Senate probe finds Boeing 'inappropriately influenced' 737 Max testing

The FAA last month approved the jetliner's return to flight, following a global grounding that began in March 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - A Federal Aviation Administration test to gather data on returning the Boeing Co 737 Max to service was improperly influenced by the company, according to a US Senate investigative report released Friday (Dec 18).

The 101-page report, based on a whistle-blower account, alleged that the FAA and Boeing officials were attempting to create "a pre-determined outcome" by essentially coaching pilots before testing their reaction time to a failure similar to what occurred in a pair of crashes involving the Max.

"It appears, in this instance, FAA and Boeing were attempting to cover up important information that may have contributed to the 737 Max tragedies," the report said.

The FAA last month approved the jetliner's return to flight, following a global grounding that began in March 2019. Boeing redesigned key flight-control software after the crashes, one off the coast of Indonesia in 2018 followed by another in Ethiopia in 2019, that killed a total of 346 people.

"Our findings are troubling," Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. "The report details a number of significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. It is clear that the agency requires consistent oversight to ensure their work to protect the flying public is executed fully and correctly."

It's unclear how much influence the test had on the subsequent FAA certification of the Max. Scores of test pilots and crew members from airlines around the world flew simulations of the plane's revised systems this year before they were approved.

The FAA said in a statement on Friday night that "we are carefully reviewing the document, which the committee acknowledges contains a number of unsubstantiated allegations."

The agency added it was "confident that the safety issues that played a role" in the two crashes had "been addressed through the design changes required and independently approved by the FAA and its partners."

Since the crashes, the FAA has revamped how it reviews pilot reactions to failures, calculating they will take longer to make corrections than what was previously assumed.

In a statement, Boeing said it is "committed to improving aviation safety" and would "take seriously the committee's findings and will continue to review the report in full." "We have learned many hard lessons from the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302 accidents, and we will never forget the lives lost on board," the company said.

"The events and lessons learned have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality, and integrity." The report also alleges the FAA "continues to retaliate against whistle-blowers instead of welcoming their disclosures in the interest of safety."

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