How to Prevent the Next 737 Max Disaster

As technology becomes more complex, so must troubleshooting

Deep Dive MH370
OneZero
Published in
6 min readApr 23, 2019

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Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

OOfficials are still struggling to understand how the Boeing 737 Max — a plane model built with the latest, most advanced technology, one that has been flying commercially for less than two years — could have failed so catastrophically so early in its career. Two of these airliners crashed in the span of five months, killing 346 people in total. But while much of the focus has fallen on a faulty sensor, the underlying cause appears to involve the way complex subsystems on the plane interacted with one another, a dynamic that has played out in other recent catastrophes, ranging from Deepwater Horizon to Air France 447.

While complexity’s hazards have become all the more apparent with the 737 Max crashes and the difficult development of self-driving cars, they have long been an object of intense interest for MIT aeronautics professor Nancy Leveson, who nearly 40 years ago began studying what she calls “software-intensive, complex, tightly coupled systems.”

Back then, Leveson was a newly minted computer science PhD trying to figure out how to fix a torpedo for the U.S. Navy. The Mark 48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) simply wasn’t working — a major problem given that the weapon was intended to defend the United States against Russian…

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Deep Dive MH370
OneZero

Jeff Wise is science journalist who lives near New York City. He is the author of “The Taking of MH370” and "Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger."