Boeing Offered Crucial Warning Light as Optional Add-On for 737 Max

08 May, 2019, 11:40 | Author: Emmett Rice
  • Boeing admits it knew of flaw in 737 MAX planes before fatal crash

In both cases, investigators have blamed incorrect "angle of attack" (AOA) sensor data for pitching the planes downwards to their doom.

In a statement, Boeing said it discovered, only once deliveries of the 737 Max had begun in 2017, that the so-called AOA Disagree alert was optional instead of standard as it had intended, but added that was not critical safety data.

The US watchdog, the Federal Aviation Administration, told Reuters Boeing waited 13 months before informing it of the missing alarm in November previous year.

The AOA alert will tell pilots if a sensor is under stress while "disagree alert" will tell whether sensors are acting contradictory to each other.

In manuals that Boeing gave to Southwest Airlines, the biggest operator of both the Max and 737s in general, the warning light was depicted as a standard feature just as it is on older 737s, according to Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King. "They provide supplemental information only, and have never been considered safety features on commercial jet transport airplanes".

Senior company leadership was not involved in the review and were first made aware of the issue in the aftermath of the Lion Air accident, Boeing said.

The FAA backed that assessment but criticised Boeing for being slow to disclose the problem.

Then, one week after the Lion Air crash on October 29, Boeing added a line in an FAA airworthiness directive that said the disagree light was optional.

The 737 Max, the fastest-selling plane in Boeing's history, has been grounded around the world for nearly eight weeks.

Neither the Lion Air aircraft nor the Ethiopian Airlines jet had the feature.

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It believed the issue could be resolved in a later system update.

Even if they had been concerned with safety, many of them may not have known the right questions to ask since most lack experience in aerospace and defense, which MacMillan said is a problem, not only for Boeing, but for many corporate boards.

But within months of the plane's debut in 2017, Boeing said, its engineers realized that the sensor warning light only worked when airlines also bought a separate, optional feature. Investigations into the Lion Air and more recent Ethiopian Airlines crashes unearthed the role of Boeing's planes in the fatal incidents, which were initially thought to be unrelated. That means it starts to fall instead of fly.

Some analysts and academics say having the AOA Disagree alert installed would have helped Lion Air maintenance crew diagnose a problem on the penultimate flight of the 737 Max jet that crashed in October, killing all 189 on board.

It is not clear whether having the warning light would have prevented either the Lion Air crash or the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines MAX near Addis Ababa.

Boeing engineers knew in 2017 that the 737 Max display system software did not correctly meet the AOA disagree alert requirements but concluded "the existing functionality was acceptable until the alert and the indicator could be de-linked in the next planned display system software update".

Boeing has admitted it knew about a missing feature on its 737 Max plans a year before the first of two fatal crashes.

A Boeing spokesman declined to name the software vendor to Associated Press. At the same time, the company discussed the status of the AOA Disagree alert with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Federal prosecutors, the Transportation Department inspector general's office and a blue-ribbon panel are also looking into the 737 Max's certification.



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