FILe - In this May 8, 2019, file photo, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jetliner being built for Turkish Airlines takes off on a test flight in Renton, Wash. Representatives from more 30 countries met with Federal Aviation Administration officials Thursday, May 23, to hear the U.S. regulator’s approach to determining how soon the Boeing 737 Max can resume flying after two crashes that killed 346 people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

FILe - In this May 8, 2019, file photo, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jetliner being built for Turkish Airlines takes off on a test flight in Renton, Wash. Representatives from more 30 countries met with Federal Aviation Administration officials Thursday, May 23, to hear the U.S. regulator’s approach to determining how soon the Boeing 737 Max can resume flying after two crashes that killed 346 people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Boeing, FAA both faulted in certification of the 737 Max

Aviation panel made 12 recommendations for improving the FAA’s certification

A panel of international aviation regulators found that Boeing withheld key information about the 737 Max from pilots and regulators, and the Federal Aviation Administration lacked the expertise to understand an automated flight system implicated in two deadly crashes of Max jets.

In its report issued Friday, the panel made 12 recommendations for improving the FAA’s certification of new aircraft, including more emphasis on understanding how pilots will handle the increasing amount of automation driving modern planes.

The report, called a joint authorities technical review, focused on FAA approval of a new flight-control system called MCAS that automatically pushed the noses of Max jets down — based on faulty readings from a single sensor — before crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.

During the certification process, Boeing changed the design of MCAS, making it more powerful, but key people at the FAA were not always told. The review committee said it believed that if FAA technical staff knew more about how MCAS worked, they likely would have seen the possibility that it could overpower pilots’ efforts to stop the nose-down pitch.

READ MORE: New park award celebrates life of Micah Messent

MCAS evolved “from a relatively benign system to a not-so-benign system without adequate knowledge by the FAA,” the panel’s chief, former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Christopher Hart, told reporters. He faulted poor communication and said there was no indication of intentional wrongdoing.

The Max has been grounded since March. The five-month international review was separate from the FAA’s consideration of whether to recertify the plane once Boeing finishes updates to software and computers on the plane. Boeing hopes to win FAA approval before year end, although several previous Boeing forecasts have turned out to be wrong.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a prepared statement that the agency would review all recommendations from the panel and take appropriate action.

Boeing said it would work with the FAA to review the panel’s recommendations and “continuously improve the process and approach used to validate and certify airplanes going forward.”

The international panel included members from U.S. agencies, and aviation regulators from Europe, Canada, China and six other countries.

Hart, the chairman, said the U.S. aviation-safety system “has worked very well for decades” — he noted there has been just one accident-related death on a U.S. airliner in the past 10 years — “but this is a system that has room for improvement.”

The panel’s report is likely to increase questions around the FAA’s use of aircraft manufacturers’ own employees in the certification of parts and systems. The report found signs that Boeing put “undue pressures” on employees who worked on Max certification, “which further erodes the level of assurance” in the co-operative approach.

Congressional committees are already looking into the FAA’s use of designated company employees. An FAA critic, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the report an indictment of “a failed, broken system of aviation safety scrutiny” that will add pressure to reform the program.

FAA officials have pointed to the safety record of American aviation as evidence that the program works. They add that it would require vast new staffing and cost billions for FAA employees to perform all necessary certification work. Hart said the FAA lacks the industry’s technological expertise and has trouble hiring top engineers.

The report could also prompt a re-examination of automation, which experts say has led to erosion of flying skills among many pilots.

“As automation becomes more and more complex, pilots are less likely to fully understand it and more likely to have problems,” Hart said. Most pilots can handle problems that occur in automated systems, he said, but “when some don’t, that’s a crash.”

The panel said the FAA should use scientific studies to reconsider its assumptions about how quickly pilots can react to malfunctions.

Pilot unions, which criticized Boeing for not telling them about MCAS until after the first crash, praised the report.

“The first step toward ensuring this never happens again is recognizing where the failures were,” said Dennis Tajer, a pilot for American Airlines and a spokesman for its pilot union. He said the findings should be incorporated into the FAA’s current review of Boeing changes to the Max “because it will make a safer airplane and more highly trained pilots.”

Jon Weaks, president of the pilot union at Southwest Airlines, said in a statement that the issues raised by the task force echo complaints by his union.

“As pilots, we have to be able to trust that Boeing will provide all the information we need to safely operate our aircraft,” Weaks said. “In the case of the 737 Max, that absolutely did not happen.”

Boeing expects FAA re-approval of the Max this year, and airlines would need one to two months more to resume flights. American, Southwest and United have all removed the Max from their schedules until January, after the Christmas travel rush.

Boeing is eager to resume delivering finished Max jets to customers. The company could be frustrated if regulators in other countries take longer than the FAA to review Boeing’s changes to the plane.

Even if the FAA re-certifies the Max in December, “how much after that are the Europeans and the Chinese?” said Ken Herbert, an analyst who covers Boeing for Canaccord Genuity. “And what are the other potential issues that come out of those reviews? That’s where the risk is.”

David Koenig, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

SD62 has announced a COVID-19 exposure at David Cameron Elementary in Colwood. (Black Press Media file photo)
SD 62 (Sooke) has announced a COVID-19 exposure at David Cameron Elementary in Colwood. Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24. (Black Press Media File).
COVID-19 exposure at Colwood’s David Cameron Elementary

Potential exposure dates are Feb. 22-24

A cat died in this house fire in Sidney afternoon. The fire started on the house’s deck and spread from that point. Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the permanent presence of crews at the Community Safety Building prevented worse damage. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Firth)
Sidney house fire kills cat, causes extensive damage

Official says fire started on deck and damage to the house could have been worse

Approximately 100 people gathered in Centennial Square Saturday afternoon to listen to speakers decry COVID-19 restrictions. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Victoria residents protest masks, COVID-19 restrictions

Approximately 100 people gathered in Centennial Square Saturday afternoon

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

AstraZeneca’s vaccines are ready for use at the vaccination center in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb.28, 2021. (Michael Reichel/dpa via AP)
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

The first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)

Most Read