Can we have confidence in our aircraft?

Peut-on avoir confiance en nos avions?

Photo: Stephen Brashear Getty Images/AFP
Since 2005, the representatives responsible for the certification of a device are no longer appointed by the civil aviation agency american, but rather chosen by the manufacturer concerned.

The Boeing 737 MAX, now nailed to the ground anywhere on the planet as a result of two plane crashes similar in the space of five months, is not different from other aircraft that are still flying above our heads : it has been certified by the regulatory authorities at the end of a process that is said to be the most rigorous. Is it really ?

Since the Boeing 737 MAX was built by an american company, it is the FAA, the federal agency of civil aviation of the United States, which was first certified. The device has passed this crucial stage in march 2017, a little over a year after making its first test flight.

At the time, Boeing wanted to have the green light as soon as possible to compete with its rival Airbus, which had just launched a plane of the same type, the A320neo. A few years ago, the american company had juggled with the idea of creating a new airplane from scratch, but it was finally decided to opt for a solution that was more rapid and less expensive : to launch the 737 MAX in equipping its popular 737 new fuel-efficient engines.

Ce text is part of our “Outlook” section.

This strategy has enabled Boeing to convince air carriers that already had 737 purchase of the 737 MAX, saying that their drivers would not have to follow an extra training. Gold, by incorporating larger engines, the aircraft became more unstable. Boeing has therefore had to add the automatic flight control system latches shown the finger since Sunday, but did not think it a good idea to notify the drivers right from the start.

Expedited process ?

Professor, Department of management and technology, UQAM, Mehran Ebrahimi argues that the certification process of the FAA has without doubt been rigorous, but he notes that political and economic considerations may have weighed in the balance. “In civil aviation, the money goes into the company manufacturer as the day on which the aircraft is delivered to the airline. The companies were therefore eager to put the plane in service to transform a source of costs source of profits, he said. It is obvious that when you have a company as powerful as Boeing and lawmakers who have a listening ear, without necessarily saying that we made compromises, we can ensure that the process is a bit faster. “

Doubts about the certification process of the FAA have also been raised this week by the ex-president of the national Council of the transportation safety board of the United States, James E. Hall. In the pages of the New York Times, he criticized the fact that since 2005, the representatives responsible for the certification of a device are no longer appointed by the american agency, but rather chosen by the manufacturer concerned.

The role of the FAA is determining within the international civil aviation since it has a right to look at all the planes that come in and out of the United States. And according to the most recent data from the world Bank, the american industry of aviation is always the one that carries the most passengers around the world, ahead of China, which is fast approaching.

Peut-on avoir confiance en nos avions?


Similar standards

The consultant to the air transport of the firm Octant Marie-Hélène Simard, who has held positions of management and leadership at Transport Canada for more than ten years, do not doubt the thoroughness of the FAA. “The use of external experts is a model who is very used, she notes. It complies with the rules of the art if it is framed well. “

She noted that in terms of certification, the standards of the United States, Canada and the european Union are very similar. For airlines in Canada to operate a us aircraft such as the Boeing 737 Max, Transport Canada must approve the certification american, but the requested changes are generally minor.

Professor in the Department of computer engineering and software engineering, Polytechnique Montréal, Foutse Khomh is also convinced that the FAA has done its job, even in regards to the software latches. “The certification in the field of aerospace is among the processes to the most stringent that exist. If software is involved in this type of device, it is necessary to be able to demonstrate the impact of each line of code, ” he says.

The aircraft remains the safest

The case of the Boeing 737 MAX and the software latches apparently failed, however, highlight an important issue, he adds. “It shows the difficulty to ensure the complete reliability of a software product, a difficulty which becomes more pronounced with systems integrating artificial intelligence. “

Pending the conclusion of the investigation on the crash of Ethiopian Airlines and the response, if any, of the FAA, the 157 persons who died during the tragedy air last Sunday will of course increase the balance of international civil aviation for 2019.

However, the trend does not change : the transportation by air remains extremely safe. Data from the Aviation Safety Network indicate that the number of air crashes around the world has generally decreased over the past 70 years. The year 2017 has been the most secure of the history of global aviation, with 10 accidents and 44 deaths on more than 37 million flights.

Some passengers may be anxious at the idea of going back in a plane soon, but their fears should fade over time, predicts Mr Ebrahimi. “I call it the phenomenon of lettuce is contaminated, shows-t-it. People stop eating lettuce for a while, but soon they forget and consumption resumes. “