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Boeing, FAA failures led to deadly 737 Max crashes, Congress finds

A congressional inquiry blames a "culture of concealment" at Boeing and a "fundamentally flawed" regulatory system.

Congress blamed Boeing and the FAA for fatal 737 Max crashes.
Kent German/CNET

The Boeing 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people in 2018 and 2019 were the "horrific culmination" of failures at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, a congressional inquiry has found. A report, released Wednesday, highlights failures in the plane's design and an overly close relationship between the company and the regulator.

Boeing engineers and test pilots expressed concerns about the MCAS flight control system before the October 2018 crash in Indonesia and the March 2019 crash in Ethiopia, but the problems weren't fixed, according to the House Transportation Committee. Both crashes happened just minutes after takeoff.

The Boeing 737 Max had been deemed compliant based on the FAA's existing standards but was "demonstratively unsafe," investigators noted.

A "culture of concealment" at Boeing contributed to the failures, according to the congressional report: "In several critical instances, Boeing withheld crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots." But there were problems within the FAA as well. "The fact that a compliant airplane suffered from two deadly crashes in less than five months is clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired," the report found.

Boeing said it has been making changes inside the company.

"We have learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and from the mistakes we have made," Boeing responded in a statement. "As this report recognizes, we have made fundamental changes to our company as a result, and continue to look for ways to improve."

The FAA said it will work with the House committee "to implement improvements identified in its report."

"We are already undertaking important initiatives based on what we have learned from our own internal reviews as well as independent reviews of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents," the administration said in an emailed statement. "The FAA continues to follow a thorough process, not a prescribed timeline, for returning the aircraft to service."

The report highlights proposed rule changes that would mandate a number of 737 Max design changes before it re-enters service.