The Cost of Training Shortcuts

6 April, 2019

Tonight there are 346 families whose son or daughter or brother or sister or mother or father will not be coming home.  They will never be coming home.  They are all casualties of the Boeing Lion Air or Ethiopia Air 737 Max 8 disasters and they should still be with us.

So what went wrong?  Investigations are still ongoing but it appears that the pilots on each flight were unable to handle a new system, called MCAS (Manouvring Characteristics Augmentation System) that is designed to avoid stalling, and it forced the planes into a nosedive.  The pilots didn’t know how to handle the system because they were not trained.

Boeing sold the aircraft as a derivative of the existing 737, which most pilots have experience with.  The FAA agreed with Boeing that the plane was not a new type of aircraft, just a new model.  So, instead of many hours of simulator training and instructor supervised flying that is standard for a new aircraft, many pilots were only required to complete a 2 hour video tutorial on an iPad, which did not cover the MCAS system.

So the airlines saved a significant amount of money on training.  This would have been one of the deciding factors when airlines were comparing the new Boeing model to other models being released by Airbus, Boeing’s major competitor.

Like all incidents, this was not the only factor.  But a training shortcut is looking more and more likely to have been a big one.  And at what cost?  The lawsuits will be astronomical.  The damage to reputation is immense.  Boeing share prices fell.  And 346 people will never go home to their families.

So next time you hear something like “This machine is the same as the ones we already have so we don’t need to do much training” or “Can’t we just do a quick refresher?” or “We need to make the training shorter” or “She operated a machine just like this at her old job so just do a quick tick and flick” remember that training shortcuts do come at a cost.  And the price may not be worth it.