Federal aviation regulators indicate that two recent accidents involving the now-grounded Boeing 737 MAX passenger airplane are signs that an update is needed to the nation’s air safety oversight.
According to a report by Reuters, U.S. Transportation Department Inspector General, Calvin Scovel will testify today before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and is expected to indicate that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will make significant changes to it’s safety inspection process for passenger jets.
The promise comes after a fallout from what is largely viewed as a regulatory failure that may have resulted in two high-profile crashes involving the 737 MAX, which killed more than 300 people.
On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the sea just 13 minutes into its flight, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Black box and flight data recorders indicate the pilots fought for 11 minutes to keep the plane in the air, likely due to a problem with the plane’s Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor, which kept telling an automated system, which the pilots could not shut off, to point the nose down.
On March 10, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed just minutes into its flight, killing all 157 passengers and crew. And investigators in both France and the FAA are saying that the characteristics of the short flight look disturbingly similar to that of the ill-fated Lion Air flight.
The two crashes have raised questions about what Boeing and the FAA knew about potential problems with the Boeing 737 Max, as other reports of averted accidents have surfaced in recent weeks.
The two crashes resulted in the grounding of the Boeing jet worldwide. Most countries began grounding the jets soon after the second crash. China, the European Union, and Canada were among the first countries to take the safety step and ground their entire fleets. On March 14, the U.S. was the last major country to ground the planes.
Today’s hearing focuses on the safety of the jets and the FAA’s response and involvement. The ongoing investigation into the accident has revealed that the agency gave Boeing significant leeway in policing itself and critics have raised questions over how long it took the FAA to ground the planes.
Despite the 737s being made in the United States. Ethiopian officials asked French investigators to examine the recovered black box and flight data recorders from the most recent crash, saying they did not trust the FAA.
Boeing’s 737 MAX planes are manufactured in the U.S., the Trump administration heavily promoted sales of the planes throughout the world, and early indications suggest the FAA let Boeing do much of its own safety oversight.
Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell has said the agency’s safety culture “must evolve.” As a result, the FAA has agreed to improve oversight of organizations performing jet inspections on their behalf. The agency reportedly plans to implement the new oversight approach by July.
Crash Investigations Ongoing
The Department of Transportation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a criminal probe into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX jet, in addition to ongoing investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board as well as French investigators who are examining the Ethiopian Airlines flight’s black box.
The FAA says the 737 MAX will return to service when the agency’s analysis of safety data indicates it is appropriate.
Boeing submitted an anti-stall software upgrade to the FAA on January 21. The upgrades are intended to prevent repeated operation of the anti-stall system and will deactivate it if it receives conflicting sensor information. In the Lion Air accident, pilots were unable to deactivate automated systems which kept trying to point the nose of the plane down to prevent a stall. Initial analysis of the Ethiopian Airlines crash suggests there may have been a similar problem.
Some reports revealed the override for the automated system was sold at an additional cost to customers as an optional upgrade. Boeing indicates it will now make the warning light standard.
The FAA has tested the upgrade in simulator and aircraft situations. However, the agency plans to release more information about the upgrade in the coming weeks.
The 737 MAX is Boeing’s best selling aircraft with $500 billion at list prices. The company had 400 planes in operation around the world with orders for 5,000 more before countries began grounding the jets after the recent crashes.