Report Says Boeing Withheld Data on System Linked to Crashes

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01 juli 2020, 02.24

(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. provided only “limited information” on the flight-control software implicated in two fatal crashes on the 737 Max as it was being approved by federal regulators, a government watchdog report has found.

The Transportation Department’s Inspector General concluded that changes to a system that automatically pushed down the plane’s nose weren’t fully communicated to Federal Aviation Administration officials, which led them to focus on other issues with the plane.

The report dated June 29 was reviewed by Bloomberg News before its release.

Boeing’s best-selling jet has been grounded since March 2019 after the second of two crashes that killed a total of 346 people. While some of the details released by the inspector general have been contained in other investigative reports or news stories, the latest report contains the most extensive timeline of the plane’s approval to date.

Boeing, in a statement, said it has cooperated with the investigation and made “robust improvements” to the flight control system. “We are committed to transparency with the FAA during all aspects of the airplane certification process, and have made significant changes to improve our support to that regulatory process,” the company said.

In a response included in the report, the FAA acknowledged that its certification of the jet was hampered by a lack of effective communication with Boeing and within the agency. This led to “an incomplete understanding of the scope and potential safety impacts” of the changes to the system that helped lead to the crashes.

The report revolves around the approvals for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. It was added to the plane to nudge the nose down in certain high-risk conditions so that the aircraft complied with federal regulations.

However, in both crashes -- one off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018 and a second near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March 2019 -- a malfunction caused it to repeatedly attempt to dive the planes. Pilots in both cases lost control.

FAA engineers responsible for approving pilot training requirements were unaware of revisions to MCAS that occurred during the design, the agency said. “FAA’s certification process relies on receiving complete, candid information from manufacturers,” it said.

The agency is revising its oversight of the program that permitted designated employees of a manufacturer to perform certification work and will release details in coming months.

“This and other reviews, both completed and ongoing, will inform important reforms of FAA’s aircraft certification process,” the FAA response said.

The FAA is conducting certification test flights of the plane this week. MCAS was redesigned so that it won’t operate repeatedly and the post-crash reviews of the plane prompted several other revisions, including an extensive change to the plane’s flight-control computer.

Reuters earlier reported information from the report.

(Updates with report details, from sixth paragraph)

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