FAA, Boeing Slammed for Fatal Crashes in Report by House Democrats

House Democrats released a report Wednesday detailing how design and regulatory failures by Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration led to two fatal crashes of 737 MAX planes.

a fighter jet sitting on top of a tarmac: Boeing 737 Max aircraft are parked in a parking lot at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash., June 11, 2020.

© Lindsey Wasson/Reuters
Boeing 737 Max aircraft are parked in a parking lot at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash., June 11, 2020.

The 238-page investigative report from staff for Democrats on the House Transportation Committee, the result of an 18-month investigation, called the deaths of 346 people in the two MAX crashes “preventable.”

“The Max crashes were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake, or mismanaged event,” the report states. “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 FAA.”

Boeing engaged in “a disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgments,” and the Chicago-based aerospace company’s mistakes “point to a company culture that is in serious need of a safety reset,” the report said.

The company’s failures were particularly evident in the development of a new flight control system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which malfunctioned in both crashes to send the planes into nose dives. Boeing employees were also under heavy pressure to complete development of the MAX on time to compete with the Airbus A320neo, the report found. Additionally, Boeing had a “culture of concealment” that resulted in crucial information being withheld from the FAA.

A brand-new Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 went down in March of last year, killing the 157 people on board. It was the second fatal crash of one of the jets in less than six months after a Lion Air Max 8 crashed in the Java Sea near Indonesia in October, 2018 killing 189 people.

Days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, President Trump announced the U.S. was grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8s and 9s.

“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,” Boeing said statement responding to the congressional report. “We have been hard at work strengthening our safety culture and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators, and the flying public.”

The FAA said it “is committed to continually advancing aviation safety and looks forward to working with the Committee to implement improvements identified in its report.”

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House panel blasts Boeing and FAA over fatal 737 Max crashes

A House committee issued a scathing report Wednesday questioning whether Boeing and government regulators have recognized the problems that caused two deadly 737 Max jet crashes and whether either will be willing to make significant changes to fix them.

Staff members from the Democrat-controlled Transportation Committee blamed the crashes that killed 346 people on the “horrific culmination” of failed government oversight, design flaws and a lack of action at Boeing despite knowing about problems.

The committee identified many deficiencies in the Federal Aviation Administration approval process for new jetliners. But both the agency and Boeing have said certification of the Max complied with FAA regulations, the 246-page report said.

“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,” the staff wrote in the report released early Wednesday.

The report highlights the need for legislation to fix the approval process and deal with the FAA’s delegation of some oversight tasks to aircraft manufacturer employees, said Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon.

“Obviously the system is inadequate,” DeFazio said. “We will be adopting significant reforms.”

He wouldn’t give details of possible changes, saying committee leaders are in talks with Republicans about legislation. He said the committee won’t scrap the delegation program, and he hopes to reach agreement on reforms before year’s end.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday could make changes to a bipartisan bill introduced in June giving the FAA more control over picking company employees who sign off on safety decisions. One improvement may be that a plane with significant changes from previous models would need more FAA review.

The House report stems from an 18-month investigation into the October 2018 crash of Lion Air flight 610 in Indonesia and the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in March of 2019. The Max was grounded worldwide shortly after the Ethiopia crash. 

Regulators are testing planes with revamped flight control software, and Boeing hopes to get the Max flying again late this year or early in 2021.

The investigators mainly focused on the reason Boeing was able to get the jet approved with minimal pilot training: It convinced the FAA that the Max was an updated version of previous generation 737s.

But in fact, Boeing equipped the plane with software called MCAS, an acronym for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which automatically lowers the plane’s nose to prevent an aerodynamic stall. Initially, pilots worldwide weren’t told about the system, which Boeing said was needed because the Max had bigger, more powerful engines that were placed further forward on the wings than in the older 737s.

In both

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