Boeing deception alleged in scathing House report on Max crashes
September 16 2020 06:09 PM
The first Boeing 737 MAX 9 airliner is pictured at the company's factory in Renton, Washington. A 24
The first Boeing 737 MAX 9 airliner is pictured at the company's factory in Renton, Washington. A 245-page report issued o Wednesday provides the most scathing account so far of the miscalculations that led to 346 deaths, the grounding of Boeing’s best-selling jet and billions of dollars in losses for the manufacturing giant.

Bloomberg New York

Sweeping failures by Boeing Co engineers, deception by the company and significant errors in government oversight led to the two fatal crashes of the 737 Max, congressional investigators have concluded.

A 245-page report issued on Wednesday provides the most scathing account so far of the miscalculations that led to 346 deaths, the grounding of Boeing’s best-selling jet and billions of dollars in losses for the manufacturing giant.

“The Max crashes were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake or mismanaged event,” the report by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said. “They were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management and grossly insufficient oversight by the” Federal Aviation Administration.

The report – the result of five investigative hearings, a review of about 600,000 pages of documents, interviews with top Boeing and FAA officials and information provided by whistle-blowers – makes the case for broad changes in the FAA’s oversight of the aircraft industry.

It offers a more searing version of events than the sometimes technical language in previous crash reports and investigations, including one conducted by the Transportation Department’s Inspector General.

The conclusions were drawn by the majority staff under committee Chairman Peter DeFazio. The report cites five main reasons for the crashes:

Pressures to update the 737’s design swiftly and inexpensively

Faulty assumptions about the design and performance of pilots

What the report called a “culture of concealment” by Boeing

Inherent conflicts of interest in the system that deputises Boeing employees to act on behalf of the government

The company’s sway over top FAA managers

DeFazio said he found it “mind boggling” that Boeing and FAA officials concluded, according to the report, that the plane’s design had complied with regulations in spite of the crashes.

“The problem is it was compliant and not safe – and people died,” he said. “Obviously, the system is inadequate.”

Republican leaders on the House committee took issue with the report’s findings, saying they represented partisan overreach that went beyond what other reviews have found.

“Expert recommendations have already led to changes and reforms, with more to come,” said a joint statement from Sam Graves of Missouri and Garret Graves of Louisiana. “These recommendations – not a partisan investigative report – should serve as the basis for Congressional action.”

Boeing said in a statement it had co-operated with the committee’s investigation and had taken steps at the company to improve safety.

“We have learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302, and from the mistakes we have made,” the company said. “Change is always hard and requires daily commitment, but we as a company are dedicated to doing the work.”

The FAA said in a statement late Tuesday night that it was committed to working with the committee to make improvements. “We are already undertaking important initiatives based on what we have learned from our own internal reviews as well as independent reviews of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents,” the agency said in the statement.

But tensions between the committee staff and the FAA were clearly evident. Ali Bahrami, who oversees safety at the agency, came under repeated criticism in the report for what the committee called his lack of awareness of issues surrounding the Max and the accidents. The committee staffers declined to provide him with questions before the Dec. 5 interview, which made it difficult for him to recall documents and events, an FAA counsel warned at the start of the interview, according to a transcript.

While DeFazio and other lawmakers haven’t called for a permanent grounding of the jet, the father of a woman who died in the Ethiopia crash said the report raised questions about the plane’s return to service.

“The FAA should immediately halt the recertification process for the 737 Max in light of this report,” said Michael Stumo, father of Samya Stumo. He accused Boeing and the FAA of withholding information from the families of victims in an emailed statement.

The 737 Max was grounded March 13, 2019, three days after the second crash involving a safety feature on the plane that malfunctioned and repeatedly sent the planes into a dive toward the ground.

Boeing and regulators had approved the design under the assumption that flight crews could recognise and override a malfunction of the system within a few seconds. Even though the system could have been disabled by flipping two cockpit switches, pilots on a Lion Air flight departing from Jakarta on October 29, 2018, and an Ethiopian Airlines plane leaving Addis Ababa on March 10, 2019, became confused, lost control and crashed.

The feature, known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, was designed to make the Max feel exactly the same to pilots as the earlier family of 737s known as the Next Generation. However, the system was triggered erroneously by a single sensor that failed in both crashes and it continued to push the nose down repeatedly.

The FAA has tentatively approved multiple design changes to prevent such an accident in the future and the plane could be certified to resume operations in the fall.

The House report identifies numerous instances in which it alleges the company should have known that MCAS was potentially dangerous.

For example, a Boeing test pilot during the early development of the plane in 2012 took more than 10 seconds to respond to an erroneous MCAS activation, a condition the pilot concluded could be “catastrophic,” the report said.

“The reaction time was long,” one Boeing employee told another in an e-mail on Nov. 1, 2012, which was viewed by Bloomberg. The unidentified employee asked whether the rating of the system’s risks should be raised, which may have prompted a more thorough safety review.

Those concerns “were not properly addressed” and the company “did not inform the FAA,” the report said.

Boeing ultimately concluded that flight crews would react far swifter to an MCAS failure, typically within four seconds.

The report also said the responses by Boeing and the FAA to the first accident – warnings to pilots issued in early November 2018 – weren’t adequate to prevent a second crash.

“Both Boeing and the FAA gambled with the public’s safety in the aftermath of the Lion Air crash, resulting in the death of 157 more individuals on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, less than five months later,” the report said.

The guidance on how to avoid an accident during an MCAS failure detailed the symptoms pilots would see and reminded crews how to shut it off. The committee criticised Boeing and the FAA for not mentioning the system’s name.

FAA officials have said they debated whether to include MCAS in the directive, but opted not to because it wasn’t mentioned in pilot flight manuals. Boeing within days sent additional guidance to airlines on MCAS and how it worked. Details on MCAS were also widely reported in the news media and internal airline documents obtained by Bloomberg show that it had been explained to Ethiopian Airlines pilots before their crash.





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