Business Insider Edition

A damning new report on the 737 Max blames 'inexperienced pilots' and the low-cost airlines who employ them — not Boeing

Rachel Premack , Business Insider US
 Sep 19, 2019, 11:26 AM
Undelivered Boeing 737 Max planes are parked idly in a Boeing property in Seattle, Washington, on August 13, 2019.
David Ryder/Getty Images
  • The Boeing 737 Max has been grounded worldwide for months following two fatal crashes that happened five months apart and killed 346 people.
  • Boeing has taken most of the blame for the crashes, due in part to faulty software systems and design issues that are believed to have contributed to the incidents.
  • But a new report from The New York Times veers toward placing the blame on inexperienced pilots - and the industry that demands a constant stream of new talent to staff low-cost operations.
  • The report has an even more chilling conclusion - that thousands of inexperienced crews worldwide are flying passengers every day.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

Boeing has lost more than $1 billion (R14 billion) since its 737 Max plane was grounded earlier this year, according to the company's most recent earnings report.

That's following the deaths of 346 people, who were killed in two similar, fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max planes in October 2018 and March 2019.

While many have placed the blame for those crashes on faulty Boeing software, a damning new report from The New York Times Magazine on September 18 points to the inexperience of the pilots in both crashes.

And, moreover, NYT Magazine writer-at-large William Langewiesche, a former national correspondent for The Atlantic, says the push for international, low-cost air travel has allowed newbie pilots to fly international routes - putting at risk the lives of dozens aboard their jets.

As Langewiesche wrote about the Jakarta, Indonesia-based Lion Air, whose October 29, 2018 crash killed all 189 on board:

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.

The captain, a 31-year-old Indian national named Bhavye Suneja, was put in charge of piloting the 737 sooner than "a more conventional airline" would have, Langewiesche wrote. And, once the 737 was having issues, the Lion Air crew didn't mitigate the failures, according to the article. A few other bizarre happenings communicated Suneja's lack of experience. For instance, he told air-traffic control that he didn't know the plane's altitude.

NYT Magazine also argued in the report that the pilots directing Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed on March 10, had similarly questionable instincts in controlling the 737 Max. As Business Insider previously reported, the copilot in that flight had just 200 hours of flight experience.

"Two-hundred hours is extremely low," Ross Aimer, the CEO of the airline consulting and legal firm Aero Consulting Experts, previously told Business Insider. "In an emergency, it becomes a problem.

"If you have a complicated airplane and you basically put a student pilot in there, that's not a good thing," Aimer added. "Even if the guy in the left seat has so much experience, if you have so much imbalance of experience, that can be a problem."

After a heady analysis of the pilots' actions, former professional airline pilot Langewiesche wrote that these crashes showed "a textbook failure of airmanship."

He added, "In broad daylight, these pilots couldn't decipher a variant of a simple runaway trim, and they ended up flying too fast at low altitude, neglecting to throttle back and leading their passengers over an aerodynamic edge into oblivion."

The worrisome conclusion to be drawn from this is that "thousands of similar crews" are flying passengers worldwide - and unusual conditions could lead to a fatal ending.

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