A recent Senate report has claimed that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing manipulated 737 MAX recertification tests following two fatal crashes that led to the worldwide grounding of these jets.
This comes a month after the FAA and State of Design for Boeing aircraft published their final approval of the modified 737 MAX in the Federal Register. The approval signaled that the aircraft has been cleared to fly in the U.S. skies.
Investigations into the accidents showed that a primary cause in each was a software function programme known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was intended to make the aircraft easier to handle. However, the MCAS, guided by only one Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor, kicked in repeatedly if that sensor malfunctioned, pushing the nose of the aircraft downward multiple times and leading finally in both accidents to a complete loss of control of the aircraft.
The new 102-page report prepared by Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation says Boeing “inappropriately coached (FAA) test pilots in the MCAS simulator testing contrary to testing protocol.”
These investigations began in April of 2019, weeks after the second of two tragic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, The two crashes took place within a span of five months and left 346 people killed.
“Twenty months ago, the Commerce Committee launched an investigation into FAA safety oversight. We have received disclosures from more than 50 whistleblowers, conducted numerous FAA staff interviews, and reviewed over 15,000 pages of relevant documents,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. "Our findings are troubling. The report details a number of significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. It is clear that the agency requires consistent oversight to ensure their work to protect the flying public is executed fully and correctly.”
The report argued that the tests were performed on simulators that weren’t equipped to re-create the same conditions as the crashes.
“This test took place over a year after the second 737 MAX crash and during recertification efforts. It appears, in this instance, FAA and Boeing were attempting to cover up important information that may have contributed to the 737 MAX tragedies,” it read.
Additionally, it was found that the FAA senior managers were not held accountable for failure to develop and deliver adequate training in Flight Standards despite repeated findings of deficiencies over several decades. They also allegedly obstructed a Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) review of the 737 MAX crashes.
Responding to the allegations, Boeing said, “Boeing is committed to improving aviation safety, strengthening our safety culture, and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators, and the flying public. We take seriously the Committee’s findings and will continue to review the report in full. We have learned many hard lessons from the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302 accidents, and we will never forget the lives lost on board.”
Interestingly, the head of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), told recently that Boeing's 737 MAX is now safe to fly.
“EASA made clear from the outset that we would conduct our own objective and independent assessment of the 737 MAX, working closely with the FAA and Boeing, to make sure that there can be no repeat of these tragic accidents, which touched the lives of so many people… “I am confident that we have left no stone unturned in our assessment of the aircraft with its changed design approach,” Executive Director Patrick Ky, said.
On Monday, Reuters reported that U.S. lawmakers would vote to approve landmark reforms on how the government certifies new airplanes are safe. The measure would boost FAA oversight of aircraft manufacturers, require disclosure of critical safety information and provide new whistleblower protections.