Captain Sully Labels Boeing 737 MAX’s MCAS “Fatally Flawed Design”

Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger has written a letter to the editor of New York Times Magazine regarding the ‘What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 MAX?’ feature published last month. In the letter, Captain Sully expresses his objections to William Langewiesche’s conclusion that the Boeing 737 MAX crashes were the fault of the pilots and inadequate training.

Boeing 737 MAX
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded worldwide since March. Photo: Steve Lynes via Flickr 

The hero pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 has lambasted journalist and former pilot, William Langewiesche, for his feature piece published in New York Times Magazine last month.

In ‘What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 MAX?’, published on 18 September, Langewiesche explains in great detail why he thinks pilot error was the main cause of the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashes.

Langewiesche’s feature piece seems to go against the increasing mountain of evidence which has so far concluded that the Boeing 737 MAX MCAS software was the main cause of the crashes.

In his letter to the editor of New York Times Magazine, Captain Sully rejects Langewiesche’s conclusion about the Boeing 737 MAX crashes.

Captain Sully is certainly not the first to express concern at the conclusion reached in New York Times Magazine’s Boeing 737 MAX feature piece.

Many online commentators have referred to the New York Times Magazine piece as a whitewash that attempts to absolve Boeing of its part in the crash.

In his feature, Langewiesche concludes that “What we had in the two downed airplanes was a textbook failure of airmanship.”

He then goes on to say that the pilots “…were the deciding factor here — not the MCAS, not the Max.”

Captain Sully’s response

The main point Captain Sully raises in his response to the New York Times Magazine feature is the flawed implementation of the MCAS software in the Boeing 737 MAX.

Captain Sully
Captain Sully became known as the Hero of the Hudson. Photo: U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

In his letter he explains his personal experience of the Boeing 737 MAX MCAS software in a flight simulator.

I know firsthand the challenges the pilots on the doomed accident flights faced, and how wrong it is to blame them for not being able to compensate for such a pernicious and deadly design.” says Sully.

Just as the numerous investigations into the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashes have shown, the MCAS software did result in real-world operational safety hazards.

Why Langewiesche’s conclusion is wrong

In his feature piece, Langewiesche makes repeated references to the poor aviation safety records in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

He also attempts to use poor pilot training among both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crews as a contributing factor in the Boeing 737 MAX crashes.

Lion Air 737 MAX
The Boeing 737 MAX was involved in two fatal crashes. Photo: PK-REN via Wikimedia Commons

Captain Sully’s response perfectly sums up why Langewiesche’s claims are disingenuous.

“Inadequate pilot training and insufficient pilot experience are problems worldwide, but they do not excuse the fatally flawed design of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that was a death trap,” says Captain Sully.

Lion Air’s safety record is pretty terrible as far as airlines go. But, the fact that Lion Air Flight 610 crashed as a result of the same software flaw as Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, shows the MCAS software was clearly not fit for purpose.

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Finally here’s someone who knows his stuff, saying what we’ve thought all along. This guy can clearly fly a plane, is anyone going to be stupid enough to say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about?


It depends how much Boeing pays someone to come out and counter the argument.


Highly disagree. Sully is pushing his own agenda. Also on the eve of the Southwest lawsuit? Give me a break.

Kenneth O Hanlon

Sully was an Airbus pilot not a Boeing pilot


Well, it’s a little silly to just use a pre-history of poor maintenance as an excuse including poor airman ship as an attempt to absolve Boeing from all guilt. The fact that Langewiesche seems to forget is that in the case of the first crash, the pilots were entirely unaware of the very existence of MCAS, as were all other pilots at the time, who flew the 737 MAX. The intervention by and the force of MCAS was did not entirely manifest itself as a horizontal stabilizer runaway so using that as a basis is pretty pathetic. At the second… Read more »


Having read the JATR Report, I think the issue is much bigger, not only in terms of design flaws and certification process issues. The whole culture of ‘less state (regulation) is better, (our) companies are capable of self-regulating’ can now be put into question. This drive to undo responsible gouvernement rules and regulations, and to withdraw fom national and international organisations (or reduce participation), to the greater benefit of the ‘private’ industry (capital=money+greed) is not only morally wrong, it is malicious. Boeing and the FAA have become siamese twins that cannot be separated. But if you read the JATR report… Read more »


If the MCAS had been well designed, would we be talking about an accident today? No.

Period. No more questions.


Really? How about, “If the Lion Air pilots who flew the plane the day before were flying that day too, we wouldn’t be talking about an accident today.” Or how about, “If the Ethiopian crew has throttled back, we wouldn’t be talking about an accident today.” There are countless factors that contributed to both accidents. Langewiesche focuses on the pilots’ actions and the airlines’ safety, training and maintenance cultures. He doesn’t absolve Boeing. Read the article. Langewiesche had his opinion, Sully has his. I bet the reports show they’re both right. But some of these comments (and this original post… Read more »


How about: If Boeing had told Lion Air that MCAS existed….oh, but then it’s be a different design and Boeing couldn’t have grandfathered in old crews and saved all that money they have to spend now…

Why Soitanly

Another Boeing apologist?

Why Soitanly

To the Boeing Company: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people. Congress can impute to a corporation the commission of certain criminal offenses and subject it to criminal prosecution therefor. In actions for tort, a corporation may be held responsible for damages for the acts of its agent within the scope of his employment, even if done wantonly, recklessly or against the express orders of the principal. While corporations cannot commit some crimes, they can commit crimes which consist in purposely doing things prohibited by statute, and in such case they can be charged with knowledge of… Read more »

David Shotton

Does anyone know why they changed the engine positions on the wings, which caused the problem anyway?