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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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