Friday 26 April 2019

Boeing crash: Fresh questions over how crash jet in which 338 died was approved to fly

  • US federal authorities exploring criminal investigation into how Boeing's 737 Max was certified to fly passengers
  • US regulators allowed Boeing engineers to carry out much of the safety assessments on their own new plane - reports
  • Possible criminal investigation during an aircraft accident investigation is unusual
Grounded: A worker walks next to a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane parked at Boeing Field in Seattle. US.
Grounded: A worker walks next to a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane parked at Boeing Field in Seattle. US.

Alan Levin

US federal authorities are exploring a criminal investigation into how Boeing's 737 Max was certified to fly passengers before the latest crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 passengers.

A report by the 'Seattle Times' published on Sunday found that US regulators allowed Boeing engineers to carry out much of the safety assessments on their own new plane.

The report quoted unnamed Boeing and FAA experts who claimed that the company subsequently delivered an analysis that contained crucial flaws and out of date information.

The paper submitted questions to the FAA and Boeing about the certification process 11 days before the Addis Ababa crash that killed 157 people.

An Ethiopian relative of a crash victim grieves next to a floral tribute at the crash site (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)
An Ethiopian relative of a crash victim grieves next to a floral tribute at the crash site (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)

The new investigation into the Boeing certification was prompted by information obtained after a Lion Air 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after take-off from Jakarta, killing 181 last October.

The US Justice Department is now gathering information about the development of the 737 Max, including through a grand jury subpoena.

Both Boeing and the Transportation Department declined to comment about the investigation.

Ethiopia's transport minister said that flight-data recorders showed "clear similarities" between the crashes of that plane and Lion Air Flight 610 last October.

An engine recovered from the crashed Lion Air jet (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)
An engine recovered from the crashed Lion Air jet (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

A possible criminal investigation during an aircraft accident investigation is unusual.

US Federal Aviation Administration employees warned seven years ago that Boeing had too much control over safety approvals of new aircraft, prompting an investigation by Transportation Department auditors who confirmed the agency hadn't done enough to "hold Boeing accountable".

A Boeing 737 Max 8 plane grounded at Boeing Field in Seattle after the Ethiopian Airlines crash (Ted S Warren/AP)
A Boeing 737 Max 8 plane grounded at Boeing Field in Seattle after the Ethiopian Airlines crash (Ted S Warren/AP)

The 2012 investigation also found that many FAA employees said they'd faced retaliation for speaking up. Their concerns pre-dated the 737 Max development.

In recent years, the FAA has shifted more authority over the approval of new aircraft to the manufacturer itself, even allowing Boeing to choose many of the personnel who oversee tests and vouch for safety.

A family member puts a photo on flowers at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)
A family member puts a photo on flowers at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)

"It raises for me the question of whether the agency is properly funded, properly staffed and whether there has been enough independent oversight," said Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board who is now an aviation-safety consultant.

At least a portion of the flight-control software suspected in the 737 Max crashes was certified by one or more Boeing employees working in an outsourcing arrangement.

The agency doesn't have the budget to do every test, and "the use of designees is absolutely necessary," said Steve Wallace, the former head of FAA accident investigations.

"For the most part, it works extremely well," he said.

The 'Seattle Times' quoted unnamed engineers who said the plane maker had understated the power of the flight-control software in a system safety analysis.

Boeing said the FAA had reviewed all data and concluded the aircraft "met all certification and regulatory requirements". (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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