FAA grilled again over Boeing 737 MAX crisis

File: EASA made clear that it believed the aircraft is ready to return to the skies after having carried out its own independent assessment of the 737 MAX. AFP/Stephen Brashear

WASHINGTON - The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) faced another grilling in Congress following revelations that pilots complained to Boeing about the 737 MAX in the aftermath of the Lion Air crash.

The hearing comes on the heels of a near-constant trickle of news reports in recent weeks that have raised pointed questions about both Boeing and the FAA over an aircraft that has been grounded globally following the second of two deadly crashes in March in Ethiopia that led to 346 deaths.

News reports on the eve of the hearing chronicled a November 27 meeting after the Lion Air crash at which American Airlines pilots pressed Boeing for safety changes that could have temporarily grounded the plane.

READ: Boeing knew of 737 MAX safety system glitch year before deadly crash

Another report on Tuesday said the FAA did not independently evaluate the safety of a Boeing 737 MAX system implicated in the two deadly crashes, deferring to Boeing on key judgments.

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell, in opening remarks, defended the agency's longstanding practice of designating Boeing and other companies with key roles in certification. 

"This is not self-certification," Elwell said. "The FAA retains strict oversight authority. The programme allows the FAA to leverage its resources and technical expertise while holding the applicant accountable for compliance."

A common link in both crashes was the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System

In both crashes, the MCAS pointed the plane sharply downward based on a faulty sensor reading, hindering pilot control after takeoff, according to preliminary crash investigations.

READ: FAA meets with US airlines, pilot unions on Boeing 737 MAX

Reports in the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News recounted the November meeting at which pilots complained about MCAS, which pilots have complained was not in the 737 MAX training material.

The hearing comes as the FAA oversees Boeing's upgrade to MCAS as the actions of both the FAA and Boeing are being investigated by government authorities, including the US Department of Justice. 

Major US carriers have said they expect to resume flights on the 737 MAX in August, but that timeframe is contingent on FAA approval of the upgrade. 


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