Boeing on Tuesday published an open letter from CEO Dennis Muilenburg to “airlines, passengers, and the aviation community” to reiterate the company’s “core” priority of safety amid reports of government investigations into the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight and certification of the company’s 737 Max program. In the letter, Muilenburg alluded to the company’s work on a software upgrade designed to mitigate the possibility of an uncommanded dive originating from false readings from the airplane’s angle-of-attack sensor. Officials continue to investigate the possibility that a false reading from the AOA sensor prompted the model’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) to force the nose of the Max down into a steep descent from which the pilots commanding the airplanes involved in two fatal crashes in five months failed to recover.
“Soon we’ll release a software update and related pilot training for the 737 Max that will address concerns discovered in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident,” wrote Muilenburg. “We’ve been working in full cooperation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board on all issues relating to both the Lion Air and the Ethiopian Airlines accidents since the Lion Air accident occurred in October last year.”
Boeing and the FAA might also need to answer to the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s office and the U.S. Justice Department, both of whom have begun investigating the nature of the relationship between the manufacturer and the agency during the certification of the 737 Max, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal. Neither department would confirm or deny the existence of any such probe to AIN, however.
An investigation by the Justice Department would be highly unusual for the U.S., where the DOT Inspector General typically treats such cases as a civil matter. In fact, U.S. aerospace and airline groups have often criticized other governments for “criminalizing” safety matters.
Reports of the unusual government scrutiny into the workings of the Max program’s certification process came as Ethiopian authorities noted “clear similarities” between information gleaned from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders recovered from the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 that crashed just southeast of Addis Ababa on March 10 and the October 29, 2018, crash of a Lion Air Max 8 off the coast of Indonesia.
For its part, Boeing stressed its “deep sense of commitment every day” to its safety responsibilities. “We’re united with our airline customers, international regulators, and government authorities in our efforts to support the most recent investigation, understand the facts of what happened and help prevent future tragedies,” wrote Muilenburg. “Based on facts from the Lion Air Flight 610 accident and emerging data as it becomes available from the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accident, we’re taking actions to fully ensure the safety of the 737 Max.”