FAA grilled again over Boeing 737 MAX crisis

The 737 MAX 8 is currently grounded worldwide after the March crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that killed all 157 people onboard. — Reuters pic

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that Boeing should have done more to explain an automated flight-control system on its 737 Max aircraft before two deadly crashes, but he defended his agency's safety certification of the plane and its decision not to ground the jet until other regulators around the world had already done so.

Daniel Elwell testified in front of the house aviation subcommittee about the problems saying his agency didn't have enough evidence to ground the jet past year.

In a tense recording obtained by CBS News from American's pilots union, pilots pressed Boeing on why a flight control system under investigation as the cause of the crash was not disclosed to them when the 737 Max was originally launched.

The 737 Max, Boeing's best-selling aircraft, was grounded on March 13 after it became clear that an Ethiopian Airlines crash three days earlier had similar underlying causes to a Lion Air crash on October 29 near Jakarta.

At a congressional hearing, the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told the FAA it must "get it right" in deciding when to allow the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again.

"I am not happy about a 13-month gap", he said, adding that the agency would fix the issue.

"The meeting will provide a forum for airlines to exchange information about the experiences and challenges that they face as a result of the grounding and in their preparation for the reintroduction of the aircraft into operations, " IATA said.

"The FAA has a credibility problem", declared the subcommittee chairman, Rick Larsen. Carey said his pilots are seeking "proper oversight" of Boeing, the FAA and airlines including their own.

LEWIS: Elwell defended the FAA's original certification and said the five-year process wasn't rushed. He described how the FAA was involved in test flights and was involved in the safety analysis of the MCAS system. United UAL said that it learned about the deactivated feature after the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March.

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"These guys didn't even know the damn system was on the airplane - nor did anybody else", another said.

While the FAA itself signed off on at least the preliminary design of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS, which was driving down the noses of the two planes that crashed, some of the approvals were granted by Boeing employees designated to act as representatives of the FAA.

DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, said he was disappointed that a single sensor's failure had led to the crashes.

The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots, tweeted a Dallas Morning News article on the meeting.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce Committee held a relatively placid hearing for Dickson, the nominee to replace Elwell, FAA's acting administrator since January 2018.

Dickson also faced questions about the FAA's handling of the certification process and suggestions that the agency was abdicating its authority and letting Boeing self-regulate.

"Every ODA member is vetted by the FAA before that member is approved", Elwell said. "If the public is concerned and if the Boeing 737 Max 8 ... becomes toxic ... that's going to make a change".

The Boeing representative called the Lion Air crash a tragedy, adding, "an even worse thing would be another one".

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