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Boeing Failed to Tell Airlines That Safety Alert Was Off

Move would have 'reduced confusion,' FAA says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 6, 2019 12:42 AM CDT
In this Wednesday, April 10, 2019 photo, a Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane being built for India-based Jet Airways takes off on a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
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(Newser) – Boeing said Sunday that it discovered after airlines had been flying its 737 Max plane for several months that a safety alert in the cockpit was not working as intended, yet it didn't disclose that fact to airlines or federal regulators until after one of the planes crashed. The feature was designed to warn pilots when a key sensor might be providing incorrect information about the pitch of the plane's nose. But within months of the plane's debut in 2017, Boeing said, its engineers realized that the sensor warning light only worked when airlines also bought a separate, optional feature, the AP reports. The sensors malfunctioned during an October flight in Indonesia and another in March in Ethiopia, causing software on the plane to push the nose down.

It is not clear whether having the warning light, which was a standard feature on older 737s, would have prevented either crash. Boeing's disclosure on Sunday, however, raised fresh questions about the company's candor with regulators and airline customers. Boeing said again that the plane was safe to fly without the sensor alert, called an angle-of-attack disagree light. A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency was notified of the non-working warning light in November, after the Oct. 29 crash in Indonesia. He said FAA experts determined that the non-working cockpit indicator presented a low risk. "However, Boeing's timely or earlier communication with (airlines) would have helped to reduce or eliminate possible confusion," the spokesman said in an emailed statement. (Read more Boeing stories.)

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