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737 MAX Crisis - House Committee Hearing Exposes “Broken Safety Culture” at Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing

737 MAX Crisis - House Committee Hearing Exposes “Broken Safety Culture” at Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing

Official documents released during a House Committee hearing contained important revelations regarding Boeing 737 MAX’s safety standards. According to an internal analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration, 737 MAX models were likely to be involved in a fatal crash once every two/three years.  

In spite of its proclivity for fatal crashes, the 737 MAX has not undergone significant design changes, and the government allowed it to continue to fly in spite of its track record, which included several crashes that killed hundreds of people worldwide.

Until now, the FAA had not revealed to the public just how unsafe it believed the MAX to be. Based on an estimate by Cowen & Co., by January 2020, over 800 737 MAX planes will be either grounded or undelivered if production continues at the current rate.

In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX operated by Lion Air crashed in Indonesia, killing all crew and passengers. The recently publicized FAA report was written a month later, but the measures taken by the agency after the analysis did not prevent another fatal crash that took place in Ethiopia five months later. 

Legislators harshly criticized the way the agency responded to the Boeing model’s known safety issues. “Despite its own calculations, the FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the 737 MAX continue to fly,” the chairman of the House Transportation Committee said during the December hearing.

After the crash in Ethiopia, 737 MAX planes were grounded on a global scale. Now, lawmakers believe both Boeing’s and the FAA’s “broken safety culture” may have been at the heart of the 737 MAX’s problems.

According to members of the House Transportation Committee, the FAA failed in its oversight of Boeing’s safety standards, and its technicians often sided with the aircraft manufacturer “rather than standing up for the safety of the public.”

Now the FAA chief, Steve Dickson, says the MAX may have been inappropriately certified, and Boeing may face enforcement actions relating to numerous violations involving both manufacturing processes and design decisions. However, Dickson told legislators that the FAA system “is not broken.”  

It appears that the culprit of the 737 MAX crashes is its flawed automated flight-control system. The FAA estimated the number of fatal crashes involving the Boeing model would reach 15 over a 30-45 year span. Experts have referred to this estimate as “unacceptable” for the current safety standards. 

Initially, the FAA decided to allow the planes to keep flying, provided pilots were informed about possible software malfunctions and how to respond to them. This was supposed to be a temporary ‘solution’, and Boeing agreed to a deadline to fix the problem.

But the crash in Ethiopia showed that this strategy was wrong.  Nearly 350 lives were lost. While planes built in the Americas and Europe experienced one fatal crash per three million flights in 2018, the 737 MAX has experienced two deadly crashes per million flights since it hit the market in 2017. The previous 737 model crashed only once in every 10 million flights.

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