The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a proposed safety airworthiness directive (AD) regarding the Boeing 737 MAX this week. The proposed AD includes a final set of design changes to the Boeing 737 MAX that will be required before the aircraft is cleared to resume commercial service. With the announcement comes a 45-day public comment period that allows the public to provide feedback to the FAA before it finalizes the new regulation. The comment period ends Sept. 21.
Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews currently represents families of victims of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, one of the two deadly MAX crashes, and encourages the public to provide feedback.
“Critics and even former Boeing employees continue to warn that these proposed changes don’t go far enough to protect commercial passengers,” Andrews said. “The families we represent want to make sure no other family experiences their pain and loss. We urge consumers and especially air travelers to let the FAA know they don’t want to fly on a plane with defects that haven’t been fully addressed.”
The AD addresses needed design and operating changes including installing new software that will address the MCAS flight control system’s fatal flaws. The software will be activated based on the input of two angle of attack (AOA) sensors rather than the single sensor included in the plane’s original design. The MAX was grounded in March 2019 following the second of two deadly crashes involving the aircraft, claiming a total of 346 lives. Investigators determined that the new flight control system malfunctioned, sparking similar chains of events in both flights that resulted in the tragedies.
Changes also include a revised display system that creates alerts, including alerting pilots when there is disagreement between the AOA sensors as well as changes in the placement of some of the plane’s wiring. Two sections of the wiring that control the tail of the plane were too close in proximity to each other, creating the potential for a short circuit that could result in a crash if pilots do not act swiftly and appropriately. The wiring must be rerouted to separate the bundles of wires.
The pilot manual will also receive an overhaul to incorporate new and revised flight crew procedures, specifically the pilot emergency checklist. Following the crash of the first MAX aircraft, Lion Air flight JT 610, Boeing issued a bulletin telling pilots to employ the runway stabilizer checklist in the event of an unnecessary MCAS activation. Yet, when pilots of ET 302 tried to use these procedures, they did not work. Further investigation into both crashes revealed far more issues and cover-up by Boeing than were initially known after the first crash. The new procedures are intended to help lessen the safety issues identified in the two deadly crashes that led to the grounding of the aircraft.
A separate proposed plan, which is still pending, will establish new minimum training standards for MAX pilots.
Returning the MAX to commercial service
In an earnings call with investors at the end of July, Boeing executives said they are hopeful the aircraft will be cleared for commercial service by mid-October. Still, Boeing said clearing the aircraft and removing the order grounding it would depend on U.S. and global regulators.
While the FAA seems poised to clear the MAX for commercial service by the end of the year, other global regulators aren’t as certain. Both the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Transport Canada continue to argue with Boeing over several remaining technical details while China remains tight-lipped about its plans for the MAX, Bloomberg reported. If foreign approval lags too far behind, experts warn it could negatively affect the aircraft’s revival.
The EASA is holding out for more clarity about the compromise it reached with Boeing regarding the need for a third AOA sensor. The regulatory body agreed to allow an upgrade to be installed after the planes return to service and that the fix would use data from existing sensors and the aircraft’s computers to mimic the actions of a third sensor. Yet, EASA has asked Boeing for clarity on the process and timeline for the revisions after commercial service resumes.
Similarly, Transport Canada has demanded that Boeing address the cacophony of alerts and warnings, especially the stick shaker, so that pilots or the “human factor” aren’t overwhelmed and unable to adequately respond during emergencies like those experienced by pilots of the two doomed MAX flights. Transport Canada would like for MAX pilots to have the option to disable the stick shaker after it is erroneously triggered as it was in both the two deadly crashes. The regulators aren’t satisfied with the current proposal and said it won’t lift the flight restrictions until the agency “is fully satisfied that all safety concerns have been addressed by the U.S., FAA and that enhanced flight crew procedures and training are in place.”
As discussed previously, the MAX aircraft has cost its manufacturer billions of dollars, a problem only exacerbated by the global coronavirus pandemic. Even if the aircraft returns to commercial service, Boeing will continue to battle the slowdown in producing the 737 MAX as the decline in air travel as yet to rebound.
Mike focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. In addition to his Ethiopian Airlines crash clients, Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.