The Strategist

NYT: Incomplete testing of Boeing 737 MAX systems resulted in deadly crashes

07/30/2019 - 11:45

Crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX in Ethiopia and Indonesia were caused by errors in the operation of the MCAS system, which was not subjected to independent tests, writes The New York Times, citing sources. US Attorney's Office will find out whether the existing certification process is sufficient to ensure flight safety.

The Lamb Family via flickr
The Lamb Family via flickr
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is responsible for certifying US-operated aircraft, did not have complete information about the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft systems, say sources of The New York Times from among the former and current employees of the FAA and Boeing.

In particular, FAA experts did not fully understand how the automated system MCAS worked. This technology has appeared in the fourth generation of Boeing 737, Boeing 737 Max. The device was meant to prevent the aircraft from stalling when flying at low speed with the nose lowered. Experts believe that MCAS was the reason because of which aircraft Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines went into a dive, which led resulted in death of all on board, the newspaper notes.

NYT sources claim that FAA experts did not conduct independent tests of the system developed by Boeing at the certification stage and did not collect data on its work. Moreover, because of the personnel turnover in the management at the early stages, "relatively inexperienced" employees were responsible for developing the MCAS, the newspaper's interlocutors said.

Later, the responsibility for the approval of the system was entirely shifted to Boeing. The company conducted its own assessment of the system, which was not subjected to stress testing by the regulator, and did not share the test data with the FAA, writes NYT. This led to the fact that FAA experts supervising the process did not know about the problems of the system, and the MCAS version was certified by the agency, which depended on readings of one sensor and could adjust position of the nose of the aircraft better, sources say.

Representatives of the FAA noted that the certification processes of the agency are well developed. “The certification processes of the Federal Aviation Safety Agency are well developed and consistently help develop safe aircraft structures,” the NYT quoted the watchdog’s statement.

In turn, representatives of Boeing told the publication that "the strict and regulatory requirements of the regulator led to an ever-increasing level of security for decades." According to them, the new model "complied with strict standards and agency requirements, because it was certified in the framework of FAA processes."

NYT notes that federal prosecutors are now finding out whether the existing certification process for new aircraft is sufficient to ensure their safety.

In the fall of 2018, 189 people died in the crash of the Boeing 737 MAX in Indonesia. Five months later, another aircraft of this model crashed in Ethiopia. The second disaster claimed 157 lives. In both cases, the Boeing management acknowledged that the MCAS system on board the aircraft malfunctioned before they crashed: the angle of attack sensor erroneously showed that the nose of the aircraft was dangerously pushed up; as a result, the stall prevention system sent it down.