Friday, March 22, 2019

When value added costs lives or "Do you want your plane super-sized?"

"Want fries with that?", an innocuous seeming phrase that is the basis for modern marketing. I wonder how many business school graduates have "value added" tattooed in latin on their private parts as they undertake a career of sticking to the unwary.

At the fast food counter value added marketing just makes you fat, and of course you will eventually die but not today. This can be an even bigger problem when the decision isn't just a hunger impulse of the consumer but the choices are made by somebody who doesn't really understand the implications of the so-called cost savings of blindly avoiding this sort of marketing. The ObamaCare debate showed us how happens when actual healthcare isn't included in the basic health insurance policy. 

But 'value added' is a more common problem than one might assume. Take the Boeing Max 8, it seems that along with better seats and fancy lighting, the plane is offered to buyers with an optional indicator light for the control panel. The angle of attack sensors tell the pilots if the plane is trying to climb at too steep an angle and risks simply falling straight down. A big blaring alarm sounding indicator light that tells pilots the angle of attack sensors are sending conflicting signals to the autopilot, then even the most junior pilot knows he should shut the computer system off and assume manual control. If you don't have this alarm it's up to the pilots to figure out why the plane continues to pitch the nose down and add speed at the expense of altitude. 

What Boeing did is actually even worse than allowing the computer to get conflicting signals and not telling the pilots, the computer actually only accepts data from one sensor and the pilots have no way of knowing that the backup sensor isn't even connected. 

The pilots will pull back on the yoke to correct this nose down situation but the computer just keeps repeating the nose down maneuver more aggressively each time until there's not enough slack left in the controls to pull the nose up with the yoke and the plane flies into the ground.  

The FAA is supposed to review all aspects of a new plane's design but thanks to conservative government they no longer have the resources to do this. Doing something so stupid as selling a plane with vital safety equipment on the option list is why we need the regulatory oversight that conservatives rail against. 

Boeing told the FAA that the MAX 8 was just a minor upgrade to the same plane they've been building since the 1960s. It's not. The new efficient engines don't fit under the wings so they moved them and this makes the plane inherently unstable. To fix this problem they wrote a very aggressive computer program to control stall situations (this is where you push the nose down to increase speed).  

And they didn't tell anybody because potential buyers don't want to know their shiny new plane is inherently unstable. Exotic military aircraft are designed this way but they have ejection seats. From now on pay close attention to the flight attendant giving the safety talk, "In the event that the Eject light comes on remember to fasten your seat belt before pulling the handles to eject yourself. If you are flying with children turn the selector to Family Eject...."