Boeing Omitted Safety-System Details, Minimized Training for Crashed Lion Air 737 Model (excerpt)
(Source: Wall Street Journal; published Dec. 5, 2018)
By Andrew Tangel and Andy Pasztor
An automated flight-control system on Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX aircraft, which investigators suspect played a central role in the fatal Oct. 29 jetliner crash in Indonesia, was largely omitted from the plane’s operations manual and was the subject of debate inside Boeing, government and industry officials say.

Pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 battled systems on the Boeing 737 MAX for 11 minutes after the plane took off from Jakarta, until it crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board. Boeing is devising a software fix and trying to reinstill confidence in the cockpit systems of the 737 MAX, which U.S. airlines have called safe.

Debate inside Boeing on what the 737 MAX manuals should say about the automated system and how much training would be required before pilots could safely slide behind the controls was more intense than usual, industry officials recall.

The decision to omit the new control system from manuals has put a Boeing design principle at the center of a probe into a fatal airliner crash for the first time in more than two decades. It has sparked public scrutiny of a typically behind-the-scenes process and threatens to tarnish Boeing’s reputation for safety and its tradition of prioritizing pilot authority over automation.

Former Boeing and current airline and government officials said there was a strong push to keep 737 MAX training to a minimum—a common goal for the introduction of new models. One former Boeing official recalls a colleague expressing concern about keeping their job if regulators rejected the company’s proposed guidelines. The program was eventually approved.

Boeing said it didn’t intentionally keep relevant information from aviators and had discussed the new system—known by its acronym, MCAS—with airlines at conferences in recent years. A spokesman disputed the characterization of the debate as unusually heated, saying, “Discussions were consistent with our regular process.” (end of excerpt)


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