- The Boeing 737 Max has been grounded worldwide for months following two fatal crashes five months apart that killed 346 people.
- Boeing has taken most of the blame for the crashes, in part because of faulty software systems and design issues believed to have contributed.
- But a new report from The New York Times Magazine veers toward placing the blame on “inexperienced pilots” and an 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.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Boeing has lost more than $US1 billion since its 737 Max plane was grounded earlier this year following the deaths of 346 people in two similar crashes in October and March, according to the company’s most recent earnings report.
While many have placed the blame for those crashes on faulty Boeing software, a damning report from The New York Times Magazine published Wednesday points to “inexperienced pilots” in both crashes.
The magazine’s writer at large William Langewiesche, a former national correspondent for The Atlantic, detailed how the push for international, low-cost air travel had allowed newbie pilots to fly international routes – putting at risk the lives of dozens aboard their jets.
Langewiesche wrote of Lion Air, the Indonesian airline whose plane crashed on October 29, killing all 189 people 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, an Indian national named Bhavye Suneja, 31, was put in charge of piloting the 737 sooner than he would have been at “a more conventional airline,” Langewiesche wrote. And once that 737 Max was having issues, the Lion Air crew didn’t mitigate the failures, the article said.
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, the report said.
The report also argued that the pilots directing Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed on March 10, had similarly questionable instincts in controlling the 737 Max.
Business Insider reported in March that the copilot of that flight had just 200 hours of flight experience.
Ross Aimer, CEO of the airline consulting and legal firm Aero Consulting Experts, previously told Business Insider that 200 hours “is extremely low” and that “in an emergency, it becomes a problem.”
“If you have a complicated aeroplane 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, Langewiesche, a former pilot, wrote that these crashes showed “a textbook failure of airmanship.”
“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,” he wrote.
The worrisome conclusion to be drawn from this is that “thousands of similar crews” are flying passengers worldwide, he wrote – and that unusual conditions could lead to a fatal ending.
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