U.S. Senate Democrats introduce aviation safety bill after Boeing MAX crashes

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two Democrats on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday introduced legislation to mandate numerous aviation safety recommendations in the wake of two fatal Boeing (NYSE:) 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people and led to the plane’s grounding in March.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the committee, and Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced the measure that would require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address automation in the cockpit and assumptions about pilot response.

“We want the FAA to develop tools and methodologies here … and we want this to be considered in the design certification process,” Cantwell said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday. “This is the next stage of aviation safety.”

The bill’s introduction comes days before Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg is set to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the fatal crashes.

An FAA spokesman declined to comment on the bill but FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said on Tuesday that the FAA and airplane manufacturers need to better scrutinize the interface between pilots and machines. He added the FAA and manufacturers must improve processes to ensure “we don’t have fragmented communications” on certification.

Congress and independent panels have been looking at the performance of a key anti-stall safety system tied to the two fatal crashes known as MCAS. Boeing is making a series of safeguards to the system as part of its effort to get the plane airborne again, which could come by the end of 2019.

The bill would order the FAA to require Boeing to ensure the 737 MAX system safety assessments that “assumed immediate and appropriate pilot corrective actions in response to uncommanded flight control inputs, from systems such as the MCAS, consider the effect of all possible flight deck alerts and indications on pilot recognition and response.”

It would also require Boeing to incorporate design enhancements — including flight deck alerts and indications — including “pilot procedures, and training requirements, where needed, to minimize the potential for and safety impact of pilot actions that are inconsistent with manufacturer assumptions.”

Boeing did not immediately comment.

The bill would direct the FAA to adopt recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Transportation Department’s Inspector General and ICAO.

The NTSB in September said the FAA should address assumptions Boeing made in designing software systems to react to emergencies, and decide whether systems should be revised to account for varying pilot reactions to cockpit alarms.

The bill would also create an FAA Center of Excellence dedicated to studying flight automation and human factors in commercial aircraft.

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