Policy

Probe faults Boeing over 737 Max details given to FAA before certification

Multinational review follows two crashes that killed 346 people

Boeing 737 MAX airplanes are seen parked on Boeing property along the Duwamish River near Boeing Field in August in Seattle, Washington. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Boeing did not adequately brief regulators about the flight control system blamed for two crashes of its 737 Max aircraft that killed a total of 346 people, according to a multinational task force that reviewed the plane’s certification process.

In a report released Friday, the Joint Authorities Technical Review, a panel chartered by the Federal Aviation Administration that included aviation regulators from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe and other countries as well as representatives from the FAA and NASA, found that increasingly complex aircraft systems have certification requirements that the FAA has yet to match.

The reviewers found that the flight control system was not presented to the FAA by Boeing “as a complete and integrated function in the certification documents” and the “extensive and fragmented documentation made it difficult to assess whether compliance was fully demonstrated.”

“As aircraft systems become more complex, ensuring that the certification process adequately addresses potential operational and safety ramifications for the entire aircraft that may be caused by the failure or inappropriate operation of any system on the aircraft becomes not far more important, but also far more difficult,” the report read.

The review focused on the FAA’s certification of the 737 Max’s flight control system. The new automated system, MCAS, was believed to be a major factor in the crashes of a Lion Airlines flight in Indonesia last October and an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March. In both crashes, pilots were unable to recover control of the plane after a damaged sensor in the MCAS system steered the plane into a nose-dive.

The panel was led by Chris Hart, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Boeing, in a written statement, said it “is committed to working with the FAA in reviewing the recommendations and helping to continuously improve the process and approach used to validate and certify airplanes going forward.”

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, meanwhile, vowed to “review every recommendation and take the appropriate action.”

“The accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia are a somber reminder that the FAA and our international regulatory partners must strive to constantly strengthen aviation safety,” Dickson said in a statement.

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