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Boeing, FAA slammed for plane crashes

September 16, 2020

The investigation showed negligence from the plane production company and air safety regulators. More than 300 people died in two crashes of its 737 MAX 8. The plane model has not flown in 18 months.

Boeing 737 Max 8 plane
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images/T. S. Warren

US Congress on Wednesday blamed two deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes on "repeated and serious failures" on the Boeing company and air safety regulators.  

The Transportation Committee, controlled by Democrats, blamed crashes that killed a total of 346 people in 2018 and 2019 on a "horrific culmination" of failed government oversight, design flaws and a lack of action from Boeing despite knowing the issues with its aircraft.

The report, which was more than 230 pages long, comes after an 18-month investigation into the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. Both crashes occurred shortly after take-off. All Boeing 737 MAX models were grounded worldwide following the second crash and have yet to return to the air.

Faulty software to blame

In both crashes, the software installed on the plane pushed the nose down — part of an anti-stall mechanism that was not functioning as intended. The software kept pushing the nose of the plane down in both crashes, with the pilots unable to override it. Pilots were not initially told of this system, which Boeing said was necessary as the MAX models had larger, more powerful engines that were placed further forward on the wings than previous 737 models. 

Several airlines around the world, including American budget airline Southwest Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and South Korean flag carrier Korean Air were using the Boeing 737 MAX 8 model before grounding,

In an interview with investigators, former Boeing general manager Keith Leverkuhn said he considered the MAX model a success despite the crashes.

"I do challenge the suggestion that the development was a failure," said a quote in the report.

Investigators have raised doubts about the company's ability to change.

"Only a genuine, holistic and assertive commitment to changing the cultural issues unearthed in the committee's investigation...can enhance aviation safety and truly help both Boeing and the FAA learn from the dire lessons of the 737 MAX tragedies," said the report.

'Fundamentally flawed'

Though the crashes did not take place in American airspace, Congress also criticized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates civil aviation in the country and had declared the plane airworthy.

"The fact that a compliant airplane suffered from two deadly crashes in less than five months is clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired," read the report which was released early Wednesday.

Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio of Oregon said the system was "inadequate."

Southwest Airline Boeing 737 Max
The 737 MAX model was very popular before it was grounded after the two deadly crashesImage: Getty Images/M. Tama

That the same type of crash occurred twice, roughly six months apart, prompted particular criticism about the reaction in the interim period.

"What's particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes," said DeFazio, who said that there would be "significant reforms."

The Senate Commerce Committee could make changes to a bill that was introduced in June that would give the FAA more control over picking company employees that determine safety decisions.

Investigators said there were several examples of FAA managers overruling technical and safety experts at the behest of the American company. The FAA released a statement on Wednesday saying that they were looking forward to working with the committee towards improvements and were already making changes based on independent reviews.

"These initiatives are focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes, and culture," said the FAA, which added that it would require several design changes before allowing Boeing 737 MAX planes to take off again.

kbd/msh (AFP, AP)