Complexity in the cockpit, and a President raising the stakes at 35,000 feet. The investigations into two recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets are in the early stages, but President Trump remains firmly grounded on a probable cause. “Airplanes are becoming too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” the President tweeted.
But most aviation experts say the President’s theory isn’t consistent with the realities of modern air travel. “Some of these minor things that the computer can do for you and the computer can show you are very helpful and it can reduce the pilot's workload,” said Denny Kelly, a former commercial airline pilot who now works as an air accident investigator. But the technology is a double-edged sword. “When you’re real busy in the cockpit and something goes wrong, you need to concentrate on the problem, not on the computer,” he added.
Kelly also thinks that while computers do make planes safer, today’s pilots are taught to rely too much on technology. "The pilots need to know how to hand-fly the airplane, take it away from the computer and fly it by hand, in an emergency, he said.”
Investigators say data from the black boxes of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed earlier this month and a Lion Air plane that went down near Indonesia last October show clear similarities. Authorities are eyeing the aircraft’s anti-stall system as a possible factor in both crashes. Now, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General plans to audit the F.A.A.’s certification of the Boeing 737 Max 8. (The F.A.A. initially said the Max 8 was still airworthy before changing course, joining dozens of other nations in implementing some form of ban.)
Some experts say the President’s diagnosis on what ails aviation could undermine the public’s trust in air travel, while others insist Boeing is ultimately responsible for the crashes - and THEY need to restore public confidence – sooner rather than later. “They are missing out on an opportunity or a necessity to communicate with the flying public…to remind everybody that this is what we stand for," said Dennis Culloton, C.E.O. of Culloton Strategies.
But that effort could be too little, too late for Boeing. “Their reputation has already been sullied,” Kelly said. “Once these airplanes are out there and they’re performing like they should perform, I think their reputation will come back. But as it stands now, their reputation is not what it should be.”
Despite the backlash, Boeing is doubling down on technology. The company is moving ahead full throttle on a new aircraft center which should open in 2020, focusing on robotics and artificial intelligence.
Steve Rappoport is a Newscast Producer for Fox News Radio. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRappoport.