NEW YORK • Pilots in the United States complained at least five times in recent months about problems controlling their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets during critical moments of flight, the Politico news website reported on Tuesday, citing federal records.
Some of the incidents appear to involve the same anti-stall system that has come up as a potential cause of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia last October, according to a review of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) incident database that lets pilots self-report trouble, said Politico.
Investigators have not said whether the same technology had emerged as a possible cause of the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in Ethiopia on Sunday, with the loss of 157 lives, although both involved airliners that mysteriously plunged to the ground minutes after take-off.
In one US incident in November last year, a commercial airline pilot reported that during take-off, the autopilot was engaged and "within two to three seconds, the aircraft pitched nose down", in a manner steep enough to trigger the plane's warning system, which sounded "Don't sink, don't sink!"
After the autopilot was disengaged, the plane climbed as per normal, according to the report in the FAA database.
The reports are submitted anonymously to help improve reporting of safety problems and so do not include any information about which airline was involved, Politico said.
In addition, though the reports have a spot to note which airport was involved, pilots often do not fill out that field.
The November incident occurred days or weeks after the October crash in Indonesia, which killed 189 people aboard a Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air.
The report noted that before the plane involved in the November incident took off, the crew had "discussed the recent Max 8 (anti-stall) guidance" issued by the FAA and Boeing.
In both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes, the plane descended sharply more than once as pilots wrestled with the controls before crashing.
Pilots groups have complained that Boeing did too little to ensure that pilots or airlines were aware of the new anti-stall feature - or knew how to turn it off if it was malfunctioning or acting on faulty data.
In another report in the FAA database, a commercial airline pilot complained about how the FAA and Boeing were handling the problem, Politico said.
While the FAA had issued an emergency directive on Nov 7 last year, to help pilots understand how to handle problems with the anti-stall technology, "it does nothing to address the systems issues", the pilot wrote. The pilot further noted that the flight manuals had yet to be updated with that information at that time.
"I think it is unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA, and the airlines would have pilots flying an airplane without adequately training, or even providing available resources and sufficient documentation to understand the highly complex systems that differentiate this aircraft from prior models," the pilot wrote.
The pilot added: "I am left to wonder: What else don't I know? The flight manual is inadequate and almost criminally insufficient. All airlines that operate the Max must insist that Boeing incorporate all systems in their manuals."