Delta has never flown the Boeing 737 Max plane, which has been grounded worldwide in the wake of two crashes that killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia. But Delta still wants to assure people that Boeing’s problems aren’t a big deal, judging by the discussion that Delta CEO Ed Bastian had at the Code Conference in Arizona yesterday.
“If you think about the U.S. aviation market and traveling, we’re the safest form of transportation in the world of anyone,” Bastian said. “Any form of mobility, the U.S. aviation market is the safest, so I think it speaks to the fact that this was truly a one off, in my opinion.”
“A one off?” Recode Editor-at-Large Kara Swisher asked with some amazement.
“A one off in terms of what happened. There’s certainly going to be lessons learned. We don’t know all the facts yet. I think there’s still some facts that are continuing to come out of this,” said Bastian. “Boeing will figure it out, I have no doubt about that. They’re a great technology company. We wouldn’t be here in this room if it wasn’t for Boeing.”
Swisher pushed back on that idea, citing reports that there seemed to be systemic problems at Boeing that set the company up for failure. And there were plenty of red flags raise by pilots and Boeing insiders about manufacturing issues and the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which caused the nose of the plane to automatically push down against the pilots’ directions.
“The reporting that’s coming out shows a lot of corner cutting, trying to get things more automated, all kinds of things. It doesn’t show a great picture of technological innovation that’s going on in airlines. And maybe I’m misreading a lot of these stories...” Swisher said.
But Swisher wasn’t misreading anything. The New York Times investigation from June 1 was particularly damning for Boeing and the FAA. As just one example from the scathing report:
The company also played down the scope of the system to regulators. Boeing never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to Federal Aviation Administration officials involved in determining pilot training needs, according to three agency officials. When Boeing asked to remove the description of the system from the pilot’s manual, the F.A.A. agreed. As a result, most Max pilots did not know about the software until after the first crash, in October.
And it gets so much worse if you read the entire article.
Nonetheless, Delta, which flies Boeing aircraft for 60 percent of its fleet, just not the 737 Max, wants us to believe that everything is fine and that we should just trust Boeing because of its long track record. But Bastian acknowledges that Boeing at least made a mistake with its latest software for the 737 Max.
“Well, the 737, which is the core plane, is the most successful, widely used plane in the world,” Bastian said on stage yesterday. “And as it continued to grow, and it extended, they adapted... they made a decision around these sensors, an MCAS decision, which fundamentally is flawed. And I think they’ve admitted that... as much.”
A little later in the discussion, Bastian admitted that when Delta buys a plane from Boeing, the airline doesn’t really include safety as their top concern when purchasing a plane, because it’s “unthinkable” that something like this would happen. And maybe that’s the problem.
You can watch the entire discussion on YouTube, which goes into not only aviation safety issues but the future of airports, the chaos of boarding, and emerging facial recognition technology, which Bastian calls a “more efficient process” for processing passengers.
Correction: This post originally said that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was causing the plane to push up. The problem was that it believed the nose of the plane was too far up, and was, in fact, causing it to erroneously push the nose down.