Boeing Co.
Lionair Boeing 737 Max 8 5eeb8e22af294

As Boeing Prepares for 737 Recertification Flight, Administrator Testifies FAA Also Erred

June 18, 2020
The Chicago-based aviation company reportedly still plans to recertify the plane in late June.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson said June 17 his agency “made mistakes” in its oversight of Boeing Co. Dickson was called before the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to discuss “issues associated with the design, development, certification, and operation of the Boeing 737 MAX following two international accidents in the past two years.”

Both the Chicago-based aerospace company and the FAA came under scrutiny after two Boeing 737 MAX airplanes crashed in 2018 due to a faulty software system. “The manufacturer made mistakes and the FAA made mistakes in its oversight,” said Dickson.

In both crashes, investigations indicated that the MCAS—Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System—was at fault. Investigations indicated that faulty sensors may have triggered the system to activate inappropriately, causing the system, designed to prevent the plane from stalling, to push the nose of the plane down. But getting the 737 Max back in the air was more complicated than simply updating the MCAS, as one change necessitated more changes elsewhere in the plane’s systems: “The full implications of the flight control system were not understood as design changes were made,” as Dickson put it.

On June 10, American Machinist reported that Boeing was set for the 737 recertification flights to take place later that month, despite the heavy impact COVID-19 has had on Boeing’s bottom line and production capacity. The airplane maker suspended operations at its Seattle-area production plants March 25 through April 23 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for its airplanes has sharply decreased as airliners experience an unprecedented dearth of demand for air travel. Production of the Boeing 737 Max resumed May 27.

The Boeing 737 crisis began when Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the ocean on October 29, 2018.  A second crash, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019, countries around the world grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8, which was used for both flights. Investigations revealed the MCAS design flaw as well as what some regarded as an inappropriate closeness between the FAA, responsible for certifying planes for flight, and Boeing.

The fallout eventually led Boeing’s Board of Directors to replace CEO Dennis Muilenburg with Dave Calhoun in January 2020. Shortly before assuming the role, Calhoun directed Boeing to release a batch of internal messages of company employees expressing worry or contempt for the 737 Max. “This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys,” said a company pilot in the messages. Calhoun said he released the messages in a bid to demonstrate transparency, and set recertification of the 737 as a top priority. He set out a timeline that would see the 737 return in time for what would have been 2020’s peak flying season, had it not been for the global pandemic. As a result of the outbreak, Boeing announced April 29 that it would downsize its entire workforce by 10% through employee buybacks and both voluntary and involuntary layoffs.

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