Pilots says Boeing didn’t disclose jet’s new control feature
By DAVID KOENIG
AP Airlines Writer
Wednesday, November 14
Boeing didn’t tell airline pilots about features of a new flight-control system in its 737 MAX that reportedly is a focus of the investigation into last month’s deadly crash in Indonesia, according to pilots who fly the jet in the U.S.
Pilots say they were not trained in new features of an anti-stall system in the aircraft that differ from previous models of the popular 737.
The automated system is designed to help pilots avoid raising the plane’s nose too high, which can cause the plane to stall, or lose the aerodynamic lift needed to keep flying. The system automatically pushes the nose of the plane down.
But if that nose-down command is triggered by faulty sensor readings — as suspected in the Lion Air crash — pilots can struggle to control the plane, which can go into a dive and perhaps crash, according to a Boeing safety bulletin and safety regulators.
The bulletin included new details on how to stop a runaway series of events from leading to a crash, pilots say.
“It is something we did not have before in any of our training. It wasn’t in our books. American didn’t have it,” said Dennis Tajer, a 737 pilot and spokesman for the pilots union at American Airlines. “Now I have to wonder what else is there?”
Jon Weaks, a 737 captain and president of the pilots union at Southwest, said he couldn’t recall a similar omission in a Boeing operating manual.
“I was not pleased. How could something like this happen? We want to be given the information to keep our pilots, our passengers and our families safe,” he said.
Weaks said he is satisfied that “we have been given, finally, the correct information.”
The MAX is the newest version of the twin-engine Boeing 737. More than 200 have been delivered to airlines worldwide, including American, Southwest and United.
Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said Tuesday that the Chicago-based company remains confident the MAX is a safe airplane. He said Boeing did not withhold operating details from airlines and flight crews.
“We ensure that we provide all of the information that is needed to safely fly our airplanes,” Muilenburg told Fox Business Network. He said Boeing bulletins to airlines and pilots “point them back to existing flight procedures” to handle the kind of sensor problem suspected in last month’s crash.
A Southwest spokeswoman said the new automated maneuvering system was not included in the operating manual for MAX models. An American spokesman said the airline was unaware of some new automated functions in the MAX but hasn’t experienced nose-direction errors. A United spokesman said Boeing and the FAA do not believe additional pilot training is needed.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency directive last week to airlines, telling them to update cockpit manuals to include instructions for how pilots can adjust flight controls under certain conditions.
“The FAA will take further action if findings from the accident investigation warrant,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday.
On Oct. 29, Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta. All 189 people on board were killed.
John Cox, a former 737 pilot and now a safety consultant to airlines, said Boeing’s steps since the crash “have been exactly correct. They have increased pilot awareness, they have reminded them of the proper procedure to disable (the automatic nose-down action), which stops the problem.”
Indonesian investigators say that the Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 experienced malfunctions with sensors that indicate the angle of the nose on four recent flights, including the fatal one.
The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. and Indonesian investigators are increasingly focusing on the way that the plane’s automated control systems interact. They are also questioning whether the FAA and Boeing adequately analyzed potential hazards if the systems malfunction and send faulty data to the plane’s computers, according to the newspaper.
Shares of Boeing Co. ended Tuesday down $7.52, or 2.1 percent, at $349.51 after falling to $342.04 earlier in the day.
David Koenig can be reached at http://twitter.com/airlinewriter
This story has been corrected to read that it’s the Fox Business Network, not Fox Business News.
Can artisanal weed compete with ‘Big Marijuana’?
Updated November 14, 2018
Associate Professor of Law, Concordia University School of Law
Ryan Stoa does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
You’ve heard of Big Pharma and Big Tobacco. How about Big Marijuana?
The drug’s growing legalization is raising concerns among small-scale marijuana farmers and retailers that the corporatization of weed may be right around the corner.
For example, earlier this year NASDAQ became the first major U.S. stock exchange to list shares of a marijuana production company. And in August, Corona-maker Constellation Brands shocked Wall Street by making a US$3.8 billion investment in a Canadian marijuana producer, sparking a bull market in marijuana stocks industry-wide. Even Coca-Cola is exploring opportunities to get involved.
Corporate and Wall Street interest in weed is only going to increase now that three more states have legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana use – bringing the total to 33 – while Canada recently became the second country to allow recreational uses of the drug.
I have studied the marijuana agriculture industry for the past several years, tracing its evolution from black market drug to legal intoxicant. It’s a story I tell in my book, “Craft Weed: Family Farming and the Future of the Marijuana Industry.”
With all this money pouring in, it’s fair to wonder how legalization will change the marijuana industry itself – and whether it can stay true to its hippie roots.
One of the unintended consequences of the federal prohibition on marijuana in the United States is that legal pot-related businesses have remained rather small.
The American marijuana farming scene, for example, has been dominated by small outdoor farmers and modest indoor warehouse growers. The alternative – large, market-share-dominating companies – would attract the attention of federal authorities.
State governments have recognized a public benefit to keeping farms small and local as well. In California, for example, most marijuana farming licenses are granted to farms limited to no more than one acre of marijuana.
The federal prohibition also prevents farmers, distributors and retailers from engaging in interstate commerce, meaning that states that legalize marijuana use must create their own local markets for homegrown small businesses to operate in.
But as the legal marijuana industry booms, well-heeled companies and investors are trying to corner the market.
According to one estimate, consumer spending on legal marijuana products in the U.S. reached $8.5 billion in 2017, up 31 percent from the previous year. Spending is projected to reach $23.4 billion by 2022.
For comparison, beer sales are actually declining. Although total sales were a robust $111 billion in 2017, that was down 1 percent from the previous year.
Such rapid growth in the marijuana market may not be surprising, given that two-thirds of the U.S. population can now use marijuana medicinally or recreationally up from none just over two decades ago, based on my own analysis.
As a result, retail stores are becoming bigger and bolder, with chains competing to establish themselves as the Starbucks of the marijuana industry.
One of these is Seattle-based Diego Pellicer, one of the first marijuana companies to market itself as a premium brand retail chain. For now, the company’s model rests on acquiring real estate and securing deals with marijuana retailers willing to operate their business under the Diego Pellicer name. That way, if the federal prohibition is ever lifted, Diego Pellicer will be in prime position to dominate the retail market.
The immense growth potential is also attracting private equity and other investors, some of whom are partnering with celebrities whose names are linked to pot smoking. In 2016, for example, a private equity firm partnered with the Bob Marley estate to launch the Marley Natural line of marijuana products.
Patents are seen as another way a few giant companies may come to capture the pot industry. Increasingly well-funded laboratories are developing new strains of marijuana at a rapid pace, with varying degrees of strength and hardiness as well as unique psychoactive and flavor profiles.
As the U.S. Patent and Trade Office begins to issue patents, there are reports of companies attempting to gobble them up.
Finally, many in the agricultural sector of the marijuana industry are predicting and bracing for an agribusiness takeover – though this has yet to happen.
How craft weed can thrive
Are marijuana veterans right to be concerned that their industry is moving too rapidly from the black market to the stock market?
Yes and no. My own research suggests that a local, sustainable and artisanal model of marijuana production can co-exist with Big Marijuana – much as craft beer has thrived in recent years alongside the traditional macro breweries.
One reason is that whereas the illicit drug trade forced consumers to buy ambiguously sourced marijuana from street dealers, the legal market allows consumers to buy a wide variety of marijuana products from legitimate retail businesses. And more and more consumers are turning to edibles and extracts produced by highly specialized manufacturers.
The staggering number of marijuana strains being developed is creating a connoisseur culture that favors small-scale, artisanal farms that can nimbly adapt to shifts in market demand. Because such farms can market themselves as small, sustainable and local, they can better reflect 21st-century food movement ideals.
Besides efforts at the state level to limit the size of farms, another regulatory approach is the use of appellations to encourage an artisanal pot culture. I have argued that the marijuana industry is well-suited to adopt an appellation system, like you find with wine and cheeses.
Just like a Bordeaux wine comes exclusively from that region of France or Parmigiano-Reggiano is named after the areas of Italy where it originates, Humboldt marijuana may become a prestigious and legally protected designation of origin for marijuana products grown or produced in Humboldt County, California.
It is probably inevitable that Big Marijuana will take hold in some form, but that doesn’t mean the market can’t support the small businesses that have enabled marijuana to become a uniquely local and artisanal industry.