House of Representatives Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio on Wednesday called for a commitment by FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson to investigate why the agency did not ground the 737 Max when its own analysis performed after the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 projected as many as 15 more fatal accidents over the model’s service life if its flight control problem went uncorrected. Speaking during the fifth transportation committee hearing on the twin crashes of the 737 Max that claimed 346 lives, DeFazio further noted that the FAA also reached the conclusion that 99 out of 100 flight crews could comply with the airworthiness directive and successfully react within 10 seconds to the “cacophony” of alarms and alerts recounted in the Lion Air accident report.
“Such an assumption we know now was tragically wrong,” he said. “Despite its own calculations, the FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the Max continue to fly until Boeing could overhaul its MCAS software. Tragically, the FAA’s analysis, which never saw the light of day beyond the closed doors of the FAA and Boeing, was correct.”
Following the October 29 crash of the Lion Air Max, the FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive giving pilots of Boeing 737 Max 8s and Max 9s procedures to follow in the event of runaway horizontal trim caused by faulty angle-of-attack inputs to the airplane’s flight control system. The AD came a day after Boeing issued an operations manual bulletin in response to investigators’ findings that the Lion Air 737 Max 8 that crashed into the Java Sea on October 29 experienced erroneous input from one of the sensors. According to the AD, an analysis performed by Boeing showed the defect could lead to repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer, thereby compromising aircraft controllability and leading to excessive nose-down attitude, “significant” altitude loss, and, ultimately, a crash. While the directive required a revision to the chapters in the airplane flight manual dedicated to certificate limitations and operating procedures for addressing runaway stabilizer, it did not mention the system implicated in both the Lion Air and March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crashes by name.
“The FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive that purported to inform pilots on how to respond to an erroneous activation of MCAS while actually never mentioning the system by name,” said DeFazio. “In fact, during the certification of the 737 Max Boeing actively pushed the FAA to remove references to MCAS from the flight crew operating manual, as revealed in the emails and instant messages from Boeing executive Mark Forkner.”
For his part, Dickson noted that he began his tenure at the FAA after the agency performed the analysis while expressing a desire “to advocate for [his] people.”
“The FAA is a data-driven organization...With all due respect, any indication that any level of accidents is acceptable in any analysis is not reflective of the 45,000 dedicated professionals at the FAA...The reason that we have the safest airspace in the world has been through decades of developing data systems and decision-making tools that will allow us to make the best decisions and prioritize in the interest of safety.”