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House Committee Faults Boeing, FAA

The Democratic majority on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in a report released today that the two fatal crashes that killed 346 people aboard Boeing’s 737 Max and led to the worldwide grounding of the plane were the “horrific culmination” of engineering flaws, mismanagement and a severe lack of federal oversight.

The report, which is more than 200 pages long, condemns both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration for safety failures and is based on an 18-month investigation involving interviews with two dozen Boeing and agency employees along with an estimated 600,000 pages of records.  The Democrats argue that Boeing emphasized profits over safety and that the FAA granted the company too much sway over its own oversight.

“This is a tragedy that never should have happened,” said committee chairman Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon.  “It could have been prevented, and we’re going to take steps in our legislation to see that it never happens again.”

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican, said that while change was needed, congressional action should be based on nonpartisan recommendations, “not a partisan investigative report.”

The Democratic report identified five broad problems with the plane's design, construction and certification.  First, the race to compete with the new Airbus A320neo led Boeing to make production goals and cost-cutting a higher priority than safety; second, the company made deadly assumptions about software known as MCAS, which was blamed for sending the planes into nosedives; third, Boeing withheld critical information from the FAA; fourth, the FAA’s practice of delegating oversight authority to Boeing employees left the agency in the dark; and fifth, the Democrats accused FAA management of siding with Boeing and dismissing its own experts.

The Democrats on the committee also accused Boeing of putting a priority on profits by strongly opposing a requirement that pilots receive simulator training to fly the plane.  As an example, under a 2011 contract with Southwest Airlines, Boeing promised to discount each of the 200 planes in the airline’s order by $1 million if the FAA required simulator training for pilots moving from an earlier version of the aircraft, the 737NG, to the Max.

Boeing said in a statement that it had learned lessons from the crashes and had started to act on the recommendations of experts and government authorities.  “Boeing cooperated fully and extensively with the committee’s inquiry since it began in early 2019.  We have been hard at work strengthening our safety culture and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators and the flying public.”

According to Boeing, the revised Max design has received extensive review; and says that once the plane is ready to fly again, “it will be one of the most thoroughly scrutinized aircraft in history.”

The FAA issued a statement saying that it would work with the committee to carry out any recommended changes and was already making some of its own.  “These initiatives are focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes and culture.”