Tuesday, October 23, 2001


In the face of sweeping NTSB Safety Recommendations with respect to modifying the Boeing 737 rudder system with one that is reliably redundant, the FAA's response is, "We need to get to the Board about what that [term] means." That's scary!

The dictionary defines reliable as "consistent and dependable". That same dictionary defines redundant as "exceeding what is usual or necessary and supplied as a backup". In other words, what the 737 rudder system needs, according to the NTSB, is a consistently dependent duplicate system or backup.

Statements made by the FAA in response to the Safety Recommendation are frightening. For example, the 737 is the only air carrier airplane that was designed with a single panel rudder controlled by a single actuator. The FAA said, "You want to hesitate about changing something such as the rudder system on an airplane.... What scares us regulators is the possibility of introducing an unintended safety risk." In the face of two and possibly three airplanes that have rolled on their backs and crashed, killing hundreds of people, the FAA is scared about fixing the airplane, it complains.

What is even more scary, is the FAA's comment that, "In this 737 PCU it takes two jams internally to get hardover." What's frightening about it is that it demonstrates that thirty years after the 737 certification, and eight years after United 585 came crashing into the ground in Colorado Springs, the FAA still doesn't know that it only takes one jam in the rudder servo valve to cause a reversal or hardover, which can't be controlled by the flight crew.

Either the FAA can't read, write or understand plain English, or it doesn't understand hydraulics, or perhaps it simply doesn't want to understand it because it would look so guilty for the unnecessary loss of life that it alone allowed to happen by ignoring its certification responsibilities.

Part 25 of the Federal Aviation Regulations required then and requires now that there be a redundant control system for the rudder, and that other flight controls be able to overcome a single failure in the rudder control system. Neither was true with the Boeing 737, and the FAA ignored it in certification, ignored it when problems cropped up in the field and before there was a fatality, and still ignored it after there were multiple fatalities.

Indeed, even after there were two and possibly three 737 crashes due to rudder control system failures, the FAA certificated an entirely new generation of Boeing 737s with a single rudder actuator design. There is a point below which incompetence becomes inexcusable. We've reached that point.
The old adage "Close enough for government work" should no longer be the standard to which the FAA aspires. Shame on the FAA!