The White House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has determined that Boeing withheld information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilots and customers about some problems it had detected in the development of the 737 MAX, and concluded that the two accidents, in which 346 people lost their lives, were caused by “a horrific series of alleged technical errors.
The report, which was presented on Wednesday, exposes the “serious failures and errors” in the design, development and certification of this model of aircraft, which entered commercial service in 2017 and stopped flying in March 2019, after the second accident in five months.
The investigation shows “repeated serious failures” on the part of both the company and the FAA and highlights that production pressures “endangered public safety”. It stresses that financial pressure on Boeing for the 737 MAX program, in the race against the Airbus A320neo, led to cost reductions and acceleration of the program.
It has also determined that there would be defects in the design and performance of the aircraft, using problematic technologies, specifically in MCAS, the software designed to automatically push the nose of the aircraft down under certain conditions and which is considered to be the cause of the accidents. The company hoped that the pilots, whom it had not trained to use this system, would be able to solve any problems it presented.
It also believes that Boeing “hid crucial information” from the FAA, customers and pilots, including data from an internal test in which a pilot took more than ten seconds to respond to the uncontrolled activation of the MCAS in a flight simulator, a situation it described as “catastrophic. The norm is for pilots to be able to detect these failures within four seconds.
He also concludes that the FAA’s oversight structure over Boeing presents “conflicts of interest. The report documents several instances in which manufacturer employees authorized to work with the FAA failed to alert the Administration to certain safety issues.
Specifically, it details how several FAA officials have documented how FAA management overturned some findings at Boeing’s behest, which would be “consistent” with the results of a survey of the safety culture in the Administration, where employees said management was “more concerned” with helping the industry achieve its goals and “not held accountable for safety-related decisions.
The report also presents “disturbing” data on how Boeing, under “pressure to compete with Airbus and deliver profits on Wall Street, bypassed FAA oversight, withheld critical information and ultimately put into service aircraft that killed 346 innocent people,” said Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio.
This investigation began in March 2019, after the Ethiopian Airlines accident, and is a “roadmap” for the U.S. government to take action on aviation safety.
The accidents were a crisis for Boeing, which saw the delivery and production of the “world’s best-selling plane” halted, as well as a drastic reduction in its brand image. For airlines that had this model in their fleets, it also meant economic losses, as they had to reduce their capacity.
Airline regulators in the United States, Canada, Europe and Brazil continue to review the aircraft after Boeing has made a number of changes to enhance safety. At the moment, there is no exact date for them to fly again.