It is very disappointing to see that the FAA remains the same agency it was when swissair 111 tragically crashed in 1998. At that time it was mylar insulation that they drug their feet on banning, because they seemed more interested in pleasing the airline industry than concerned about passengers' safety. They knew the insulation was flammable and could cause catastrophic incidents and yet continued to extend the time airlines had to replace these blankets.
Now other nations are grounding the 737MAX due to 2 recent crashes, while the FAA listens to Boeing and fails to ground these planes.
By Robert Wall and Matina Stevis-Gridneff
Updated March 12, 2019 8:15 p.m. ET
Boeing Co.’s woes escalated as European aviation regulators joined Asian and Latin American authorities in grounding the 737 MAX jet, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill urged U.S. airlines to voluntarily park those planes after two deadly crashes of the aircraft in the past five months.
The crashes have raised questions about the plane’s flight-control system. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that in response to the first crash in October, Boeing is making a significant change to the software that controls a stall-prevention feature, and that change is more extensive than what many industry officials familiar with the discussions had anticipated.
Tuesday started with Australia, Malaysia and Singapore deciding to suspend the plane’s operations, joining China, Indonesia and several carriers in Latin America. Then, European aviation regulators broke ranks with their U.S. counterparts and grounded the aircraft, forcing some planes to return to their departing airport midflight.
The suspensions marked an unusual departure for foreign regulators, who typically adhere to guidance from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regarding American-built aircraft.
President Trump wrote Tuesday on Twitter that “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” without singling out Boeing or the 737 MAX. “Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger.”
Mr. Trump spoke with Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg on Tuesday morning, according to a White House official. Mr. Muilenburg expressed confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX during the call, a person familiar with the matter said. The White House didn’t respond to questions about whether Mr. Trump believes the planes should be grounded.
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), called for the planes to be grounded in the U.S. pending a probe.
“It would make sense to ground the aircraft in the U.S. until we have a full report on what has been the cause of these last two crashes,” Mr. Romney said.
Boeing has maintained the jet is safe to fly after Sunday’s crash in Ethiopia and a crash of another 737 MAX 8 in Indonesia in October. The FAA reiterated Tuesday that the aircraft is safe. “Our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft,” the agency said. U.S. carriers, sticking by the FAA guidance, have said they have no plans to ground flights.
Shares in Boeing fell 6.2% Tuesday and are off over 11% this week. The company has lost more than $26 billion in market value since an Ethiopian Airlines plane went down on Sunday.
The U.K., France, Germany and Ireland all grounded the aircraft within about an hour of each other Tuesday. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the FAA’s counterpart in Europe, later extended those bans to all of the EU. India grounded the MAX late Tuesday local time, and Canada said it was reviewing the situation and could ground the planes, too.
“I can’t think of a situation where places like China and Australia and some airlines have acted unilaterally,” said Paul Hayes, air-safety director at consulting firm Ascend.
European regulators, in particular, have long worked closely with U.S. counterparts, making their divergence from the FAA recommendations particularly notable.
The moves come amid a flood of social-media queries from passengers and a number of groups representing cockpit and cabin crew from around the world expressing worry over the jet’s safety.
The groundings resulted in the bulk of the global MAX fleet, which totals more than 370, to be idled Tuesday and caused some disruption to air travel around the world. Two Turkish Airlines flights headed to the U.K. turned around midflight after Britain’s regulator barred the jet from its airspace.
Trump just ordered both the 737MAX8&9 grounded. Right decision.
Apparently, there have been complaints lodged against this aircraft by U.S. pilots who were flying them. From CNN: 'One of the pilot complaints from the federal database include a report saying it is "unconscionable" that Boeing, the FAA and the pilot's airline (which is unnamed) would have pilots flying the aircraft without adequate training or sufficient documentation.'
'The same entry also charges that the flight manual for the 737Max8 "is inadequate and almost criminally insufficient."'
Those of us that have suffered the loss of loved ones in these avoidable tragedies are never surprised when we read these kind of comments. They could be talking about swissair 111.
By Andy Pasztor, Alex Leary and Andrew Tangel
Updated March 13, 2019 9:38 p.m. ET
President Trump said on Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration would ground Boeing Co.’s fleet of 737 MAX airliners, after agency officials said new data indicated last weekend’s deadly crash in Ethiopia in some ways resembled another recent tragedy involving the same plane model.
Mr. Trump said the U.S. was stopping domestic airlines and others from using Boeing’s newest single-aisle plane in U.S. airspace. The order follows two high-profile crashes of 737 MAX planes within less than five months.
“The airlines have been all notified,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday afternoon. He added: “The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern.”
The decision came three days after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing all onboard.
Boeing said it maintained full confidence in the MAX plane, but decided to recommend a temporary grounding to reassure the flying public.
President Trump, at a White House event, said the Federal Aviation Administration is grounding all U.S. flights of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9. He said airlines are agreeing with the decision, as Trump calls air safety ‘a paramount concern.’
“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a written statement. “We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”
Since the crash on Sunday, regulators in dozens of countries suspended flights by the single-aisle airliners, including longtime safety partners such as the U.K., Australia and Canada, whose airspace U.S. airlines regularly enter, even during domestic flights. The same model plane was involved in a deadly crash less than five months ago in Indonesia, where a Lion Air 737 MAX plunged into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff.
By the time the U.S. made its decision, it had become increasingly isolated as the last significant aviation market still allowing the plane to fly in its airspace.
Until Canada’s decision Wednesday morning to keep the jets on the ground, the FAA’s leadership appeared solidly behind the agency’s original decision to wait for more data before taking further action. Senior FAA officials huddled most of Tuesday to discuss the situation, according to a person familiar with the details. By the end of the day, the agency issued a statement reiterating its position that the lack of data from the Ethiopian Airlines crash meant the FAA didn’t have solid legal or regulatory justification for a grounding order.
On Tuesday night, a high-level FAA meeting in the conference room of acting agency chief Daniel Elwell broke up with general agreement that the agency would stick by its position.
“We were resolute in our position that we would not take action until we had data to support taking action,” Mr. Elwell recalled Wednesday, while speaking to reporters.
One industry official said he was told repeatedly by a high-ranking FAA official late Tuesday that even if the Canadian government opted to ground the aircraft, the U.S. agency planned to refrain from similar action.
The turning point for the U.S. came Wednesday morning, when new data emerged offering a more detailed picture of the Ethiopian Airlines flight’s final moments.
Aireon LLC, a company that provides air-traffic surveillance through a global network of satellites, supplied details about the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Canadian and U.S. authorities, including the FAA, the company said.
Assembled with the help of Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board, the report “added fidelity and missing pieces” to the FAA’s deliberations, Mr. Elwell said. The report revealed that Ethiopian Flight 302’s flight path—particularly its swift, roller-coaster-like altitude changes—resembled movements of the ill-fated Lion Air flight “closer than anything we had until today,” Mr. Elwell added.
The similarities “became clear to all parties,” according to Mr. Elwell, who said he briefed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, with whom he had been in “constant consultation” since the Ethiopian plane crash Sunday.
By Andrew Tangel, Andy Pasztor and Robert Wall
Updated March 17, 2019 11:14 p.m. ET
Federal prosecutors and Department of Transportation officials are scrutinizing the development of Boeing Co.’s BA -1.93% 737 MAX jetliners, according to people familiar with the matter, unusual inquiries that come amid probes of regulators’ safety approvals of the new plane.
A grand jury in Washington, D.C., issued a broad subpoena dated March 11 to at least one person involved in the 737 MAX’s development, seeking related documents, including correspondence, emails and other messages, one of these people said. The subpoena, with a prosecutor from the Justice Department’s criminal division listed as a contact, sought documents to be handed over later this month.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Justice Department’s probe is related to scrutiny of the Federal Aviation Administration by the DOT inspector general’s office, reported earlier Sunday by The Wall Street Journal and that focuses on a safety system that has been implicated in the Oct. 29 Lion Air crash that killed 189 people, according to a government official briefed on its status. Aviation authorities are looking into whether the anti-stall system may have played a role in last week’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed all 157 people on board.
The subpoena was sent a day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash a week ago.
Representatives of the DOT and Justice Department couldn’t immediately be reached late Sunday. The inspector general’s inquiry focuses on ensuring relevant documents and computer files are retained, according to the government official familiar with the matter.
A Boeing spokesman declined to comment, saying the Chicago-based company wouldn’t respond to questions concerning legal matters or governmental inquiries.
The Justice Department probe involves a prosecutor in the fraud section of the department’s criminal division, a unit that has brought cases against well-known manufacturers over safety issues, including Takata Corp.
In the U.S., it is highly unusual for federal prosecutors to investigate details of regulatory approval of commercial aircraft designs, or to use a criminal probe to delve into dealings between the FAA and the largest aircraft manufacturer the agency oversees. Probes of airliner programs or alleged lapses in federal safety oversight typically are handled as civil cases, often by the DOT inspector general. The inspector general, however, does have authority to make criminal referrals to federal prosecutors and has its own special agents.
Repeatedly over the years, U.S. aviation companies and airline officials have been sharply critical of foreign governments, including France, South Korea and others, for conducting criminal probes of some plane makers, their executives and in some cases, even individual pilots, after high-profile or fatal crashes. The FAA’s current enforcement policy stresses enhanced cooperation with domestic airlines and manufacturers—featuring voluntary sharing of important safety data—instead of seeking fines or imposing other punishment.
The U.S. government scrutiny comes as Ethiopia’s transport minister, Dagmawit Moges, said there were “clear similarities” between the two crashes. U.S. officials cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions because data from the black boxes of the Ethiopian Airlines plane still need to be analyzed.
The two crashes have sparked the biggest crisis Boeing has faced in about two decades, threatening sales of a plane model that has been the aircraft giant’s most stable revenue source and potentially making it more time consuming and difficult to get future aircraft designs certified as safe to fly.
The Transportation Department’s inquiry was launched in the wake of the Lion Air accident and is being conducted by its inspector general, which has warned two FAA offices to safeguard computer files, according to people familiar with the matter. The internal watchdog is seeking to determine whether the agency used appropriate design standards and engineering analyses in certifying the anti-stall system, known as MCAS.
The FAA said Sunday that the 737 MAX, which entered service in 2017, was approved to carry passengers as part of the agency’s “standard certification process,” including design analyses; ground and flight tests; maintenance requirements; and cooperation with other civil aviation authorities. Agency officials in the past have declined to comment on various decisions regarding specific systems. Sunday’s statement said the agency’s “certification processes are well established and have consistently produced safe aircraft.”
Earlier, a Boeing spokesman said: “The 737 MAX was certified in accordance with the identical FAA requirements and processes that have governed certification of all previous new airplanes and derivatives. The FAA considered the final configuration and operating parameters of MCAS during MAX certification, and concluded that it met all certification and regulatory requirements.”
Boeing Co. BA 2.65% is making an extensive change to the flight-control system in the 737 MAX aircraft involved in October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia, going beyond what many industry officials familiar with the discussions had anticipated.
The change was in the works before a second plane of the same model crashed in Africa last weekend—and comes as world-wide unease about the 737 MAX’s safety grows.
The change would mark a major shift from how Boeing originally designed a stall-prevention feature in the aircraft, which were first delivered to airlines in 2017.
U.S. aviation regulators are expected to mandate the change by the end of April.
Boeing publicly released details about the planned 737 MAX software update on its website late Monday.
A company spokesman confirmed the update would use feeds from multiple sensors in the MAX’s stall-prevention system—instead of the current reliance on a single sensor.
The change was prompted by preliminary results from the Indonesian crash investigation indicating that erroneous data from a single sensor, which measures the angle of the plane’s nose, caused the stall-prevention system to misfire. Then, a series of events put the aircraft into a dangerous dive.
Focus on the update has taken on greater urgency as aviation regulators and airlines around the world have grounded their MAX fleets, following the Ethiopian crash over the weekend—despite no links being made between the two crashes by investigators.
The MAX software change is expected to take about an hour for each plane, a Boeing spokesman said Tuesday. He declined to offer other details about how the system would weigh the multiple data inputs.
“For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer,” Boeing said late Monday in a statement.
The FAA has decided to allow the 737 MAX to continue flying, a break with counterparts in countries including the U.K., Australia and Singapore, which grounded the model in recent days.
The investigation into the Oct. 29 Lion Air crash is continuing, but has focused on the stall-prevention system, apparent maintenance lapses and potential pilot error. Investigators have revealed little about the circumstances leading up to the Ethiopian crash, but have found cockpit voice and data recorders.
When the plane was first designed, engineers determined that using a single sensor—measuring what is technically known as the angle of attack—would be simpler and was in line with the plane maker’s long-held philosophy to keep pilots at the center of cockpit control, a person familiar with the matter said.
That earlier design of the system, known as MCAS, has puzzled some pilots and safety experts, who wondered why the system didn’t rely on multiple feeds.
Mike Michaelis, chairman of the safety committee at American Airlines Group Inc.’s pilot union, welcomed news of the coming Boeing software fix. “That’s the way it should have been in the first place,” he said.
The software change also offered reassurance to concerned MAX passengers on at least one U.S. flight Tuesday.
“Everyone’s just happy that something was going to be done,” Peter McGuinness, chief commercial and marketing officer at yogurt maker Chobani and who flew from New York to Chicago on Tuesday on an American Airlines 737 MAX 8. He described himself “very concerned, so much so that I am taking a regional jet on the way back.”
An American spokesman said the airline continues to believe the MAX is safe and pilots are well-trained to operate the aircraft. Southwest Airlines Co. and United Continental Holdings Inc. also operate MAX planes.
In the wake of the Lion Air crash, Boeing and the FAA emphasized that an existing procedure allows pilots to disable the MAX stall-prevention system when flying the airplane. U.S. airlines and unions have since expressed confidence in their pilots to safely operate the airplane.
By Alexandra Wexler and Robert Wall
Updated April 4, 2019 7:19 a.m. ET
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—Air accident investigators found the cockpit crew of a crashed 737 MAX followed approved emergency procedures in an attempt to save the plane, ratcheting up pressure on Boeing Co. to fix a flight-control system at the heart of several probes into two deadly crashes of the airliner.
Ethiopian authorities, in a press conference Thursday disclosing findings from their preliminary crash probe, stopped short of drawing any firm conclusions about the causes of the crash. But they confirmed a flight-control system triggered repetitively during the six-minute flight, pushing the nose down. They recommended Boeing review the system, and said regulators should then test it before lifting a global grounding of the MAX fleet.
A stall-prevention feature on the MAX, called MCAS, has been the subject of intense scrutiny since another deadly crash of a 737 MAX in Indonesia last year. In early findings into that crash, investigators found a faulty sensor caused the system to mistakenly push down the jet’s nose. A similar sequence of events unfolded in the Ethiopian Airlines accident that killed all 157 people aboard.
The Indonesian probe also raised questions about maintenance of a sensor feeding the system, and about whether pilots followed Boeing guidance on how to respond to a fault. In the Ethiopian flight, no such issues were found—at least so far.
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that MCAS, which stands for maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, had been activated on the Ethiopian Air flight, and that the pilots had followed Boeing’s primary emergency response step in trying to manually override the system. Investigators didn’t immediately detail on Thursday what steps the crew took to save the plane.
Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Tewolde Gebremariam said “we are very proud of our pilots’ compliance, to follow the emergency procedures and high level of professional performances in such extremely difficult situations.”
Ethiopian authorities declined to immediately make the preliminary report public, saying they had submitted the document to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nation’s air safety arm. ICAO is the global repository for crash reports, though the decision on whether to make interim findings public is left to the country leading the probe.
The findings—which can change in subsequent examinations—puts the ball in Boeing’s court in terms of next steps to fix the system and defend the future safety of the jet. The final report into the Indonesia crash is expected sometime this year. A final report into Ethiopian Flight 302 could take a year to complete.
A Boeing spokesman has said the company will review the report’s findings and comment further later. The company since last year has been working on a fix to improve how MCAS operates. On Wednesday, Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg accompanied test pilots on a 737 MAX flight in which they tested the software update.
“Experienced the MCAS software update performing safely in action,” he tweeted.
Ethiopia is leading the probe, aided by international experts, including from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing. Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges said all participants in the probe, including European representatives, agreed on the preliminary report’s findings, which were largely based on data from the plane’s so called black boxes.
The FAA on Tuesday announced that it has convened a Technical Advisory Board to review Boeing’s proposed changes to the 737 MAX’s MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) software. The board, which does not have Boeing representation, includes the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force and Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (part of the Department of Transportation).
According to the FAA, the board’s recommendations will “directly inform the FAA’s decision concerning the 737 MAX fleet’s safe return to service.” Boeing, though previously said to be targeting a return-to-service of the 737 MAX in July, has not yet formally submitted the software updates to the FAA. Owing to domestic and international pressure, the FAA appears ready to work very carefully through any proposed changes to the MCAS control logic.
“The TAB is charged with evaluating Boeing and FAA efforts related to Boeing’s software update and its integration into the 737 MAX flight control system. The TAB will identify issues where further investigation is required prior to FAA approval of the design change,” according to the FAA.
Convincing the FAA that the new software will address what is broadly considered to be a causal factor in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents will be only the first stage of returning the MAX to the air worldwide. Several international aviation authorities have indicated that they will conduct their own investigations before allowing the MAX to fly in their regions. In addition, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has appointed a special committee to review the certification process that allowed the MCAS software to be approved in its previous configuration.
Recently, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg corrected a largely misunderstood point about the reason for MCAS in the first place; it was designed to augment stability at light weights and aft loadings and not to be a stall-prevention scheme. What’s more, Southwest Airlines, the customer with the most MAX jets in the U.S., recently learned that software to show a disagreement of the two angle-of-attack sensors was not configured as was described by Boeing, and that changes to correctly depict a sensor anomaly were instituted only after the Lion Air crash late last year.
Glad to see FAA being cautious.
By Andy Pasztor
Updated May 24, 2019 5:08 p.m. ET
FORT WORTH, Texas—A review of Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX jets has expanded to include emergency procedures used by pilots on earlier 737 models, further delaying the MAX’s return to service, according to U.S. government officials.
The Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t questioned the safety of older jets currently in service, these officials said, but the broadened review has become a significant factor in adding months to the time expected to get the grounded fleet of 737 MAX jets back in the air.
As part of the FAA’s safety analysis of a proposed software fix for the MAX fleet, these officials said, the agency also is considering changes in how pilots of the entire 737 family are trained to respond when the flight-control computer or other systems erroneously push the plane’s nose down.
That includes the generation of the jetliner that preceded the MAX, known as the 737 NG—some 6,300 of which are used by more than 150 airlines globally and which form the backbone of short- and medium-range fleets for many carriers.
The agency’s focus on revisiting the justifications for those procedures, which hasn’t been reported before, has made the process of approving the fix to the 737 MAX more complex and time-consuming than the industry and the FAA initially anticipated, the officials said. At a press briefing this week, acting FAA chief Daniel Elwelldeclined to offer a specific date when he expects the MAX to return to service.
“While we are working with the FAA to review all procedures, the safety of the 737 NG is not in question,” in light of “its 20-plus years of service and 200 million flight hours,” a Boeing spokesman said.
The global MAX fleet of around 400 planes was grounded in March, in the wake of two fatal nose-dives triggered by the misfiring of an automated flight-control system called MCAS. The two crashes killed a total of 346 people.
The pending software fix is intended to make it easier for pilots to override MCAS, which moves a horizontal panel on the tail to point the nose down.
Mr. Elwell has said the agency is pursuing “a thorough, robust and complete” investigation of the dual MAX crashes and “we’re looking at everything” from emergency procedures to training to maintenance to previous agency safety signoffs.
Senior FAA officials spelled out details of safety analyses related to older 737 models in briefings to agency inspectors and international regulators earlier this week, the officials said. The FAA’s expanded safety analysis began months ago, according to the officials.
The agency, according to the officials, is re-evaluating assumptions and safety assessments stretching back to the FAA’s initial approval of 737 NG models in the late 1990s, and in some cases versions that flew many years earlier. Unlike the MAX, the NG models don’t include MCAS.
Some previously developed cockpit procedures are partly based on Boeing’s earlier assumptions that pilots would respond in just a few seconds to erroneous nose-down commands, the officials said, and the FAA is evaluating how realistic that might be.
U.S. regulators are reassessing whether Boeing’s proposed software fix for the MAX—combined with potentially revised emergency procedures and checklists—would give pilots somewhat more time to react, roughly 20 seconds.
In April, FAA officials told airline and pilot union officials at a meeting in Washington that the agency was re-examining what is called the runaway stabilizer trim procedure, a series of steps to counteract erroneous nose-down commands, according to Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the union that represents pilots at American Airlines Group Inc.
Parts of the procedure may date to the FAA’s original safety certification of the 737 in the 1960s, he said. The review of the trim procedure was earlier reported by CNN.
The FAA is reassessing the extent of force required to manually counteract nose-down commands in extreme circumstances, by turning a wheel—known as the trim wheel—located between the pilots. The necessary force increases with the speed of the aircraft.
The FAA hasn’t decided whether to mandate new or revised training procedures for earlier 737 models as a result of the expanded studies, the government officials said. Airlines could also voluntarily adopt such changes. Regardless of whether the FAA mandates new or adjusted pilot training, it is likely to require changes to language in pilot manuals explaining emergency procedures.
Mr. Tajer said the existing checklist for the trim wheel procedure, which is what pilots reference and train to, might not include all the information aviators need. For example, some Boeing manuals say two pilots may be needed to manually turn the wheel. But other material provided to airlines for their manuals say merely that the wheel could be difficult to turn.
Over the years, FAA rules for approving new planes or derivatives of existing models typically barred emergency procedures requiring two pilots. “There’s signs of a potential weakness of that checklist,” Mr. Tajer said.
Any issues raised by the review need to be resolved before the FAA’s final green light for MAX aircraft to resume carrying passengers, the officials said.
The FAA is conducting its hazard analyses in conjunction with regulators from Canada, Brazil and the EU, according to one of the officials.
On Thursday, after a summit here with international regulators from more than 30 countries discussing the MAX’s return to service, Mr. Elwell said “we got more questions than we got recommendations.”
The summit, originally described by industry and U.S. government officials as a way to garner an international stamp of approval for the proposed fix, ended without any formal consensus or action by the participants. But Mr. Elwell said “we left with the enthusiastic agreement to continue dialogue.”
The FAA also has pressured Boeing to “go back and do a complete new” safety assessment, an update that has added extra time to process, the official said. Boeing is answering some 200 specific questions on that assessment posed by the FAA in the last month, according to another government official.
—Alison Sider contributed to this article.
Write to Andy Pasztor at email@example.com
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