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U.S. Congress Seeks Answers From Boeing on 737 MAX: ‘What They Knew, When They Knew It’

The 737 MAX 7 pulls onto the stand (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Chuyi Chuang)

The ongoing investigation by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee into the two crashes involving the now grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is in receipt of information that the manufacturer knew of a faulty safety alert light when deliveries began to airlines in 2017. Congressman Rick Larsen Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee advised on Friday that a letter has been sent to Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and United Technologies Corp., a Boeing subcontractor, seeking answers to “what Boeing knew, when the company knew it and who it informed.”

Congressman Larsen says that the information received suggests ‘that Boeing decided in November 2017 to defer a software update to correct the AOA (Angle of Attack) Disagree alert defect until 2020, three years after discovering the flaw, and only accelerated its timeline after the October 2018 Lion Air accident’, which killed 189 passengers and crew.

Congressman Peter DeFazio who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee stated: “The fact that Boeing knew about a defect for more than a year before disclosing it to the FAA is of great concern to me, which is why Chair Larsen and I are asking for further documentation to get a more fulsome picture of who knew what and when. It’s critical we leave no stone unturned during our Committee’s investigation.”

After the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX in March which resulted in the eventual worldwide grounding of the aircraft by regulatory authorities, Boeing admitted that the AOA Disagree alert was not working on all 737 MAX aircraft but this did not mean the safety and the operation of the aircraft was adversely affected. Chair Larsen has raised concerns over this: “I have questions about the decision to not deem the AOA Disagree alert as safety critical and I am concerned it took Boeing so long to report this defective feature to the FAA and its customers.”

Ralph Nader, the well-known U.S. consumer advocate and environmentalist, has also been asking questions of Boeing and the FAA about the certification process for the 737 MAX. Mr. Nader, whose grandniece was one of the 157 people killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, wrote to the chief executive of Boeing’s largest shareholder, the investment group Vanguard, seeking an investigation into “management misdeeds”.

In a blog post on Friday, Mr. Nader also took aim at the senior leadership of the FAA stating that the U.S. regulator “has a clearly established pro-Boeing bias and will likely allow Boeing to unground the 737 MAX.”Nader went on to say that “we must demand that the two top FAA officials resign or recuse themselves from taking any more steps that might endanger the flying public.” The FAA was one of the last global regulatory bodies to issue an order to ground the 737 MAX aircraft in March.

Boeing has advised that they have developed a software fix for the 737 MAX but the aircraft will potentially remain grounded until investigations by the U.S. Congress, the FAA and other regulatory bodies have concluded.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John has held the positions of course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and has been a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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