A few days ago we published a blog post with the title ” FAA Orders Grounding of Boeing 737 Max-Aircraft”. In that post we speculated that, based on information available in the news media, the crashes of both Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302may have involved a failure in the design of the flight control system installed in Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircraft. Since our post, we have learned that other sources indicate that we were on track with our suspicions.
To recap our previous post, we noted that:
In a radical departure of its usual procedure, the FAA at firstdeclined to order an immediate grounding of all commercial operations involving 737 Max-series aircraft. Following international criticism, the FAA reversed its position and grounded all US-based 737 Max aircraft. One day later reports surfaced that, as far back as 2015, the FAA had allowed Boeing to conduct most of the mandatory safety testing of the model’s flight control system.
After the national news media broke the FAA certification story, on March 17th the SeattleTimes published ” Flawed analysis, failed oversight: How Boeing, FAA certified the suspect 737 MAX flight control system.” In that story theTimes cited confidential sources within both Boeing and the FAA as stating that Boeing’s initial “System Safety Analysis” of the 737 Max 8’s flight control system, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS):
Regardless of the final reports’ conclusions regarding the causes of both aircraft crashes, we find it quite disturbing that senior FAA officials pressured their safety engineers to accept the results of Boeing’s testing rather than conducting their own tests on this critical flight system. On the agency’s website, the FAA states that its ” vision” is “… to reach the next level of safety, efficiency, environmental responsibility and global leadership. We are accountable to the American public and our stakeholders.” It appears that, in the case of the Boeing Max, the agency failed to meet that vision. As to why, we offer one possible factor.
At the time the 737 Max series was undergoing certification Boeing was “feeling the heat” from its competitor in the international aircraft market, Airbus. Whether economic pressure “felt” by Boeing was also, somehow, also “felt” at the FAA is yet to be decided.
As we have stated time and again, we are not accusing Boeing, the FAA or anyone else ofdeliberately endangering or misleading the public. We are simply stating that, when it comes to the political influence of multinational corporations versus that of the citizens, our version of an old saying seems to hold true: “Money talks and everyone else walks, usually off the working end of the gangplank.”
If subsequent investigations find that Boeing “shipped” a defective product (the 737 Max 8), the company is facing a liability nightmare. If those investigations show that Boeingknew, or should have known, that its MCAS contained serious design flaws (e.g. relying on a single sensor with no backup), it will be unable to escape its liability problem. When you consider the potential costs of a major recall to fix a few thousand aircraft, plus the revenue lost by both domestic and international air carriers while their aircraft are sitting on the ground, the economic impact will be measured in billions of dollars.
And all because someone took a shortcut.
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