U.S. House panel faults FAA review of Boeing 737 MAX, plane design failures

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By David Shepardson and Eric M. Johnson

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) – A U.S. House investigative report into two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people will fault the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval of the plane and Boeing’s “design failures.”

The preliminary investigative findings from the U.S. House Transportation Committee released Friday, found the FAA’s “certification review of Boeing’s 737 MAX was grossly insufficient and that the FAA failed in its duty to identify key safety problems.”

The 13-page report also finds Boeing’s design “was marred by technical design failures, lack of transparency with both regulators and customers.” The report adds the findings should prompt legislative changes to address how U.S. regulators approve new aircraft for service. FAA and Boeing (N:) did not immediately comment.

The MAX has been grounded for almost a year. The report comes days before the anniversary of the second fatal MAX crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight. The committee has been probing the crash for almost a year and received hundreds of thousands of documents and interviewed key Boeing and FAA employees in its investigation.

The panel also concluded that the FAA and Boeing missed “multiple red flags and clear data points” in recommending that the 737 MAX should continue to fly after the first crash in Indonesia in October 2018, adding those decisions “gambled with the public’s safety.”

The U.S. House panel also faulted Boeing for what it described as a “culture of concealment” for failing to disclose information to airline pilots about the 737 MAX’s MCAS stall-prevention system linked to both crashes, and that a key angle-of-attack cockpit alert was “inoperable on the majority of the 737 MAX fleet.”

It said the FAA’s safety oversight “was hampered by poor, disjointed FAA communication among the agency’s own internal offices” and said the FAA “failed to full exercise its safety oversight authority.” It added the FAA “did not ask enough questions.”

Boeing did not tell U.S. regulators for more than a year that it inadvertently made an alarm alerting pilots to a mismatch of flight data optional on the 737 MAX, instead of standard as on earlier 737s, but has said that the missing display represented no safety risk. Boeing has said it will make the feature standard before the MAX returns to service.

Erroneous data from a sensor responsible for measuring the angle at which the wing slices through the air – known as the Angle of Attack – is suspected of triggering a flawed anti-stall system that pushed the plane downward in two recent crashes.

Federal prosecutors aided by the FBI and a grand jury and the Transportation Department inspector general’s office are reviewing the plane’s certification. Several independent reviews have also faulted Boeing’s design and called for improvements in how the FAA certifies new airplanes.

Representative Rick Larsen, who chairs an aviation subcommittee, said Friday’s report and other independent reviews make “it abundantly clear Congress must change the method by which the FAA certifies aircraft.”

Boeing halted production of the MAX in January and a key certification test flight is not expected before April, Reuters has reported, as Boeing addresses several software issues and whether it must move wiring bundles on the plane. Boeing says it hopes to win approval for the plane to return to service by mid-year.

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