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737 Max

The MAX’s Safety Features Cost Extra, Weren’t Onboard Doomed Flights

The MAX’s Safety Features Cost Extra, Weren’t Onboard Doomed Flights
Joe Cortez

Anonymous company insiders at Boeing now allege two safety features offered as options were not aboard the two crashed 737 MAX-8 aircraft. The upgrades include an angle of attack indicator and a disagreement light, which lights up when the angle of attack sensors report different data. One of those could soon become standard on future 737 MAX aircraft.

Whistleblowers inside Boeing now accuse the company of upselling two safety features on the 737 MAX aircraft, both of which were not found aboard Lion Air Flight 610 or Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Speaking under anonymity to The New York Times, company employees allege the aircraft did not have an angle of attack indicator or disagreement light on board, which were both sold as add-ons by the Chicago-based manufacturer.

The two products offer additional information for pilots of the 737 MAX aircraft to aid them in decision making. The angle of attack indicator shows readings from the angle of attack sensors, while the disagreement light turns on when the two sensors report different readings. The anonymous employees claim neither of the doomed aircraft had either option on board, which they say could have helped the pilots in correcting flight issues prior to the crash.

The practice of selling safety features as add-on equipment is not new for Boeing. In a SEC filing dating back to 2003, Brazilian airline Gol was charged over $500,000 in extras, including $18,400 for floor-mounted emergency path lighting, $6,700 for oxygen masks with smoke goggles for the pilots and $37,800 for passenger chemical oxygen generators.

In comments to The New York Times, both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines say they purchased the disagreement light with their aircraft. American also included the angle of attack indicator, while Southwest has it in a separate display above the pilots. The company insiders claim Boeing will include the disagreement light as standard equipment for future Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, while Boeing is committed to updating the MCAS software systems.

Boeing has not commented directly on the accusations, but in an open letter to the public from earlier in March, company chairman, president and CEO Dennis Muilenburg reassured that safety was the manufacturer’s first priority.

“Boeing has been in the business of aviation safety for more than 100 years, and we’ll continue providing the best products, training and support to our global airline customers and pilots,” Muilenburg wrote. “Soon we’ll release a software update and related pilot training for the 737 MAX that will address concerns discovered in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident.”

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (10)


  1. DaveS

    March 22, 2019 at 5:12 am

    “company insiders claim Boeing will include the disagreement light as standard equipment for future Boeing 737 MAX aircraft”

    Just in case there is any one left that wants to buy one.

  2. mbgaskins

    March 22, 2019 at 5:57 am

    What is the problem with charging for items that are not mandatory? Boing made the safety features available to the airline. The airline decided not to put the safety features on the planes. This happens every day in every industry.

    Boeing is not the bad guy here. It is the cheapness of the airline that didn’t spend the money to make their aircraft as safe as they could. American and Southwest obviously had enough sense to purchase the additional safety items.

  3. drphun

    March 22, 2019 at 7:09 am

    A very reactionary article. “Upsell” may be a misleading term. Sometimes features are optional because they are not necessary but need to be available because some customers insist upon them.

  4. Johnsfreitag

    March 22, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Nickle diming on safety is absolutely unconscionable!

  5. Ifti Khan

    March 22, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Any and all safety features should be a must on even the base model of an aircraft. This is a no brainer. mbgaskins should re-evaluate his corporate stance. There is not a big difference in whether you are sitting on leather seats, which the airline paid extra for, or cloth seats when you are falling out of the sky.

  6. enggeol

    March 22, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Who decided such a safety feature was not mandatory (FAA/Boeing?) and that it was fine for Boeing to sell an safety feature as an extra that prevents it dropping out of the sky? If there was even a minimal risk of killing so many people how can such a safety feature be considered optional by any organisation certifying or selling a product? Only Boeing and the FAA is likely to have known the risk inherent on this plane is not having the features – would an airline have the ability to make that assessment? I doubt it.

  7. Sleeplady

    March 22, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    I totally agree with enggeol! Afterall, it’s not like the add on is for something minor like wifi or cable network news. We can do without small comforts but aeroplane safety features are pretty major and should be standard! Great post, enggeol!

  8. sddjd


    March 22, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    It’s tripe like this article that caused the media frenzy that is already minimizing the preliminary findings that neither crew were properly trained to safely operate the aircraft. There are base safety equipment packages required for certification by the FAA. To those just waiting to point at some behind the scenes please acknowledge then that the EASA, JAA, CAA, and other certification bodies were similarly on the take.

    It’s ironic that US carriers purchased the options to upgrade the warning systems while simultaneously and repeatedly pointing out that ther crews are trained from memory to handle a similar failure. Instead the media have a juicy evil corporation story to milk and the politicians worldwide have a virtue signaling pulpit.

    Count on back page updates when the conspiracies are debunked, and a likely Flyertalk story describing how the jets are “allegedly” safe in the usual “experts say but we know better tone” for the last few clicks to be had.

  9. booatx

    March 23, 2019 at 3:50 am

    So Enggeol, as new safety features become available and are more widely known about, they become mandatory. That is the way it has worked in transportation since the beginning. A company constantly seeks to make their modes of transportation more safe so they research and develop. They say, hey, we have this new feature that helps make life easier on the operator; you want it? Several years go by as some purchase and some don’t. Eventually the oversight authorities become aware of said safety feature. Low and behold, it becomes manadory after years of research on the numbers.
    Look at the auto industry with the third light, ABS, air bags, power steering, and such. These items were not required in the 80s. Now, you don’t see a modern car roll off the line without them. I agree with an earlier commenter. I don’t think Boeing is necessarily to blame here if the lack of those added safety features are truly to blame here. If there are other defect type issues at fault, that is a different ball game. Let’s see how this turns out.

  10. IanFromHKG

    March 29, 2019 at 3:44 am

    I think the interesting point here is that Boeing apparently recognised that there could be a disagreement between the two sensors which would cause problems, and then (a) provided a solution, but didn’t make it standard, and (b) didn’t reflect it in the pilot manual. Perhaps the scale of the problem wasn’t evident to Boeing (ie that airframes would drop out of the sky), but the underlying problem evidently was, and IMHO it wasn’t properly addressed.
    Interesting, too, that Airbus apparently also recognised the potential problem of having two AoA sensors in disagreement – their solution is to use three AoA sensors and if there is a disagreement, discount the discrepant sensor.

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