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Boeing 737 Max aircraft are parked in a parking lot at Boeing Field in this aerial photo taken over Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 11, 2020

Boeing and FAA slammed for ‘horrific’ failures over deadly 737 Max crashes

Image credit: REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

Two Boeing 737 Max crashes that killed all 346 people aboard the planes were the ‘horrific culmination’ of failures by the planemaker and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a US House panel report has concluded.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released an investigative report which documents what it says is “a disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgments” by Boeing, combined with “numerous oversight lapses and accountability gaps by the FAA.”

All of Boeing's 737 Max planes worldwide were grounded in March 2019 after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 near the capital of Addis Ababa, which killed all 157 aboard. In October 2018, a Lion Air 737 Max had crashed in Indonesia, killing all 189 people onboard. In December 2019, Boeing suspended production of the aircraft

According to the House panel report, the Max crashes were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake or mismanaged event, but rather 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.”

Furthermore, the 238-page report on the jetliner said: “Boeing failed in its design and development of the Max and the FAA failed in its oversight of Boeing and its certification of the aircraft.” It also details a series of problems in the plane’s design and the FAA’s approval of it.

Boeing said it “learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents... and from the mistakes we have made”. It also said it had cooperated fully with the House committee and that revised design work on the 737 Max had received intensive internal and external review involving more than 375,000 engineering and testing hours and 1,300 test flights.

Meanwhile, the FAA said in a statement that it would work with lawmakers “to implement improvements identified in its report”, adding that it was “focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organisation, processes and culture.”

The report added that the aircraft maker made “faulty design and performance assumptions” in regards to its key safety system, known as MCAS, which was linked to both airline crashes. MCAS, which was designed to help counter a tendency of the Max plane's nose to pitch up, could be activated after data from only a single sensor.

The FAA is now requiring new safeguards to MCAS, including the system’s ability to receive data from two sensors, before it allows the 737 Max to return to service.

The report also criticised Boeing for withholding “crucial information from the FAA, its customers and 737 Max pilots” including “concealing the very existence of MCAS from 737 Max pilots.” It also said that the FAA failed to ensure the safety of the travelling public. 

Lawmakers have proposed numerous reforms to restructure how the FAA oversees aircraft certification. A Senate committee will take up a reform bill today (16 September). 

“This is a tragedy that never should have happened,” said House Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio. “We’re going to take steps in our legislation to see that it never happens again as we reform the system.”

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