Boeing’s investigation reveals a lack of FAA oversight

The U.S. Department of Transportation is conducting another investigation into the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that crashed in Ethiopia and killed 157 passengers, the second incident for the new aircraft in the last six months.

In 2018, the 737 jet took a nosedive and crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia leaving 189 dead.

Since the second incident, several countries such as China and Australia have barred the Boeing model from flying until an investigation has been completed. Several U.S. senators, Like Ted Cruz, have called for U.S. airlines to do the same.

Preliminary data from the flight information recorder show “clear similarities” between the Indonesian and Ethiopian crashes. The U.S. federal aviation administration stated that the movement of both aircrafts were similar after takeoff. Both flights had erratic altitude changes which meant that the pilots had difficulty controlling the aircraft. Both flights tried to return to the airports after noticing these problems but crashed before their arrival.

The 737 Max 8 showcases a new flight-control system called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) which would automatically swivel the horizontal tail to push the nose downward in the case of a stall. This automatic augmentation would reset each time the pilot would try to correct it.

Experts have analyzed the “black boxes” from the Ethiopian aircraft and have stated that a single sensor was at fault. The “angle of attack” sensor lies outside the pilot’s cabin and measures the angle between air flow and the wing. Based on the data retrieved the sensor fed false information to the flight computer ensuing a tug of war between the pilot and the plane.

Investigators are still working to verify that the MCAS was the culprit for both Boeing crashes. Pilot groups have come forward and complained that the FAA has failed to adequately announce the new software to pilots.

Several Federal Aviation Administration employees had previously warned investigators as far as seven years ago that Boeing held too much power over the evaluations of its own planes. A Seattle Times investigation concluded that an underfunded FAA gave Boeing jurisdiction over the safety assessments of their aircrafts and provided back reports that contained flaws.

The safety analysis that the FAA received from Boeing assess the 737 Max 8 systems as hazardous, one level below catastrophic, and yet it was still approved safe enough to fly.

Despite the incidents, Congress has continued to approve of the questionable relationship between the FAA and jet manufacturing companies. In recent years, Congress has been expanded the authority that these companies have over safety assessments by allowing them to pick and choose the employees overseeing said assessments.

Boeing released a statement concluding that the FAA approved of the aircraft and had “met all certification and regulatory requirements.”

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