A new congressional report published on Wednesday reveals that Boeing hid design flaws in its 737 Max jet from both pilots and regulators in a rush to get the aeroplane certified as fit to fly.
The report by the US House of Representatives transport committee investigating how two of the company's flights crashed within months of each other in 2019, causing the deaths of 346 people.
Since last April, Members of Congress have been conducting an investigation into the accidents. In both cases a faulty sensor led to an anti-stall system to kick in erroneously, forcing the aeroplane’s nose downwards.
Wednesday’s report follows a 17-month long probe, which included five public hearings, 24 interviews, and 600,000 document pages.
It discovered that US aircraft company cut corners and put pressure on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulators to turn a blind eye to certain parts of the new design in order to catch up to European rival Airbus.
“[The two crashes] were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the [Federal Aviation Administration] — the pernicious result of regulatory capture on the part of the FAA with respect to its responsibilities to perform robust oversight of Boeing and to ensure the safety of the flying public", the report reads.
“The facts laid out in this report document a disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgments made by Boeing. It also illuminates numerous oversight lapses and accountability gaps by the FAA that played a significant role in the 737 Max crashes".
The 238-page report outlines how Boeing sought to reduce both the regulatory testing and flight training required to pilot the Max, as it was rushed out in order to compete with the Airbus A320neo.
It also revealed that the company convinced the FAA not to consider the anti-stall appliance to be “safety critical”, meaning that many pilots were unaware that the system existed before flying the Max.
Boeing, therefore, managed to conceal from regulators internal test data which revealed that if pilot were unable to recognise the system had wrongly kicked in within 10 seconds, the consequences would be “catastrophic”.
Despite the investigation, Boeing has pledged to correct the faults found in the Max for over a year, and hopes to begin delivering the jet again in the third quarter.
“The revised design of the Max has received intensive internal and regulatory review, including more than 375,000 engineering and test hours and 1,300 test flights. Once the FAA and other regulators have determined the Max can safely return to service, it will be one of the most thoroughly-scrutinised aircraft in history", the company said.
It also accuses US regulators of prioritising pleasing the company instead of overseeing sufficient supervision. While the company looked to rush Max's approval, the committee found compliance within the regulatory authorities.
The FAA certifies new aircraft designs through “authorised representatives”. These are company employees who are authorised by the regulator to ratify specific designs and systems.
The found that Boeing did not identify important pieces of information to the regulator on numerous occasions.
“The FAA is committed to continually advancing aviation safety and looks forward to working with the committee to implement improvements identified in its report", the body said in a statement.
What Went Wrong?
The manufacturer has been subject to multiple investigations since last year. Both crashes involved Max jets, the first operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed just five months following an Indonesian Lion Air flight crash into the ocean.
Pilots for both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airline flights attempted to correct the redirection but were automatically overridden by the system with each attempt.
Members of Congress have brought in legislation designed to expand FAA’s aircraft certification process, including the introduction of regular independent audits on company representatives.