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Congress slams ‘fundamentally flawed’ Boeing 737 MAX & ‘grossly insufficient’ FAA in scathing report

Congress slams ‘fundamentally flawed’ Boeing 737 MAX & ‘grossly insufficient’ FAA in scathing report
Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft was doomed by the manufacturer’s “culture of concealment” that prioritized cost-cutting over safety, while the Federal Aviation Administration’s poor judgment sealed its fate, the US House has concluded.

A software glitch that should have been discovered and repaired instead shipped by default with all new 737 MAX planes, resulting in a pair of horrific crashes that killed a total of 346 people and forced the grounding of 737 MAX planes worldwide. The error had been concealed by Boeing executives and ignored by FAA regulators, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee found in its preliminary report delivered on Friday.

The scathing results of the committee's investigation came just days before the anniversary of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302’s disastrous demise shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa. Less than six months before that, Lion Air flight 610 had also crashed immediately after takeoff from Jakarta.

Boeing “failed in its duty to identify key safety problems and to ensure they were adequately addressed during the certification process,” the committee found, excoriating the company’s “culture of concealment” that hid critical issues from not only the FAA but also its customers and the pilots flying its planes. The report slams Boeing for putting cost and schedule ahead of the lives of passengers and highlights the preventable nature of both crashes.

The FAA, too, “jeopardized the safety of the flying public” with its “inherent conflicts of interest,” the committee observed. The regulator’s “grossly insufficient” review of the plane “failed…to identify key safety problems,” while the technical experts who did bring up concerns were reportedly pressured into silence. At the same time, Boeing ignored whistleblowers within the company voicing similar concerns. The company’s failure to classify its onboard computerized flight system, the source of the deadly computer error, as safety-critical and meriting special scrutiny violated Boeing’s internal guidelines - but delivering planes on time and under cost was always more important.

Also on rt.com ‘Sorry for lives lost’: Boeing admits faulty system part of ‘chain of events’ in 737 MAX crashes

In one particularly damning incident, the FAA ran a risk assessment following the Lion Air crash that found if Boeing did not fix its on-board computer system, there would be 15 more accidents from similar malfunctions over the life of the 737 MAX. But instead of demanding an immediate grounding of the planes, or at least warning pilots that they were taking their lives into their hands, the regulator let them keep flying, choosing to work on a software fix for the glitch in private.

Boeing finally halted production on the 737 MAX in January and orders of the once-popular model have zeroed out. Even then, the troubled jet faced another scandal when inspection of recently-produced planes revealed debris in the fuel tanks of several. Planes already in circulation have been grounded since last year, and Boeing’s efforts to have the model cleared for return to the skies triggered fierce protests from aircrew and pilots fearing a repeat performance. While the reason for the disaster has been traced to the flight computer’s tendency to overcompensate and correspondingly point the plane’s nose downward when in autopilot mode, additional sensors and parts which might have obviated the issue did not come standard with the model.

The report concluded that Boeing was desperately in need of an “effective and vigorous safety culture,” observing that in 2016, while the 737 MAX was being certified, 39 percent of the company’s employees reported feeling “undue pressure” from above, while 29 percent were concerned to even report said pressure. The FAA, the committee added, “must develop a more aggressive certification and oversight structure to ensure safe aircraft designs and to regain the confidence of the flying public.”

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Boeing is facing some 150 lawsuits from crash victims’ families and has seen its stock plummet nearly 40 percent in value over the past year. Unable to reassure customers when the 737 MAX might be re-certified to fly, the company has seen a hefty chunk of its business snapped up by competitor Airbus, which shipped a record number of planes in 2019 while Boeing lost over half a billion dollars the same year.

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