Investigators Find More Evidence Of Connections Between Crashes Of Boeing 737 Max Jets

Mar 18, 2019
Originally published on March 18, 2019 7:07 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right, NPR's David Schaper has been reporting on this story and joins us now. Hey, David.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

CHANG: So we just heard from the pilot perspective here. And it sounds like the focus for them is on more training. What does Boeing say on that front?

SCHAPER: Well, Boeing's focus first and foremost is on providing the pilots with training certainly. But first they want to get this MCAS system repaired and fixed, make the software changes that they've promised. We should take a step back and explain exactly how the system works. The plane has what's called angle-of-attack sensors to measure how high up the nose is pointing, which will affect the lift under the wings and the aerodynamics of the plane. And when these sensors read that the nose is pointed too high, this MCAS system overrides the pilot and will take corrective action, just basically pointing the nose of the plane back down.

Now, in the case of the Lion Air crash, the sensor was malfunctioning, providing erroneous information. So the system pointed the nose down when it should not have and kept repeating the action, and the pilots - even when the pilots were trying to pull the plane out of a nosedive. So Boeing is redesigning the software so it'll act on information from two sensors instead of just one. It won't act as quickly and definitively. And it will also use a few other aspects so it will not repeat itself and repeat that action over and over again.

Boeing says it will provide the airlines and the pilots with new training for these system upgrades. But they basically say that because the system's changes will make it less likely that the pilots will have this problem, that they don't need necessarily a ton of training and simulator training in particular.

CHANG: OK, well, let's turn to how the investigation is going of the Ethiopian Airlines crash a little over a week ago. Can you just bring us up to speed on the latest?

SCHAPER: Yeah. Investigators in France where the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders - the so-called black boxes - were taken for analysis say that they found some clear similarities in the angle-of-attack sensors. So that's suggesting that the similar problems may have caused these two crashes. If that is what happened, though, the pilots should have been trained on how to properly respond.

CHANG: Right.

SCHAPER: Ethiopian Airlines says that they were trained. So it's possible that there's some - might have something else going wrong or that there was another problem with the plane. So investigative authorities say they still need to explore these two - the links between these two crashes.

CHANG: OK. Meanwhile, Boeing is just getting slammed with bad press. I mean, yesterday there were two bombshell reports, as we just heard - one in The Seattle Times and another in The Wall Street Journal. Can you just recap what these reports together are laying out for us?

SCHAPER: Well, as you guys explained, The Seattle Times report found that there were crucial flaws in Boeing's safety analysis of that new flight control system and that Boeing was downplaying the risks. And the report also says that the oversight from the FAA was lacking. The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press, I should add, are both reporting that the Justice Department is now investigating the way that Boeing was regulated by the FAA and has apparently sent out grand jury subpoenas seeking information pertaining to the development of the 737 MAX and this flight control system in particular.

CHANG: And how is Boeing responding to this, these latest pieces of coverage?

SCHAPER: In a statement, Boeing said today that it would not comment on legal matters including government inquiries like this Justice Department inquiry that's been reported. The FAA also would not comment on the reports of that investigation. On the Seattle Times report, the Boeing - Boeing says that the 737 MAX was certified in accordance with the same requirements from the FAA and processes that have governed all certification processes in the past for new airplanes and derivatives of new airplanes. So they've done it by the book they said and followed...

CHANG: All right.

SCHAPER: ...A standard certification process.

CHANG: That's NPR's David Schaper. Thanks very much.

SCHAPER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.