The two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people and led to the jetliner’s grounding in March 2019 were the “horrific culmination” of “repeated and serious failures” by the company and air-safety regulators, according to a scathing congressional report released Wednesday.
“The MAX crashes were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake or mismanaged event,” wrote the staff members from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who blasted both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“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,” the wrote.
“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,” added the 239-page report, the culmination of the committee’s 18-month probe.
The 737 MAX was grounded after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 near Addis Ababa, killing all 157 aboard. In October 2018, all 189 aboard a Lion Air 737 MAX were killed when it crashed in Indonesia.
“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,” the report said.
The document adds to scrutiny of both Boeing and the FAA as the agency manages the process of requiring upgrades to the aircraft before it is cleared to take to the skies again.
The plane maker said it “learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents … and from the mistakes we have made.”
Boeing said it had cooperated fully with the House committee and that revised design work on the plane had received intensive internal and external review that included 1,300 test flights, Reuters reported.
The FAA said in a statement it would work with lawmakers “to implement improvements identified in its report,” adding that the agency was “focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes, and culture.”
The report said Boeing made “faulty design and performance assumptions” particularly about a key safety system – the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS – that was linked to both crashes.
MCAS, which was designed to help counter a tendency of the airliner to pitch up, could be activated after data from only a single sensor. The FAA is requiring new safeguards to MCAS, including requiring it receive data from two sensors.
According to the report, Boeing wanted to keep details about MCAS from the FAA so it wouldn’t require additional pilot training. That would ruin the company’s sales pitch for the MAX — that pilots of older 737s wouldn’t have to go through extensive simulator training to fly the new models.
The report also slammed 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.”
The FAA “failed to ensure the safety of the traveling public,” the report said.
Lawmakers, who suggested Boeing was motivated to cut costs and move quickly to get the 737 MAX to market, have proposed a variety of reforms to restructure how the FAA oversees aircraft certification.
“This is a tragedy that never should have happened,” House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio told reporters. “We’re going to take steps in our legislation to see that it never happens again as we reform the system.”
Fazio (D-Oregon) wouldn’t provide details of possible changes, saying committee leaders are in talks with Republicans about legislation.
On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee could make changes to a bipartisan bill giving the FAA more control over picking company employees who sign off on safety decisions.
One improvement may be that an aircraft with significant changes from previous models would need more FAA review.
In an interview with investigators, Keith Leverkuhn, former Boeing general manager for the MAX, said he considered development of the plane a success despite the crashes.
“I do challenge the suggestion that the development was a failure,” the report quotes him as saying.
Relatives of people who died in the crashes said the report exposed the truth.
“It was an unforgivable crime, and Boeing still wants to return the aircraft to service quickly,” said Ababu Amha, whose wife was a flight attendant on the doomed Ethiopian plane. “All those responsible for the accident should pay the price for their actions.”
With Post wires