Boeing 737 Max review finds FAA and Boeing failures

Changes need to be made to pilot response times, certification and communicating changes in airline software, a review says.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
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An international flight safety panel has found failures by both the US Federal Aviation Administration and aircraft maker Boeing in regard to two 737 Max crashes that killed a total of 346 people. The Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), reported on earlier by The Wall Street Journal, was submitted to the FAA on Oct. 11. The review was conducted by representatives from NASA, the FAA and civil aviation authorities from Australia, Canada, China, Europe, Singapore, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.

On the FAA's part, the aircraft certification process should be modernized to account for increasingly complex automated systems, the report said. The process should also "ensure that aircraft incorporate fail-safe design principles," including minimizing reliance on pilots.

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The report added that  Boeing's "inadequate communications" to the FAA on making changes to its flight systems played a role. This contributed to a failure to foresee the consequences of the evolution of the MCAS flight control system from a benign to an "aggressive" system, as well as the effects of changing specific airplane software. The MCAS is the system that's been blamed for the fatal crashes.

Additionally, pilots need more time to respond to issues due to the complexity of modern systems, the review said, especially where there are cascading failures.

"Inherent in this issue is the adequacy of training to help pilots be able to respond effectively to failures that they may never have encountered before, not even in training," the report says.

Boeing also needs more technical staff, the report found. "There are two technical staff assigned per Boeing program. Some of the technical staff are new engineers with limited airworthiness experience," it said.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said he would review and take action on the recommendations. Boeing didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Boeing's 737 Max MCAS flight control system has been cited as the cause of two crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, that killed 346 passengers and crew. Boeing completed test flights for the software fix to its grounded 737 Max airliner in April, and in May said the update was finished and ready for evaluation by the FAA.

There's still no timetable on when the plane will fly again, and last month the European Union said it wants to examine the airliner's recertification process. Instead of automatically accepting the FAA's recertification, planes will be tested independently in the EU before they're allowed to carry passengers to and within Europe, Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, told a European Parliament committee.

Boeing also announced Friday that it has taken away its CEO's role as chair so that chief executive Dennis A. Muilenburg can "focus full time on running the company as it works to return the 737 Max safely to service."

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