It has been reported that the U.S. aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) knew that there was a serious problem with Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft after the first major crash involving one of its planes but did nothing about it.
The FAA analyzed the first crash that led to 189 people dying in Indonesia in October 2018 and made a prediction that without design changes to its automated crash system software that there could be an additional 15 crashes within the life time of the aircraft design. Despite the analysis, the FAA did not order Boeing to ground and recall its aircraft until the system was redesigned.
The flaw in the risk assessment was reported by the head of the FAA, Steve Dickson, during a congressional hearing last week. The hearing was called to discuss the two 737 crashes, one in Indonesia and the other 5 months later in Ethiopia. The combined fatality figure from the two crashes was 346. Dickson admitted that the failure to ground the planes earlier rather than later was a mistake. “Obviously, this was a mistake,” was the comment that Mr. Dickson, only appointed in August this year, made at the hearing.
What went wrong?
The newly designed and built Boeing Max 737s had a major new automated control system installed. It was designed to over ride the pilot and correct any sudden upward movement detected in the plane, for example caused by turbulence. According to Boeing, the system’s main failing was that it relied on information supplied by only a single sensor. The lack of data meant an occasional false message sent to the aircraft’s control system that caused the nose of the plane to tilt downwards without anything the pilot could do about it. Both the two fatal crashes were the result of uncontrolled nose dives after pilots reported not being able to take over the control of the planes.
Even after the second crash, despite widespread concern about the planes’ safety, it wasn’t until 10 days after the second fatal crash that Boeing finally called for the grounding of all Max 737s.
A ‘factory in chaos’
Some of Boeing’s senior managers warned the company that they were going ahead with production faster than safety concerns justified. Ed Pierson, who p longer works at Boeing a senior manager, described the 737 manufacturing site as a ‘factory in chaos.’ He also said that regulators showed little interest in his concerns about the company’s emphasis on pushing ahead with getting the 737 fleet into production.
Max 737s are still not flying. Boeing is still hoping that it can sort out the software upgrade and believes that the changes will make the plane safer than ever. However, no 737s are unlikely to return to service until after pilots are retrained to understand how the improved system worked. One other fault that had been reported after the two crashes was that 737 pilots had not received adequate training in the MCAS system. In fact, one of the roles of the MCAS system was to give an impression to pilots used to the older 737s that they behaved in a similar way.
Regulators are still trying to decide how pilots should receive training. The fastest way is for pilots to use home computers with training simulators. However, there has also been a push for full flight simulation, something that might prove problematic as there is not sufficient capacity for this at the moment.
It is safe to say that despite some progress and recognition that serious mistakes were made in both the design and regulation of the Max 737 that it won’t be back in the air anytime soon.
After an aviation accident, you need a dedicated aviation attorney
Major aircraft crashes are thankfully, few and far between. In fact, commercial airline travel is safer than any other form of transport. However, when a plane does crash, it is usually an absolute calamity. If you, or a loved one, have been injured in any sort of aviation crash, you need to contact an experienced and dedicated aviation accident attorney as soon as you can to discuss your legal options. In Tennessee, contact the Keith Williams Law Group. You can call to make an appointment for a consultation at (615) 313-3999.