Author Topic: Boeing Didn't Tell Southwest Or FAA That It Had Disabled Critical Safety Alerts  (Read 570 times)

Offline kb4tez

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from the WSJ on Sunday. 
https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-04-28/boeing-didnt-tell-southwest-or-faa-it-had-disabled-critical-safety-alerts-737-max

It was a bad enough look for Boeing when reporters uncovered the company's decision to make some safety features optional on its 737 MAX 8s. Worse still that this decision was only made public after the deadly crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 just minutes after takeoff on March 10 - the second deadly crash involving the plane in six months, which spurred regulators around the world to ground the planes, erasing billions of dollars of Boeing market cap.

But a report in the Wall Street Journal published on Sunday that neither Southwest Airlines nor the FAA (Boeing's primary federal regulator) were aware that a safety feature intended to alert pilots to a potentially malfunctioning 'angle of attack' sensor - in other words, a feature that might have prevented both the crash of ET302 and the Oct. 29 crash of a 737 owned by Lion Air - had been disabled on the new 737s is simply staggering.Not only did Boeing disable the alerts, which would notify pilots when the two sensors on the new 737 MAX 8s were reporting dramatically different data, and make them part of a new 'premium' package of safety features, but the manufacturer somehow neglected to tell the airline and its regulator that the alerts had been disabled. The result was that Southwest never updated its safety manuals for pilots to reflect the fact that the alerts had been disabled.

This is particularly egregious because the 737 MAX 8s featured the new MCAS anti-stall software which could be inadvertently triggered by erroneous data being reported by a malfunctioning sensor. Indeed, the preliminary findings from the investigation of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 found that the misfire of the MCAS system effectively doomed all 157 people on board that day.

Pilots at Southwest and regulators at the FAA didn't learn that the alerts had been disabled until after the crash of the Lion Air flight, more than a year after the new jets had gone into service.

Plane maker Boeing Co. didn’t tell Southwest Airlines Co. when the carrier began flying 737 MAX jets in 2017 that a standard safety feature, found on earlier models and designed to warn pilots about malfunctioning sensors, had been deactivated.

Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors and supervisors responsible for monitoring Southwest, the largest MAX customer, were also unaware of the change, according to government and industry officials.

Boeing had turned off the alerts which, in previous versions of the 737, informed pilots if a sensor known as an “angle-of-attack vane” was transmitting errant data about the pitch of a plane’s nose. In the MAX, which featured a new automated stall-prevention system called MCAS, Boeing made those alerts optional; they would be operative only if carriers bought additional safety features.

Southwest’s cockpit crews and management didn’t know about the change for more than a year after the planes went into service. They and most other airlines operating the MAX globally learned about it only after the fatal Lion Air crash last year led to scrutiny of the plane’s revised design. The FAA office’s lack of knowledge about Boeing’s move hasn’t been previously reported.

"Southwest’s own manuals were wrong" about the status of the alerts, said Southwest pilots union president, Jon Weaks. Since Boeing hadn’t communicated the modification to the carrier, the manuals still reflected incorrect information.

Perhaps most stunning of all, once the FAA and Southwest learned that the feature had been disabled, it set off a furor at the FAA that nearly pushed it to recommend that all 737 MAX 8s be grounded until the alerts had been turned back on. If the regulator had followed through, it's possible that the crash of ET302 might have been averted.