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FAA probes Boeing 737 MAX production, ex-manager warns of 'a factory in chaos'

Stock MarketsDec 11, 2019 03:27PM ET
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© Reuters. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Stephen Dickson testifies before a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing at the Rayburn House office building in Washington

By David Shepardson and Eric M. Johnson

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday it was investigating production issues at Boeing (NYSE:BA) Co's 737 MAX factory, raised by an ex-manager who warned that schedule pressure and worker fatigue undermined quality and raised safety risks.

The manager, Ed Pierson, drew a link between faulty Angle of Attack sensors in two recent 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people and what he called a "chaotic and alarming state" inside Boeing's factory that undermined quality and safety.

"It is alarming that these sensors failed on multiple flights mere months after the airplanes were manufactured in a factory experiencing frequent wiring problems and functional test issues," Pierson said at a hearing before U.S. lawmakers.

"I witnessed a factory in chaos," he said.

At the hearing, U.S. FAA chief Steve Dickson confirmed the agency will not approve Boeing Co's grounded 737 MAX for flight before the end of 2019, citing a series of steps that still must be completed.

Federal officials told Reuters this week that FAA approval is not likely until January at the earliest, though some U.S. officials think it may not be until at least February.

Boeing has warned that a significant delay in 737 MAX approval could force it to cut or even halt production of the aircraft, a move that would have repercussions across its global supply chain.

Lawmakers questioned Dickson about an internal FAA analysis produced after the first fatal crash on a Lion Air flight last year that suggested serious risks of crashes over the life of the airplane and questioned why that did not prompt more aggressive action.

The second crash of a 737 MAX, flown by Ethiopian Airlines, occurred five months later.

"Despite its own calculations, the FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the 737 MAX continue to fly until Boeing could overhaul its MCAS software," said Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Boeing said its actions after the Lion Air crash - reinforcing standard flight procedures as it worked on a software fix - were "fully consistent" with the FAA’s analysis and established process, and its own internal safety assessment.

Once the FAA clears the plane to fly and approves training changes, it will still take U.S. airlines 30 days or more to resume flights.

Dickson said at the hearing Boeing could still face fines for not disclosing problems with the 737 MAX earlier.

After Dickson testified, he spoke to some of the family members, who pressed him to make sure there is never a similar 737 MAX crash. As Dickson departed, the mother of one of the people killed in the flights called out: "We're relying on you."

The three U.S. carriers that operate the 737 MAX - Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) Co, American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) Group Inc and United Airlines Holdings Inc - are scheduling flights without use of the aircraft until early March 2020, nearly a year since the plane was grounded.

The head of the International Air Transport Association, Alexandre de Juniac, warned Wednesday that airlines face significant problems if the return to service of the 737 MAX drags on for months longer.

FAA probes Boeing 737 MAX production, ex-manager warns of 'a factory in chaos'
 

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Comments (1)
Anthony Anthony
Anthony Anthony Dec 11, 2019 2:02PM ET
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I hope they are though on airbus as well. Don't just showboat to the public by bashing Boeing.
Andrew Hook
Andrew Hook Dec 11, 2019 2:02PM ET
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Anthony : you comment show a poor understanding of what happened (2 planes crash) because of management pressure. But sure it was lion air and Ethiopian Airlines. Would have been US Airlines with one of your relative, you will be thinking differently
Anthony Anthony
Anthony Anthony Dec 11, 2019 2:02PM ET
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You are so smart. No need to have the same strict guideline on airbus until you and your family get on one falls from sky.
 
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