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Exclusive: Boeing kept FAA in the dark on key 737 MAX design changes - U.S. IG report

Stock MarketsJul 01, 2020 01:11AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle 2/2

By David Shepardson, Eric M. Johnson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Boeing Co (N:BA) failed to submit certification documents to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) detailing changes to a key flight control system faulted in two fatal crashes, a long-awaited government report seen by Reuters has found.

The flight control system, known as MCAS, was "not an area of emphasis" because Boeing presented it to the FAA as a modification of the jet's existing speed trim system, with limited range and use, according to the report.

The 52-page report by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General (IG), dated June 29 and set to be made public Wednesday, laid bare mistakes made by both the planemaker and FAA in the development and certification of Boeing's top-selling aircraft.

The FAA declined to comment beyond the department's response attached to the report. The IG did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Boeing spokesman said the company had taken steps to enhance safety and was committed to transparency. "When the MAX returns to service, it will be one of the most thoroughly scrutinized aircraft in history, and we have full confidence in its safety," he said.

The IG's report is the latest of reports faulting the plane's approval, while the Justice Department has an ongoing criminal investigation.

The 737 MAX has been grounded from commercial flight worldwide since March 2019 after two crashes killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia over a five-month span.

Boeing's so-called MCAS stall-prevention system has been faulted in both crashes, when the system repeatedly and forcefully pushed down the jet's nose as pilots struggled to intervene, among a cocktail of factors pinpointed by crash investigators.

The inspector general report details activities from the early phase of the certification process in January 2012 through the second crash. It also details allegations of "undue pressure" from Boeing management on workers handling safety certification, though it adds that all "formally reported" instances of undue pressure were "satisfactorily addressed."

The IG's office will issue recommendations to the FAA later this year, the Transportation Department said in comments about the draft report submitted on June 8.

The FAA is currently evaluating the MCAS upgrades during a series of certification test flights this week that could pave the way for the jet's return domestically by year end.

REGULATORS IN THE DARK

In response to the report, the Transportation Department said the FAA's certification of the 737 MAX was "hampered by a lack of effective communication" between the agency and U.S. planemaker.

Crucially, that included the "incomplete understanding of the scope and potential safety impacts" of changes Boeing made to the jet's flight control system to give it more power and authority, the agency said.

"Boeing did not submit certification documents to FAA detailing the change," the report said. "FAA flight test personnel were aware of this change, but key FAA certification engineers and personnel responsible for approving the level of airline pilot training told us they were unaware of the revision to MCAS."

The FAA conducted its first-ever detailed review of the system in January 2019, three months after the first crash in Indonesia. The review resulted in documentation that was never finalized, the report said.

The report also noted that, after the Indonesia crash, the FAA completed a risk analysis that found that the uncorrected risk to the 737 MAX was 2.68 fatalities per 1 million flight hours, which exceeded the FAA's risk guidelines of 1 fatality per 10 million flight hours.

A December 2018 FAA analysis determined a risk of about 15 accidents occurring over the life of the entire 737 MAX fleet if the software fix was not implemented.

After the crashes, Boeing proposed and FAA accepted a redesign of MCAS software that would include additional safeguards against unintended MCAS activation.

Boeing also created a Product and Services Safety Organization for employees to raise concerns over safety and undue pressure, first reported by Reuters.

Boeing agreed to develop the MCAS software update by April 12 and operators would have until June 18, 2019, to install the software. As Boeing worked on proposed software upgrade for MCAS, a second plane crashed in March 2019 in Ethiopia.

Exclusive: Boeing kept FAA in the dark on key 737 MAX design changes - U.S. IG report
 

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Comments (19)
Paulo Britto
Paulo Britto Jul 01, 2020 6:51AM ET
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Just to remember the whole story... When Airbus purchased bombardier, one of the planes lines had an incredible cost effective because it used new generation engines that reduces a lot the fuel consumption and Airbus created a whole strategy based on this. When Boeing noticed that it would loose a lot of market share and it would take 5 to 10 years to create a new plane, it invented the 737 max that is a complete failure in terms of design and needs a software just to fix the design side effects.
Paulo Britto
Paulo Britto Jul 01, 2020 6:39AM ET
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Question :"What is the relationship between the Dow Jones and the 737max?" Answer " Both will crash again". No software will fix huge design problems. Trying to force the installation of new generation engines in an old plane is not an option.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Jul 01, 2020 12:39AM ET
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2 things boeing did wrong to maximize profit 1. no training for pilots #2 They were out of their f mind to install only 1 angle sensor.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Jul 01, 2020 12:34AM ET
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It is all about profit. If boeing train pilots what to do if the computer, angle sensor f up, they wouldnt be 1000ft in deep s#.
Robert Tew
Robert Tew Jul 01, 2020 12:20AM ET
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this reminds me of Malaysia airlines 1 missing n 1 crash (get shoot) , afterwards Malaysia starts downturn last 3years
DragonH Hahn
DragonH Hahn Jul 01, 2020 12:07AM ET
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... In addition, Crashed aircraft more related the pilots skills skills,
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Jul 01, 2020 12:07AM ET
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Without fully understand the system, new pilots think the computer is better. In computer we trust nowaday. Experience pilots can fly without computer. It is very hard to fly with a computer off.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Jul 01, 2020 12:07AM ET
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Certain Indonesia airliners require only 1000 hours for captain and 250hrs for copilots. If u have 1000hrs fly experience, u r doom if the computer mis-behave.
close enuf
close enuf Jun 30, 2020 11:41PM ET
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yikes
Armand Hz
Armand Hz Jun 30, 2020 11:16PM ET
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the 737 max is probably the safest airplane right now.
Beny Muler
Beny Muler Jun 30, 2020 11:16PM ET
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if there was proper code review, and no bugs
Ali Shibli
Ali Shibli Jun 30, 2020 11:09PM ET
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Well this could be a big factor in tomorrow session
Tricky Dick
TrickyDick Jun 30, 2020 10:47PM ET
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Does everyone have to give back their windfall from yesterday because Boeing lied?
Leeko Williams
Leeko Williams Jun 30, 2020 10:45PM ET
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Tankkkkkkk
Tricky Dick
TrickyDick Jun 30, 2020 10:45PM ET
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I'm sure investors will find reasons to be hopeful and optimistic. Probably something like "thank you for catching us pulling funny business, we promise not to do it again" and the markets will respond with a 5000 point jump
vince le
vince le Jun 30, 2020 10:38PM ET
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isn't this old news ? so obvious what they try to do
Joe Griffin
Joe Griffin Jun 30, 2020 10:18PM ET
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Another sensational headline. There is no news here. Perhaps some profit taking tomorrow from the march buyers but this will be significantly higher in 12-18 months
Gary Friauf
Gary Friauf Jun 30, 2020 9:40PM ET
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Obvious short seller motives behind this article. How ironic this comes out on what I believe is the final day of testing tomorrow. I'm long the stock and have been since the nice pull back to $95.00
nick tomich
nick tomich Jun 30, 2020 8:56PM ET
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seems convenient this is making major news a few minutes after 8pm...tomorrow is going to be a bad day for those last minute long buyers if this reads true
Michael Coker
Michael Coker Jun 30, 2020 8:56PM ET
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rip to my calls! its gunna be a bad day tomorrow. I sure wish it was early 1991 when information flowed much slower.
Arnold Anderson
Arnold Anderson Jun 30, 2020 8:37PM ET
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Am I mistaken or haven't the critical issues all been publicized previously?
Jeffrey Whittinghill
Jeffrey Whittinghill Jun 30, 2020 8:32PM ET
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Short boeing to the end
Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson Jun 30, 2020 7:16PM ET
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What a mess. It’s shamefull.
Eric Hudnall
Eric Hudnall Jun 30, 2020 7:13PM ET
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Ouch. If it's Boeing, we ain't going.
Paul Dunne
Paul Dunne Jun 30, 2020 7:13PM ET
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