Aireon launches ALERT aircraft tracking system

The new flight tracking technology of Aireon, which provides information about the location and position of aircraft anywhere in the world, has been launched in Ireland.

Aireon and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) declared on July 9, 2019, that the Aireon Aircraft Location and Emergency Response Tracking (ALERT) service were officially live. The important feature of this system is that it can monitor all Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipped aircraft anywhere on Earth.

The surveillance technology relies on aircraft or airport vehicles broadcasting their position and identity via satellite navigation, which, in turn, can help determine the exact location of an aircraft in distress or on-demand.

“Aireon ALERT can provide the most accurate and precise aircraft locating data for emergency and distress situations, free of charge,” said Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon.

“As the operator of the world’s only global aircraft surveillance system, we recognize our unique position to provide such a critical service to the aviation community, and see it as our duty to provide this data to the proper authorities to assist in emergency situations,” Thoma added.

According to their statement, Aeron was officially approved as the first of a kind surveillance system certified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), on June 4, 2019.



Image: Jpatokal

Boeing 737 MAX program loses its manager

Eric Lindblad, Vice President and General Manager of the 737 program, which includes the MAX, is leaving Boeing in the middle of a crisis lasting since mid-March following two crashes that killed 346 people.

Lindblad is the first top manager to leave the aircraft manufacturer since the global grounding of the entire 737 MAX fleet. In an internal memo sent to Boeing employees, the head of the civil aviation division Kevin McAllister announced on July 11, 2019, that Lindblad decided to retire after 34 years working for the manufacturer.

Lindblad had been at the helm of the Boeing 737 program for only a year. According to McAllister, the departure had been planned since 2018.

Mark Jenks, who was previously Vice President for the New Mid-Market Airplane Program, should take over as 737 Program Manager in the coming weeks. He should also be in charge of the Renton plant near Seattle, where 737 MAXs are assembled.

Jenks will now have to manage the ever-increasing stock of undelivered 737 MAX and revive the production of the aircraft. With the deliveries suspended, Boeing had reduced the production of the 737 MAX by about 20%, with a monthly output of 42 aircraft, against 52 previously. Jenks will also have to supervise the final development of the 737 MAX 10, the largest aircraft of the family.

A second reshuffle

Prior to his role in the NMA program, Jenks was Vice President and General Manager of the Boeing 787 program, when the aircraft went through a crisis related to its batteries.

While Lindblad is the first to leave the company, it is not the first reshuffle of management for Boeing since the beginning of the 737 MAX crisis. In March 2019, John Hamilton stepped down as Vice President of commercial aviation division to remain solely chief engineer.

Hamilton had previously served as Boeing Vice President of Safety, Security and Compliance. In this position, he oversaw the Commercial Airplanes Organization Designation Authorization, a certification program on behalf of the FAA. He held that position from July 2013 to March 2016, a period during which the Seattle Times says the FAA delegated to Boeing engineers the certification of the MCAS, the system blamed for the crash of both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.



Image: Marco Menezes

EASA pinpoints new Boeing 737 MAX problem

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency sent a list of five changes to be made for the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again in the European skies. While most of the corrections align with FAA’s recommendations, one of them related to the autopilot might have never been raised before.

Boeing is currently working to fix the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). But another element of the aircraft has come under the attention of European regulators. The EASA fears that the autopilot does not always disengage properly in certain emergency situations requiring the crew to take over the aircraft, sources close to the investigation told Bloomberg, adding that pilots may not have time to prevent the plane from stalling.

A change to the autopilot could potentially further delay the re-entry of the Boeing 737 MAX into the market. On June 26, 2019, Boeing announced it was working on an additional flaw to the MCAS software found by the FAA. “Boeing agrees with the FAA’s decision and request, and is working on the required software,” the manufacturer said in a statement, adding “addressing this condition will reduce pilot workload by accounting for a potential source of uncommanded stabilizer motion”.

This new detail illustrates how operators from around the world may have to wait even longer than their U.S. counterparts, as the main regulators (European Union Aviation Safety Agency, Transport Canada…) have all announced their decisions to conduct individual reviews of the Boeing 737 MAX update. An individual regulator may come up with a specific requirements that the manufacturer will have to fulfill if it wants its plane to operate again globally.

The situation could not only damage Boeing’s relationship with the 737 MAX operators, but also the credibility of the FAA. The latter has repeatedly called for a resumption of the former situation of reciprocity where its judgment would be taken at face value by other regulators. “If [the other regulators] could lift the ban shortly after us, I think it would be good for the public’s trust,” said Dan Elwell, acting chief of the FAA during a meeting between the main civil aviation regulators on May 23, 2019.

But their call remains unanswered, and the EASA is now proceeding with its own investigation. A month ago, during the International Aviation Safety Conference in Cologne, EASA Director Patrick Ky reportedly said that the agency was considering additional flight simulator training for 737 MAX pilots, as well as possible design changes, as a requirement for the aircraft to operate again in the European airspace.



Image: Oleg V. Belyakov

FAA finds “potential risk” in Boeing 737 MAX update

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to evaluate Boeing’s efforts to return the 737 MAX back to the skies. However, the process appears to be going less than fluently for the plane maker, as the authority admits having “recently” found “a potential risk”.

FAA says it is still evaluating Boeing’s  Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) modification, along with creating training requirements and responding to recommendations received from the Technical Advisory Board (TAB). The process “is designed to discover and highlight potential risks”, as FAA puts it, ‒ and “risks” were found indeed.

“The FAA recently found a potential risk that Boeing must mitigate,” the authority admitted on June 26, 2019, without going into detail what those “potential risks” constitute of. However, it could be suspected that the issue is related to uncommanded or runaway stabilizer motion.

“Boeing agrees with the FAA’s decision and request, and is working on the required software,” according to the company’s statement on June 26, 2019. “Addressing this condition will reduce pilot workload by accounting for a potential source of uncommanded stabilizer motion”.

Boeing announced finishing the software update on May 16, 2019. At the time, the manufacturer also said it was providing FAA with information on how pilots interact with airplane controls and displays in different flight scenarios, and expected MAX re-certification to begin after addressing these FAA’s “requests”.

In early June 2019, another bump in the path of MAXs’ return to skies appeared. Boeing has found discrepant parts on some 737NG and 737MAX aircraft. Leading edge slat tracks on the planes “may not meet” strength and durability regulatory requirements, FAA said in a statement on June 2. The authority estimates that 133 NG and 179 MAX aircraft of the worldwide fleet are affected. The affected parts were manufactured by a Boeing sub-tier supplier.



Image: PK-REN