The two Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes involved in deadly crashes in the past six months lacked safety features — because they came at an added cost to airlines, The New York Times has reported.
The newspaper explained that Boeing, and other plane manufacturers often charge extra for plane features. Many of those features can include niceties, such as comfortable seats or bigger bathrooms. But they can also be more important features that affect a plane’s operations.
Boeing charged extra for safety features in the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets — angle of attack indicators and angle of attack disagree lights — something budget airlines often can’t afford.
While it’s unclear what caused the planes to crash, Boeing has said it will make the light a standard feature on the planes.
Air Canada told Global News in an email that all of its Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircrafts have both features.
WestJet has one feature.
“WestJet’s 737 MAX 8 are configured with the AOA disagree alert but are not configured with the angle of attack indicator,” an email statement to Global News explained.
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Sunwing, the only other Canadian airline with the aircraft in its fleet, did not respond to an inquiry from Global News by publication.
The angle of attack indicators and lights are used by the aircraft’s software system during flight to avert stalls.
Bjorn Fehrm, an aeronautical and economic analyst based in France, explained to Global News that these safety features could have given pilots a better sense of what was wrong.
“An AoA disagree warning would have immediately alerted them to the fact that the airspeed and the altitude are unreliable on one of the side of the aircraft — either the left or the right side,” Fehrm said.
“They would immediately have been more aware of what has gone wrong here and made better decisions,” he added.
Other aviation experts suspect an automated system, meant to stop stalling by dipping the nose, may be involved in both cases, with pilots struggling to override it as their jets plunged downwards.
But they stress neither crash investigation is complete, and crew actions and training will also be closely scrutinized.
Boeing has promised a swift update of software, but regulators in Europe and Canada are shifting away from previous reliance on U.S. Federal Aviation Administration vetting, saying they will now seek their own guarantees of the MAX planes’ safety.
Controversy over optional safety features
Fehrm said that angle of attack information is available in all aircraft, but it’s not on display.
“In the aircraft, it’s available but it’s not displayed to the pilot, which I’m sorry to say, I think it’s stupid. It should have been displayed when it’s available and it shouldn’t be an extra charge for it,” he said.
Fehrm noted that displaying the information in all aircraft is a discussion that has gone on “for decades,” and some say it could complicate information given to a pilot.
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The aviation expert disputed that argument, saying that it would require training but would ultimately improve safety.
“If you’re educated to it, it’s natural to you,” he said.
Fehrm noted that this is not a Boeing-specific problem, and that all major aircraft manufacturers resist displaying the information.
— With files from Global News’ Jackson Proskow, Reuters and The Canadian Press