Boeing officials “improperly trained” test pilots during recertification efforts after two fatal 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people, a US Congress report concluded.
The Senate trade committee report raised questions about testing in 2020 of a key safety system known as MCAS linked to both fatal accidents.
The committee concluded that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing officials “had established a predetermined result to reaffirm a human factor assumption related to pilot reaction time.”
It appeared that “the FAA and Boeing were trying to cover up important information that may have contributed to the 737 MAX tragedies.”
The United States grounded the 737 Max in March 2019 after two planes crashed due to faulty sensors and a design flaw that repeatedly pushed the nose of the plane.
Friday’s report cited a whistleblower who alleged that Boeing officials encouraged test pilots to use a particular control during an exercise, resulting in a pilot response time of around four seconds. Another pilot in a separate test reacted in about 16 seconds.
The account was corroborated during an interview with FAA staff, the committee added.
Numerous reports have found that Boeing did not adequately consider how pilots respond to cockpit emergencies in its development of the 737 MAX.
Boeing said Friday it took the committee’s findings “seriously” and will “continue to review the report in its entirety.”
The FAA said Friday it was “carefully reviewing the document, which the committee acknowledges contains a number of unsubstantiated allegations.”
The agency added that it was “certain that the security issues that played a role in the tragic [737 MAX] accidents related to Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 have been addressed through required design changes and independently approved by the FAA and its partners. “
Senate trade committee chair Roger Wicker said the report included “significant examples of failures in aviation security oversight and failed leadership at the FAA.”
The committee also said that “several independent whistleblowers contacted the committee to allege that FAA senior management was complicit in determining the 737 MAX’s level of training certification prior to any evaluation.”
Boeing resisted requiring simulator training for pilots before operating the 737 MAX, but changed course in January.
The report also noted that Southwest Airlines was able to operate more than 150,000 flights carrying 17.2 million passengers on planes without confirmation that required maintenance had been completed.
The Senate report said the Southwest flights “put millions of passengers at potential risk.” Southwest said Friday that it was aware of the report, adding that “we do not tolerate any relaxation of the standards that govern maximum safety throughout our operation.”
Boeing faces an ongoing criminal investigation into the MAX. The committee said its review was “limited due to the ongoing criminal investigation.”
In November, the FAA approved the return of the 737 MAX to service and flights resumed in Brazil. The first commercial flight of the US 737 MAX with paying passengers is scheduled for December 29.
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