Boeing Faces Capitol’s Glare as It Presses to Fix the 737 Max


RENTON, Wash. — Boeing on Wednesday made its most overt acknowledgment that new software program in its jets might have performed a job in two lethal crashes as it tries to persuade pilots, airways and regulators round the world coming repair will clear up the downside.

Before a gathering with greater than 200 pilots and airline executives at its manufacturing facility in Renton, Wash., Boeing, for the first time, publicly laid out its proposed updates to the software program as properly different adjustments to the 737 Max that it hopes will get the aircraft flying once more. The adjustments would give pilots extra management over the system and make it much less doubtless to be set off by defective knowledge, two points at the middle of the investigations into the crashes.

“The rigor and thoroughness of the design and testing that went into the Max gives us complete confidence that the changes we’re making will address any of these accidents,” Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vp for product technique, stated in a press briefing.

The firm, which was keen to full the aircraft shortly for aggressive causes, additionally confronted new scrutiny in Washington on Wednesday over the improvement and certification of the jet, a course of that regulators closely delegated to Boeing. Senators, in two congressional hearings with Boeing’s regulators, pressed for extra oversight and raised the risk of overhauling the system.

The performing head of the Federal Aviation Administration, in a listening to of the Senate Commerce Committee’s aviation subcommittee, stated that the company initially scrutinized the new software program independently, however finally left it to Boeing. The official, Daniel Elwell, additionally stated he didn’t consider the automated system had been examined with a state of affairs involving a defective sensor, which was a priority in a Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October.

“The F.A.A. decided to do safety on the cheap, which is neither cheap nor safe,” stated Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. He added that he deliberate to introduce laws to reform the system, which he stated “is so fatally riddled with flaws.”

The F.A.A. “put the fox in charge of the henhouse,” he stated.

Boeing and the F.A.A. are taking part in protection on two fronts, as prosecutors, regulators and lawmakers examine their responses to the crashes and their approval of the aircraft.

During his listening to, Calvin L. Scovel III, the Transportation Department’s inspector normal, stated he was wanting into how the F.A.A. dealt with the disaster. In the days after an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 individuals this month, world regulators grounded the jets, while the United States initially held off doing the same.

“Clearly, confidence in F.A.A. as the gold standard for aviation safety has been shaken,” he said. Mr. Scovel said he wanted to understand why the agency was the last major aviation regulator in the world to “drive risk to zero” by grounding the 737 Max.

Mr. Scovel also said he would investigate why the F.A.A. approved the software system, which is known as MCAS, including the decision not to include it in the operating instructions and not to require additional training for pilots. When the plane was introduced, pilots learned about the 737 Max on an iPad.

Robert L. Sumwalt, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, also said in the hearing that his agency was “examining the U.S. design certification process.”

The F.A.A. has long allowed plane makers to help certify that their new aircraft meet safety standards. In recent years, Boeing was able to choose its own employees to help regulators approve the 737 Max.

In a separate hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee’s transportation subcommittee, the Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, called the practice “necessary.”

Ms. Chao stressed that the F.A.A. sets safety standards that manufacturers must meet while developing aircraft. The certification process, she said, “is, of course, subject to oversight and supervision by the F.A.A.”

When asked by the subcommittee’s chairwoman, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, about concerns that the arrangement “sacrifices potentially the safety of the traveling public,” Ms. Chao said that the possibility was “troubling.”

Mr. Elwell, during his hearing, said that the F.A.A. initially oversaw certification for the software, but delegated more authority over time, “when we had the comfort level” that the Boeing employees were knowledgeable enough about the system.

Mr. Elwell later said that practice was “part of the fabric of what we’ve used to become as safe as we are today” and that without it, the F.A.A. would need 10,000 more employees and $1.8 billion for its certification offices.

Boeing has defended the process, saying the plane adhered to all F.A.A. safety rules.

A Boeing official cautioned against drawing any definite conclusions until more is known. “In general, the process has worked and continues to work, and we see no reason to overhaul the process,” this official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the investigations.

The Boeing official said that in most accidents, many things go wrong. Based on what is known about the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, Boeing said it felt that MCAS was in need of updating.

“We’ve seen two accidents now and we believe it is appropriate to make that link in the chain more robust,” the official said.

The updated software, which Boeing outlined on Wednesday, will rely on data from two so-called angle of attack sensors, so the plane won’t have a single point of failure. It will also make it easier for pilots to override the system, which was originally designed to push down the nose of the plane repeatedly and aggressively.

The company said the new software had been extensively tested and officials from the F.A.A. had taken test flights on updated jets. Pilots from United States airlines have also tried out the updated system in flight simulators.

Dennis A. Muilenburg, Boeing’s chief executive, has avoided the spotlight in recent weeks and was not in Renton on Wednesday for the news briefing or the meeting with pilots and executives.

Boeing also said it would retrofit jets with a safety feature that was previously optional. The feature — known as a disagree light, which is activated if two key sensors on the plane do not produce the same readings — will be standard on new Max planes. The disagree light might have helped the pilots in the Lion Air crash identify the source of the problem.

During a testy exchange, Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, repeatedly pressed the F.A.A. official, Mr. Elwell, on whether all available safety features should be required on planes. Mr. Elwell responded that “safety-critical pieces of equipment on an aircraft are mandatory.” He added, “If there is any manufacturer that sells a safety-critical part a la carte, we will not permit it.”

But Mr. Elwell added that he found it “hard to believe that a safety company like an airline would save a couple thousand dollars on an option that might improve safety.”

Although the fix is apparently ready, Boeing provided no timetable for installing it. The F.A.A. must first approve the new software and the training. Then, Boeing said, each existing 737 Max will need to be manually upgraded, a procedure that takes an hour for each plane. Finally, Max pilots will need to receive an additional 30-minute training program about the software.

Even if the F.A.A. does approve the changes, regulators in Europe, Canada, China, Brazil and elsewhere might move more slowly. “Certification around the world will be at the discretion of those regulators around the world, and so we can’t comment on timing,” Mr. Sinnett said.



Source link Nytimes.com

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