Hundreds of Boeing 737 Max planes sit at airport gates across the world, grounded, following two fatal crashes in a span of less than five months.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed outside Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, on March 10, leaving 157 people dead. Less than five months earlier, on Oct. 29, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed shortly after departing from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers and crew members.
President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. grounding of all 737 Max aircrafts Wednesday, several days after most countries had already shut down the airplane due to concerns over potential systemic issues in its anti-stall system.
Here are the latest updates:
Four days before the fatal crash of a Boeing 737 Max aircraft in Ethiopia, both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration were told of possible problems with the aircraft by a reporter.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates reported Sunday he reached out to both Boeing and the FAA on March 6 about Boeing’s own “System Safety Analysis” that found several crucial flaws in the 737 Max aircraft prior to its approval by the FAA as part of a story he was working on.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on March 10.
Gates said both Boeing and the FAA already knew about the flaws with the aircraft outlined in his story, and that Boeing had been working on a fix since the Lion Air Flight crash.
Gates, who interviewed several current and former engineers involved in the evaluation of the 737 Max aircraft, reported that the FAA — due to a lack of funding and resources — delegated much of the responsibility for safety analysis to Boeing.
According to the report, the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, was analyzed as being “hazardous,” just one step below “catastrophic.” Engineers told Gates that danger level should have forced changes in the system’s reliance on a single sensor, but that’s how it was ultimately designed.
Several FAA technical experts also told Gates that managers pressured them to speed up their certification process because it was lagging behind the rival Airbus A320neo. The New York Times has previously reported about the determination by Boeing and the FAA that it was unnecessary to inform pilots about a change in the 737 Max’s anti-stall system, which the Times reported was at least in part driven by the desire to minimize the cost of retraining pilots.
In response, Boeing said in a statement to the newspaper on Saturday that the engineers’ comments contained “some significant mischaracterizations,” but did not mention any specific misstatements, citing the “ongoing investigation.”
The FAA said in a statement on Friday it following its standard certification process, but was “unable to delve into any detailed inquiries.”
Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into the FAA’s approval of Boeing’s 737 Max planes, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
According to the report, the inquiry involves a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s criminal division, and a grand jury issued a subpoena for documents to at least one person involved in the development of the 737 Max aircraft.
A Boeing spokesperson declined to comment to the Journal.
The Journal also reported that the Department of Transportation’s inspector general’s office is investigating the FAA’s approval of Boeing’s 737 Max airplanes, and is focused on the anti-stall system implicated in the fatal crash of Lion Air Flight 610.
The FAA said in a statement its “aircraft certification processes are well established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs.”
Ethiopia’s transport minister Dagmawit Moges told reporters Sunday there were “clear similarities” between the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, another fatal crash involving a Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
“During the investigation of the FDR [flight data recorder], clear similarities were noted between Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which will be the subject of further investigation,” Moges said.
Moges did not elaborate any further on the similarities, and said the Ethiopia’s Accident Investigation Bureau would release a preliminary report within a month.
In response to the official’s comments, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement Sunday that Boeing was finalizing a software update and pilot training that would “address the MCAS flight control law’s behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs.”