Boeing Software Scandal Highlights Need for Full Lifecycle Testing

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a software defect of epic proportions.

On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed just minutes after takeoff. All 157 people on board the flight died. Similarly, in October of 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 also crashed minutes after taking off. Both flights involved Boeing’s 737 MAX jet.

The MAX jet, aimed to be more fuel-efficient than rival aircrafts, featured slight design changes than that of a regular 737 including upgraded engines and design. The changes, however, led to a problem with the nose of the plane: it would push it upwards. In order to counteract this issue, Boeing implemented the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a software that would automatically bring the nose of the plane down. Black box data from both flights suggest multiple similarities in the accidents, primarily revolving around the automated MCAS system.

Due to design, the 737 MAX jet featured engines more forward on the plane than other models; this caused the nose of the plane to lift to a higher degree than what is deemed safe. In order to amend this, a sensor towards the front of the plane, called the angle of attack indicator, was used to prevent stalling. This sensor along with the MCAS was designed to bring the nose of the plane back down to a safe level.

The problem? Well, there are two: (1) the software overpowered all other flight functions trying to mediate the nose lift and (2) many pilots did not know this system existed. The pilots in the Lion Air incident had as little as 40 seconds to identify the problem and correct it. Boeing had originally claimed that the MAX jet was similar enough to the original 737 that pilots would not need to go through extensive retraining, and, thus, pilots were trained via an iPad. Investigators on the Ethiopian crash case stated that the pilots on Flight 302 were using procedures highlighted by Boeing in the training that should have disengaged the MCAS system, but the plane was in an unrecoverable nosedive. All 737 MAX jet planes are now grounded worldwide following these two similar crashes that occurred just months apart.

What is worse is the fact that Boeing admitted to knowing about the software defect one year before the Lion Air crash in 2018. Engineers reportedly discovered the issue in 2017, but determined it was not an immediate issue. Originally, senior company leadership claimed to be unaware of the defect, but recent coverage has found those claims to be false. Furthermore, airlines were alerted to problem at drastically different times; Southwest told reporters they were informed of the problem in November of 2018 while United said they were not made aware of the issue until March of 2019. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg explained to Business Insider why they did not inform pilots of this issue. “It’s fundamentally embedded in the handling qualities of the airplane. So when you train on the airplane, you are being trained on MCAS. It’s not a separate system to be trained on,” said Muilenburg.

Moving forward, Boeing has since apologized for both incidents and disclosed their plans for remedying the situation. They will be releasing a software update that will allow pilots to exert more control over the MCAS system as well as scaling back the software itself in order to prevent it from overpowering other cockpit commands. The system, if needed, will only activate once for a short duration and a warning light-which was previously an extra cost-0will now come standard to inform pilots of the software enabling. More importantly, Boeing additionally stated that pilots of the 737 MAX jet will undergo more extensive training programs in order to properly educate pilots on the MCAS system.

For now, Boeing is still working with regulators and is awaiting the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval for both the software and training updates. Nonetheless, Muilenburg vowed that the 737 MAX jet will be “one of the safest planes to ever fly” once the plane returns to the sky.

Note: This is a developing story. New information may come out following the publication of this article.

LogiGear Staff
LogiGear Corporation provides global solutions for software testing, and offers public and corporate software testing training programs worldwide through LogiGear University. LogiGear is a leader in the integration of test automation, offshore resources and US project management for fast, cost-effective results. Since 1994, LogiGear has worked with Fortune 500 companies to early-stage start-ups in, creating unique solutions to meet their clients’ needs. With facilities in the US and Viet Nam, LogiGear helps companies double their test coverage and improve software quality while reducing testing time and cutting costs.

The Related Post

LogiGear Magazine – May 2011 – The Test Process Improvement Issue
The V-Model for Software Development specifies 4 kinds of testing: Unit Testing Integration Testing System Testing Acceptance Testing You can find more information here (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-Model_%28software_development%29#Validation_Phases What I’m finding is that of those only the Unit Testing is clear to me. The other kinds maybe good phases in a project, but for test design it ...
VISTACON 2010 – Keynote: The future of testing THE FUTURE OF TESTING BJ Rollison – Test Architect at Microsoft VISTACON 2010 – Keynote   BJ Rollison, Software Test Architect for Microsoft. Mr. Rollison started working for Microsoft in 1994, becoming one of the leading experts of test architecture and execution at Microsoft. He also teaches ...
Has this ever happened to you: You’ve been testing for a while, perhaps building off of a branch, only to find out that, after all of this time, there is something big wrong. It’s a bad build and now you have to go backwards, fix something, and get a new build. Basically, you just wasted ...
With this edition of LogiGear Magazine, we introduce a new feature, Mind Map. A mind map is a diagram, usually devoted to a single concept, used to visually organize related information, often in a hierarchical or interconnected, web-like fashion. This edition’s mind map, created by Sudhamshu Rao, focuses on tools that are available to help ...
Let’s look at a few distinctions between the two process improvement practices that make all the difference in their usefulness for making projects and job situations better! An extreme way to look at the goals of these practices is: what makes your work easier (retrospective) versus what did someone else decide is best practice (post-mortem)? ...
This article first appeared in BETTER SOFTWARE, May/June 2005. Executives and managers, get your performance testing teams out of the pit and ahead of the pack Introduction As an activity, performance testing is widely misunderstood, particularly by executives and managers. This misunderstanding can cause a variety of difficulties-including outright project failure. This article details the ...
Karen N. Johnson began as a technical writer in 1985 and later switched to software testing in 1992. She maintains a blog at TestingReflections, a collaborative site where she is featured as a main contributor. In her latest entry, she discusses search testing with different languages. Here is an excerpt from her blog: “I started ...
Training has to be fun. Simple as that. To inspire changed behaviors and adoption of new practices, training has to be interesting, motivating, stimulating and challenging. Training also has to be engaging enough to maintain interest, as trainers today are forced to compete with handheld mobile devices, interruptions from texting, email distractions, and people who think they ...
Creative Director at the Software Testing Club, Rob Lambert always has something to say about testing. Lambert regularly blogs at TheSocialTester where he engages his readers with test cases, perspectives and trends. “Because It’s Always Been Done This Way” Study the following (badly drawn) image and see if there is anything obvious popping in to ...
When You’re Out to Fix Bottlenecks, Be Sure You’re Able to Distinguish Them From System Failures and Slow Spots Bottlenecks are likely to be lurking in your application. Here’s how you as a performance tester can find them. This article first appeared in Software Test & Performance, May 2005. So you found an odd pattern ...
March Issue 2019: Leading the Charge with Better Test Methods

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay in the loop with the lastest
software testing news

Subscribe