Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews’ latest aviation article is featured in the recently released Spring 2019 Alabama Association for Justice Journal, titled “Aviation Under the Trump Administration.” Andrews discusses how the recent Boeing 737 Max crashes should signal the need for better support, leadership and oversight of those regulating aviation in the U.S.
Andrews’ article explains how for the last three years, the Trump Administration’s aggressive deregulatory plan has intensified the problems with an already underfunded regulatory agency, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and has handed more power and authority to airlines, aircraft manufacturers and other industry insiders. He points out that Trump’s approach “has served as a case study in how not to lead an agency that is vital to consumer safety.”
“Changes within the FAA, spurred in part by a focus on deregulation by the current Administration, allowed Boeing to self-certify large systems or large portions of the aircraft,” Andrews said. “Not only was the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, [automated flight control system], largely hidden from pilots, it was also hidden from the FAA during Boeing’s self-certification process. The hands-off approach definitely played a role in the problems plaguing the 737 MAX.”
The Boeing 737 Max aircraft has been grounded worldwide after two deadly crashes. Lion Air flight 610 crashed in Indonesia in October 2018. It was followed just five months later by the crash of Ethiopian flight 302, claiming a total of 346 lives. Both crashes are blamed on defective software and a fundamentally unsafe design.
Reports show that Boeing was aware of the problems with its 737 redesign and the flawed MCAS, but during the certification process it submitted false data and information about the new system in “self-certifying” reports to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is charged with, among other things, regulating the safety of aircraft in the U.S. The MCAS was designed to be hidden and separate from the autopilot system. Its purpose was to automatically adjust the horizontal tail stabilizer and cause the nose to push downward whenever the system sensed the plane was continuing to climb. Although the MCAS should have only operated when it sensed an imminent stall, the system is flawed and attempts to push the 737 nose downward when it should not.
“The fine line is this – how much control do you take away from regulators before you start to affect safety and how much control do you give to manufacturers without oversight,” Andrews said.
Scrutiny of the MCAS has also raised questions about the process used by the FAA in approving the system. Global regulators, aviation experts, law and policymakers, and other leaders worldwide have questioned whether industry insiders, such as Boeing, had too much influence over the process that ultimately placed the defectively designed planes in the air and loaded them with unsuspecting air travelers. Andrews’ article provides details about the cozy relationship Boeing shared with regulators.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division are conducting a criminal probe of Boeing and the process used to approve the MAX aircraft. The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has also launched an investigation regarding whistleblower allegations that the FAA did not handle the certification of the 737 MAX 8 properly.
Andrews is currently investigating both crashes and represents families of Ethiopian Airlines crash victims. He focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation and has represented people seriously injured in many types of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.