A House probe of two Boeing 737 Max crashes concludes the aircraft manufacturer and regulators compromised safety.
Nearly one year after the second fatal crash of a Boeing 737 Max airliner, congressional investigators have released preliminary findings of a long-running probe highlighting competitive pressures that compromised safety while exposing undue Boeing influence over regulators.
The preliminary report released by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also draws lessons from the 737 Max saga as lawmakers seek to restore public trust in the nation’s air transportation network.
The investigation was prompted by separate 737 Max crashes in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia last March that took the lives of 346 passengers and crew members.
“For two brand-new aircraft, of a brand-new derivative model, to crash within five months of each other was extraordinary and unprecedented in modern times,” concludes the panel’s preliminary findings.
“While multiple factors led to these accidents, both crashes shared a key contributing factor: a new software system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which Boeing developed to address stability issues in certain flight conditions induced by the plane’s new, larger engines, and their relative placement on the 737 MAX aircraft compared to the engines’ placement on the 737 NG.”
The House investigation amplifies earlier reports of competitive pressures faced by Boeing as it scrambled to keep pace with rival Airbus to deliver longer range aircraft. It also highlights “faulty assumptions” about MCAS, designed to push the aircraft’s nose down under certain conditions.
The report documents Boeing’s cozy relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration that helped the aircraft manufacturer avoid a costly recertification process for the 737 Max despite fundamental changes to the airframe design, including much larger, range-extending engines.
House investigators were equally critical of Boeing and regulators, concluding unambiguously that the “FAA failed in its oversight responsibilities to ensure the safety of the traveling public.” It also asserted that Boeing ignored in-house warnings about 737 Max safety.
The FAA has recommended fining Boeing nearly $20 million for installing autopilot systems supplied by Rockwell Collins on 737 Max and other Boeing aircraft without first gaining regulatory approval. “The FAA alleges “the guidance systems in these aircraft were equipped with sensors that had not been tested or approved as being compatible with those guidance systems,” the agency said March 6, shortly after the House report was released.
Lawmakers also advocated fundamental changes to the FAA’s aircraft certification process. Gregory Travis, a pilot and software developer interviewed by congressional investigators, went further, saying the agency’s “dual mandate” to both promote and regulate air transportation should be “dissolved.”
Boeing did not respond to our request for comment on the House report. In a response to the FAA’s proposed fine, the aircraft manufacturer said “We understand the critical importance of compliance with all documentation requirements of the FAA’s certifications.”
The House report was released on the one-year anniversary of the crash of an Ethiopian Air 737 Max that killed all 157 passengers and crew aboard.