Senior Boeing Engineers Unaware of 737 Max Issues Before Crashes
The top engineers overseeing the design ofBoeing Co.’s 737 Max told congressional investigators they weren’t aware of key design decisions later identified as flaws in two fatal crashes.
Keith Leverkuhn and Michael Teal, both of whom were vice presidents overseeing engineering work on the development of the 737 Max, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that lower-level employees had made the design decisions on the now-grounded jetliner.
“The technical leaders well below my level would have gone into that level of detail,” Teal said about the decision to design a safety feature on the plane so that it could repeatedly dive. Transcripts of the interviews, conducted in May, were obtained by Bloomberg News.
That feature, known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, was cited by investigators as a main reason for a crash in October 2018 off the coast of Indonesia. A preliminary report on a second crash in Ethiopia in March 2019 indicates the same system activated, leading to a steep dive and crash.
The accidents killed 346 people and led to the grounding of Boeing’s best-selling jet. After more than a year of redesigns, the plane is under review by theU.S. Federal Aviation Administration and could return to service before the end of the year.
Anassessment of pilot-training requirements for the plane by the FAA and other regulators is set to begin on Monday in the U.K. Boeing has since said pilots should get simulator training, making it all but certain.
Democrats on the House panel, who’ve been conducting an aggressive probe of how the plane was designed and are expected to release a report on their work soon, spent hours grilling Leverkuhn and Teal.
The questions focused on Boeing’s push to minimize the type of pilot training needed for the jet and the design decisions that have since been identified as flawed by accident investigations.
Both men said they didn’t receive bonuses tied specifically to Boeing’s goal that pilots who had flown the previous models of the 737, known as Next Generation, didn’t need simulator training. Flight crews received a short course on differences between the two models instead.
They also said they hadn’t withheld any information on the design to the FAA. A report by theTransportation Department’s Inspector Generalfound that Boeing hadn’t fully explained design changed to its regulator.
The decision to minimize training was done, in part, to ensure safety, the engineers said. The goal was to make the Max behave so similarly to the Next Generation planes, which have one of the best safety records among jetliners, that little extra training was needed, they said.
“So our goal was to make the Max technically better, but make it as common as possible to the NG,” Leverkuhn said.
Pilots in both crashes got confused when MCAS activated repeatedly after malfunctions and the system was tied to a single sensor, making a failure more likely. Boeing has redesigned the feature so that it no longer activates more than once and has redundant sensors.
Based on the assumptions of how pilots would react to a malfunction, the original design made sense, Leverkuhn said.
“I understand why now the design change is occurring,” he said. “But at the time, no, I don’t — I don’t believe that there was a mistake made.”
Boeing has made multiple changes to the Max and revised assumptions about how pilots behave in an attempt to prevent any such crashes in the future, the company said in a statement.
“Given the breadth of their responsibilities, Mr. Leverkuhn and Mr. Teal were not, and could not have been, involved in every design decision and necessarily relied on engineering specialists to perform the detailed design and certification work associated with individual systems,” the company said.
The interviews with the Boeing engineers were earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal and Reuters.
In a long-planned move, Leverkuhn retired this year and Teal is working on Boeing’s program to create an updated version of the 777.
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