Monday, November 19, 2018

Lion Air crash raises questions over industry secrecy

The crash of Lion Air Flight 610 last month was obviously tragic in and of itself, with the loss of nearly 200 lives. But it has shone a spotlight – albeit an all too dim one – on a problem that extends far beyond one Indonesian airline and one American aircraft manufacturer.

Investigators suspect that a software system called “MCAS” may have caused or at least contributed to the crash. You probably don’t have any idea what MCAS is, or what it does. The problem is, neither do many pilots, or airline operators. Because in the aviation industry, secrecy is the name of the game – a game that can be deadly.
Lion Air Flight JT610 departed Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta International Airport on October 29, at 6:20am local time, headed for the popular tourist destination of Pangkalpinang, off Sumatra – normally a short one-hour flight.
Bhavye Suneja, of Delhi, India, was captain of the new Boeing 737 MAX 8, which had only been in service two months. Suneja had 6,000 hours of flight experience, while his co-pilot, named only as Harvino, had 5,000 hours. A relatively experienced crew.

With good weather forecast for the entire journey, it had all the markings of another routine flight. Takeoff was routine, the 737’s Leap 1B engines powering it upward to an altitude of 900 meters, when things went very wrong.
While the investigation is still in its early stages, and officials are not issuing any conclusions at this point – all possibilities will be looked at, including terrorism – a software system has become the subject of intense controversy.

As the search continued for valuable clues, Boeing, the maker of the 737 – deemed one of the safest in the world – publicly admitted that a standard, silent piece of software called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, was installed on the computer systems of all MAX 8s.

Unfortunately, Boeing never told anyone – not the operators, not the pilots, and certainly not the flying public. It was never mentioned in the flight manual, the essential bible for commercial pilots.
19/11/18 Dave Makichur/Asia Times