A top Canadian aviation regulator expressed deep concerns about the automated flight control software on Boeing 737 Max aircraft and called for its removal before the planes are allowed to fly again.
The MCAS system is the automation that Boeing added to correct the nose lift that 737 Max aircraft may experience because of their larger, higher-positioned engines. The MCAS was designed to automatically point the nose of the plane down to prevent a stall in situations where there is too much lift at the nose.
“The only way I see moving forward at this point, is that MCAS has to go,” Jim Marko, an aircraft integration and safety assessment manager at Transport Canada Civil Aviation, wrote in an email to other aviation regulators, according to The New York Times, which reviewed the communications.
Mr. Marko sent his concerns to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, and Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency.
Investigators believe the MCAS system played a major role in the crashes of Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Those crashes occurred within five months of each other and killed 346 people. Pilots flying the 737 Max at the time weren’t aware of the MCAS system’s existence, so any malfunction of it caused by faulty data from angle-of-attack sensors would have made no sense.
The deadly crashes led to the worldwide grounding of the 737 Max. Boeing has been working to upgrade the performance of the MCAS system and planned to return the planes to flight in the coming weeks. But some key regulators are unconvinced that Boeing’s repairs are adequate, including at least one U.S. regulator.
Emails reviewed by The New York Times include one from FAA system safety engineer Linh Le. Mr. Le notes that he shares the concerns of Mr. Marko, who believes that “MCAS introduces catastrophic hazards that weren’t there before.” In the email, Mr. Le observes that the MCAS and its fix add “too much complexity” to the flight controls. He cites Mr. Marko, who said there have been “many revisions” to the MCAS software and that “each was a band-aid” on the larger problem.
In his email to the other regulators, Mr. Marko states that he wanted “to get some confidence back to us all that we as Authorities can sleep at night when that day comes when the MAX returns to service.” He says the idea that regulators might accept Boeing’s MCAS fix leaves him “with a level of uneasiness that I cannot sit idly by and watch it pass by.”
Transport Canada, the FAA, and Brazil’s NCAA said the concerns expressed in the emails were factoring into the ongoing assessment of Boeing’s proposed repairs.
According to The New York Times, Boeing has indicated that the 737 Max would return to service as soon as December, but Boeing engineers and FAA officials have expressed frustration with the pressure the company is putting on them to develop a fix and re-certify the aircraft.
There is no doubt that a prolonged delay of the 737 Max’s return to service would deepen Boeing’s crisis. In addition to making the 737 Max safe to fly again, Boeing will have to restore the confidence of the flying public. Many air passengers have expressed apprehension and fear about flying on one of the controversial aircraft.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Currently, Mike represents family members of victims in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.