Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg takes questions at a news conference in Chicago. (AP via YouTube) Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stuck to his positions on the safety of the 737 MAX airplane today during a contentious annual shareholders’ meeting and news conference in Chicago. Muilenburg took questions in a face-to-face public forum for the first time since last month’s due to concerns raised by two catastrophically fatal crashes last October and this March. At one point, a reporter asked Muilenburg whether he’d resign. “My clear intent is to continue to lead on the front of safety and quality and integrity,” he replied. “That’s who we are as a company.” Muilenburg said that he’s been talking with factory workers in Renton, Wash., and with Boeing test pilots over the past few weeks. “To the core of our people, they care about this business and the safety of our airplanes,” he said. “That’s what I’m focused on.” Investigations into October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia, and March’s Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia, have focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system was designed to replicate the operating conditions of previous-generation 737 planes on the 737 MAX, which is equipped with bigger jet engine. But preliminary findings suggested that during each fatal flight, spurious data from an angle-of-attack sensor repeatedly forced the plane into a steep dive. Boeing had laid out procedures to regain control, but in the two tragedies, the procedures either weren’t followed to the letter or didn’t work. Muilenburg resisted characterizing the MCAS issue as a design flaw or a mistake. Instead, he said the issue was a “link in the chain” that will be broken thanks to a software update that’s being tested for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies around the world. The process by which the 737 MAX was originally certified for flight in 2017 is currently under investigation by an internal Boeing team and the FAA, as well as by the Justice Department and the FBI. Muilenburg insisted that MCAS system “was designed per our standards” and followed proper certification procedures. “We haven’t seen a technical slip or gap in terms of the fundamental design and certification of the approach,” Muilenburg told reporters. “That said, we know this is a link in both accidents that we can break. That’s a software update that we know how to do. We own it, and we will make that update, and this will make the airplane even safer going forward.” During today’s meeting, Boeing shareholders voted down a proposal to remake the company’s chairmanship as an independent position that would rule out Muilenburg’s dual role as CEO and chairman. Relatives of some of the victims of the 737 MAX crashes traveled to Chicago to take part in a news conference aimed at drawing attention to lawsuits being filed against Boeing. One of the speakers was Manant Vaidya, a Canadian of Indian descent who lost six family members in the Ethiopia crash. Vaidya was sharply critical of Muilenburg’s comments. “He said that all design and certifications were followed. At the end of day, if all certifications were done, how could the crash still have occurred?” he said. “I am completely lost right now. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the world.” Over the weekend, a number of media outlets reported that some 737 MAX planes didn’t have an indicator known as a “disagree alert,” which might have given pilots an early indication that an angle-of-attack sensor was feeding bad data to the MCAS system. Today, Boeing : “Boeing included the disagree alert as a standard feature on the MAX, although this alert has not been considered a safety feature on airplanes and is not necessary for the safe operation of the airplane. Boeing did not intentionally or otherwise deactivate the disagree alert on its MAX airplanes. “The disagree alert was intended to be a standard, stand-alone feature on MAX airplanes. However, the disagree alert was not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended. “The disagree alert was tied or linked into the angle of attack indicator, which is an optional feature on the MAX. Unless an airline opted for the angle of attack indicator, the disagree alert was not operable. [The angle-of-attack indicator is a software-based information feature that’s distinct from the angle-of-attack sensor hardware. For more on the distinction, .] “On every airplane delivered to our customers, including the MAX, all flight data and information needed to safely operate the aircraft is provided in the flight deck and on the flight deck display. This information is readily accessible to pilots, and it always has been. “The air speed, attitude, and altitude displays, together with the stick shaker, are the primary flight information indicators in the flight deck. All recommended pilot actions, checklists, and training are based upon these primary indicators, not on the AOA disagree alert or the angle of attack indicator. “As the MAX safely returns to the air after the software modifications are approved and certified, all MAX production aircraft will have an activated and operable disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator. All customers with previously delivered MAX airplanes will have the ability to activate the disagree alert per a service bulletin to airlines. “We are confident that when the MAX returns to the skies, it will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.” For what it’s worth, Boeing’s shares finished the trading day down 0.46%, at $379.05.
Drones are great. But they are also flying machines that can do lots of stupid and dangerous things. Like, for instance, fly over a major league baseball game packed with spectators. It happened at Fenway Park last night, and the FAA is not happy. The illegal flight took place last night during a Red Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway; the drone, a conspicuously white DJI Phantom, reportedly first showed up around 9:30 PM, coming and going over the next hour. One of the many fans who of the drone, Chris O’Brien, that “it would kind of drop fast then go back up then drop and spin. It was getting really low and close to the players. At one point it was getting really low and I was wondering are they going to pause the game and whatever, but they never did. Places where flying is regularly prohibited, like airports and major landmarks like stadiums, often have no-fly rules baked into the GPS systems of drones — and that’s the case with DJI. In a statement, however, the company said that “whoever flew this drone over the stadium apparently overrode our geofencing system and deliberately violated the FAA temporary flight restriction in place over the game.” The FAA said that it (and Boston PD) is investigating both to local news and in a tweet explaining why it is illegal. FAA Statement: The FAA is investigating a report that a flew over during the baseball game last night. Flying drones in/around stadiums is prohibited starting 1hr before & ending 1hr after the scheduled game & prohibited within a radius of 3 nm of the stadium. — The FAA (@FAANews) That’s three nautical miles, which is quite a distance, covering much of central Boston. You don’t really take chances when there are tens of thousands of people all gathered in one spot on a regular basis like that. Drones open up some pretty ugly security scenarios. Of course, this wasn’t a mile and a half from Fenway, which might have earned a slap on the wrist, but directly over the park, which as the FAA notes above could lead to hundreds of thousands in fines and actual prison time. It’s not hard to imagine why: If that drone had lost power or caught a gust (or been hit by a fly ball, at that altitude), it could have hurt or killed someone in the crowd. It’s especially concerning when the FAA is working on establishing . You should leave a comment there if you feel strongly about this, by the way. Here’s hoping they catch the idiot who did this. It just goes to show that you can’t trust people to follow the rules, even when they’re coded into a craft’s OS. It’s things like this that make mandatory registration of drones sound like a pretty good idea. (Red Sox won, by the way. But the season’s off to a rough start.) The Inning: Bottom 9The Score: TiedThe Bases: Loaded The Result: — Boston Red Sox (@RedSox)
President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One during a visit to Key West, Fla., in 2018. (White House Photo) In the wake of Sunday’s fatal Boeing 737 MAX airplane crash in Ethiopia, President Donald Trump took computer scientists to task today for making airplanes “too complex to fly.” And the computer scientists struck back. It all took place on Twitter, of course. To be fair, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders extended “our prayers to the loved ones, friends and family of those killed in the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302” during Monday’s press briefing, and said the administration was offering “all possible assistance.” But Trump didn’t exactly take a sympathetic stance in this morning’s tweets: Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are…. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) ….needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) The crash investigation is just getting started, and experts say it’s too early to determine whether a software glitch, hardware failure, human error, intentional sabotage or other factors are at fault. It’s true that after last October’s crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet in Indonesia, investigators focused on an automatic flight control system as potentially playing a role. But it’s not yet clear whether there’s a connection to Sunday’s crash. Boeing, not MIT, developed the flight control systems for the 737 MAX. But that didn’t stop MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory from jumping into the fray: We're very happy to help. But maybe we can keep the pilots, too?
An artist’s concepton shows drones in the Boeing Airpower Teaming System flying alongside an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet. (Boeing Illustration) Boeing is unveiling a new type of uncrewed aircraft that’s designed to fly military missions alongside piloted airplanes, known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. The air platform is being developed for global defense customers by Boeing Austraila, and as such, represents Boeing’s biggest investment in an unmanned aircraft program outside the United States. Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne took the wraps off a full-scale mockup of the plane today at the at Avalon Airport in Geelong. Australia’s government is teaming up with Boeing to produce a concept demonstrator called the “Loyal Wingman,” which should blaze the trail for production of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. “The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned / unmanned missions,” Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems, . “With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.” Revealed! Our new smart, reconfigurable unmanned system teams with other aircraft to protect & project air power. The Boeing Airpower Teaming System – Australian investment & innovation at work! More: — Boeing Australia (@BoeingAustralia) Boeing says the 38-foot-long craft will provide fighter-like performance, with the range to fly 2,000 nautical miles (2,300 statute miles). The aircraft will be equipped with sensor packages to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions as well as electronic warfare. And it will be able to use artificial intelligence to fly independently, or in support of piloted aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft. Australia’s ABC as saying the aircraft could eventually be used to deliver bombs. Similar “loyal wingman” drone concepts are under development at and . Marc Allen, president of Boeing International, said the Boeing Airpower Teaming System is “a historic endeavor” for the company, due to the nature of the international partnership. “Not only is it developed outside the United States, it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements,” he said. First flight of the demonstrator is planned for 2020.