holes in the ground will be much harder to overcome. The concerns voiced in these comments, whether or not based in fact, illustrate the problem. Perception is reality. Probably overly dramatic but the MAX is now a serial killer in the eyes of a portion of the population. Those making the big bucks at Boeing should have thought about that after Lion Air before assuring us the plane had zero safety issues.

    I’m a Boeing fan. However the MAX shakes my confidence in Boeing and the FAA.

  20. I watched Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg press conference today (4/29/19). I was not impressed. It sounded to me like business as usual. I wanted to hear (1) we are investigating how the problems with the Max occurred and are fixing them and (2) we are establishing a permanent committee to review quality and control throughout Boeing to make recommendations on preventing Max situations in the future. For (1), I heard we are making minor fixes, but there is nothing inherently wrong. For (2), I heard crickets [maybe I missed it]. I am sure they will get the Max flying again. But what happens if there are problems with Boeing planes in the future. Will Boeing now aggressively fix them before they cause crashes? Based on Dennis Muilenburg excuses, it does not look like it to me. I would not touch the Boeing stock with a 100 foot pole.

    As to flying the Max. I would, in the philosophy of the Kenny Rogers song the Gambler: “And the best that you can hope for is to diein your sleep.” I think dying in a Max plane crash is relatively quick and painless.

  21. The CEO has unwittingly fostered an atmosphere of group think that is detrimental to Boeings long term existence.
    The Board of Directors is suppose to prevent that attitude. The shareholders, AKA the owners, are ultimately responsible.
    All of them should be required to fly this whale or sell their stock to someone that is.
    If Elon Musk started driving an Audi to work because of the Teslas that spontaneously combusted or drove themselves into accidents, would you even think about keeping Tesla stock.
    Will I fly in this plane… yes only because statistically (based on number of successful flights, not based on number of surviving aircraft) I will be safe. I will avoid it for my family travel, even if I have to use a different airline. Like the KR song, you have to know when to walk away and know when to RUN.

  22. The number of “I’m not going to depend on software to fly a plane…I’m flying Airbus from now on!” posts is always entertaining.

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