By our editorThe most far-reaching, and therefore the most devastating, statement appears carelessly on the last page of the US House of Representatives report on the Boeing 737 MAX. “Boeing has evolved from a great engineering company to a large company focused on financial success.”
After a year and a half of investigation, the Transport & Infrastructure Committee of the House of Representatives published the final report on Wednesday on what preceded the two crashes with the 737 MAX, the intended new showpiece of the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing. In October 2018 and March 2019, two brand new aircraft crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia due to the same technical defect, killing 346.
Also read this article about the cause of the MAX crashes
There is no longer any misunderstanding about the cause. An automatic control system, fed by incorrect information from a sensor, kept pushing the noses of both planes down again. The pilots were unable to correct the system.
The new report focuses on other things in 240 pages: design, development and certification of the 737 MAX. The Commission held five hearings, read 600,000 pages of documents and spoke to whistleblowers and employees. This has not led to new findings, but it has resulted in an authoritative and complete overview of everything that went wrong since the first MAX plans in 2012.
The report makes it convincingly clear that the corporate culture at Boeing was focused on profit rather than safety, and that regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has fallen seriously short. The MAX crashes were not incidents, the Commission writes. “They were the terrible sum of a series of erroneous technical assumptions by Boeing engineers, a lack of transparency from Boeing management and grossly inadequate oversight by the FAA.” The deaths had been preventable.
Also read this article about the interrogation of ex-CEO Muilenburg
Everything was aimed at rapid development of the MAX, red flags did not count
The Commission has identified five major problems. Competition from Airbus’s A320neo created enormous pressure to develop the MAX quickly and cheaply. Boeing also made design errors and was much too optimistic about the corrective capacity of pilots. A third point is the concealment of information from the FAA, customers (airlines) and pilots. And then there were two more problems with the FAA. Boeing employees who worked ‘on behalf of’ the FAA – a vulnerable structure – did not report wrongdoing. And within the FAA became worried technicians overruled by managers. Everything was aimed at the rapid development of the aircraft, red flags were ignored or concealed. Cost savings were paramount.
Boeing says in a response to the report that many procedures and protocols have been adjusted. If the MAX, perhaps under a different name for PR reasons, is allowed to fly again at the end of this year, it will be “one of the most thoroughly researched aircraft in history”, according to Boeing. Preparations for the return of the MAX are in full swing; test flights were completed last week on behalf of the European regulator EASA. Despite the two crashes and the corona crisis, there is still demand for the device. Boeing is now also struggling with manufacturing defects in another new and successful aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner.
A version of this article also appeared in nrc.next on September 17, 2020