‘Sully’ Said He Would Have Struggled to Land Malfunctioning 737 MAXes

Jun 19, 2019

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During a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Chesley Sullenberger III said he had difficulty landing a Boeing 737 MAX simulator that was programmed to replicate failures similar to those that occurred on fatal flights in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

“I recently experienced all these warnings in a 737 MAX flight simulator during recreations of the accident flights. Even knowing what was going to happen, I could see how crews could have run out of time before they could have solved the problems,” Sullenberger said to the panel. “Prior to these accidents, I think it is unlikely that any US airline pilots were confronted with this scenario in simulator training.”

“Sully” is best known for landing a crippled Airbus A320 in the Hudson River off New York City, saving all onboard after the plane’s engines were disabled by a double bird strike. That 2009 incident eventually came to be known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

His testimony on Wednesday came during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee hearing that focused on two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in which 346 passengers died. Those accidents have been blamed on an automated flight control system known as MCAS, which was originally designed to prevent Boeing’s latest 737 from stalling during some maneuvers.

The system was ultimately given greater control authority than its original design called for, and 737 MAXes are now grounded globally as Boeing works with regulators and other stakeholders to develop a fix to the software and new training guidelines.

During the hearing, Boeing’s manufacturing standards and the Federal Aviation Administration regulatory processes were repeatedly called into question, as were pilot training practices.

Dan Carey, an American Airlines captain and president of the Allied Pilots Association, criticized Boeing for inviting former regulators and retired pilots like Sullenberger and Randy Babbitt, a former FAA administrator who was also on the panel, to test the 737 MAX updates before pilots who are still in the workforce were given the same opportunity. He said members of his union had been invited to test the simulators earlier this month, but that invitation was rescinded before APA pilots were able to do so.

“It’s curious to me while Boeing is working on this fix they don’t want the people who fly it to actually see it,” Carey said.

Featured image by Stephen Brashear, Getty Images

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