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Boeing appoints safety roles to board amid fatal crash findings

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Boeing has announced a restructure to its board in the latest attempt to put safety at the heart of decision-making, almost one year after the first of two crashes involving its 737 Max 8 airplane, which killed 346 people in total.


On Friday 11 October, the same day as a major review into the crashes was issued, Boeing said that CEO Dennis A. Muilenburg will step down as board chairman, leaving David L. Calhoun to take up the chair.

Boeing is also to appoint a new director to the board who will have “deep safety experience”. The role will sit alongside a newly created Aerospace Safety Committee.

Remarkably, no one on Boeing’s board in recent history has had technical experience of aviation safety, according to the Washington Post.

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft fleet of Southwest Airlines in storage at Victorville, California

The crashes

On October 29, 2018, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Lion Air plane plunged into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 on board died.

On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Boeing 737 MAX 8, crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, killing all 149 passengers and 8 crew members on board.

Both planes were relatively new, the latter just four months old as the Boeing 737 Max model took its maiden flight in January 2016.

‘Sensors…triggered the plane to nose dive’

The review issued last week, which was co-authored by NASA and a team of 10 international civil aviation authorities, investigated reported failures of the plane’s control system, which has been identified as the cause of both crashes.

Both planes had been fitted with new anti-stall systems on the planes, known as a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

BBC explains that sensors which malfunctioned triggered the MCAS to push the nose of the plane down – even though the crew followed safety procedures recommended by Boeing, they couldn't stop the aircraft going into a fatal dive.

Boeing’s failures  

The Joint Authorities Technical Review found that Boeing had changed the design of the MCAS from a “benign to an aggressive” system, but failed to communicate changes to the regulator the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

This meant the FAA could not “adequately or independently assess Boeing’s certification of the new system.”

Other failures identified include:

  • MCAS wasn’t evaluated as a complete and integrated function: there was “extensive and fragmented documentation, which made it difficult to assess whether compliance was fully demonstrated”
  • A decision was made to remove information relating to MCAS functionality from the Flight Crew operating manual. This decision meant that training needs were not “adequately assessed”
  • Signs were reported of “undue pressures” on Boeing engineers performing certification on the B737 MAX programme.
Boeing's Renton, Washington Factory where the Boeing 737 MAX airliners were built. Photograph: Jelson25

Profits before safety?

Boeing’s fleet of 737 Maxes remain grounded, costing the airline billions of dollars. The focus is now on getting the planes back and running, adhering to safety. 

By splitting the CEO and chair roles, Boeing said in its statement that Mr Muilenburg will be able to “focus full time on running the company as it works to return the 737 MAX safely to service”.

Mr Muilenburg commented: "I am fully supportive of the board's action. Our entire team is laser-focused on returning the 737 MAX safely to service and delivering on the full breadth of our company's commitments.”

Impact on safety and victims

Paul Njoroge, whose wife and children died in the Ethiopia crash has accused the firm and others of “reckless conduct”.

In comments reported by the Guardian, he said that Boeing has been “single-minded” in its quest to place blame on so-called ‘foreign pilots’.

Unless Boeing’s conduct is addressed “another plane will dive to the ground killing me, you”, he told a Congressional hearing in Washington.

Boeing statements and response

Boeing has responded to the crashes by publishing a time line of safety actions it is taking, alongside a series of videos featuring test pilots and employees speak about their dedication to safety.

In comments on the two crashes issued in March, Dennis Muilenburg, CEO, has said: “On behalf of the entire Boeing team, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives in these two tragic accidents.

“Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

Joint Authorities Technical Review into Boeing 737 Max Flight Control system here 

 

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