FAA approved Boeing's 737 Max but failed to properly review it, report finds

The Federal Aviation Administration approved Boeing’s 737 Max without fully understanding how a new flight system, later connected to two deadly crashes, worked, an international panel wrote in a scathing report, first obtained by Reuters, about the jetliner’s certification process.

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In April, the FAA commissioned the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) to look into how the agency approved the jet’s flight control system -- including the so-called MCAS anti-stall system, which played a role in the crashes of both the Ethiopian Airlines flight in March this year and in the Lion Air flight in October last year.

In both cases, pilots had mere seconds to fight the MCAS function, which automatically forces the plane’s nose downward, after it was accidentally triggered. A total of 346 people were killed in the crashes, resulting in a worldwide grounding of the Max.

The report, which is slated to officially be released on Friday, found that the MCAS was not evaluated as a “complete and integrated function” and that the certification process also suffered from the “lack of a unified top-down development and evaluation of the system function and its safety analyses, combined with the extensive and fragmented documentation.”

“With adequate FAA engagement and oversight, the extent of delegation does not in itself compromise safety,” states the report, which is scheduled to be released officially later today (Oct. 11). “However, in the B737 MAX program, the FAA had inadequate awareness of the MCAS function which, coupled with limited involvement, resulted in an inability of the FAA to provide an independent assessment of the adequacy of the Boeing-proposed certification activities associated with MCAS.”

The report also questioned the limited number of workers at the FAA who were overseeing certification tasks, noting there were an “inadequate number of FAA specialists” involved in the certification of the Max jetliner. Additionally, the report found evidence of “undue pressure” on employees, possibly “attributed to conflicting priorities and an environment that does not support FAA requirements.”

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The world’s largest aerospace company is currently facing multiple lawsuits for both crashes, including a lawsuit that alleges Boeing concealed problems and refused to ground the plane on its own.