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Boeing Isn't the Only One to Blame for 737 Crashes

The FAA had surprisingly lax oversight
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2019 2:30 PM CDT
In this March 14, 2019, file photo, a worker walks next to a Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane parked at Boeing Field in Seattle.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(Newser) – Boeing's role in adding dangerous technology to the 737 Max is well-documented—but the Federal Aviation Administration fumbled this just as badly, the New York Times reports. According to insiders, the regulatory agency was too cozy with Boeing and ultimately let the airline oversee the development of MCAS, an automated system that helped cause two 737 Max jetliner crashes that killed 346 people. The FAA has long used Boeing's engineers to help approve its planes, but industry lobbying led the agency to relinquish more control in 2005, which lowered morale, caused turnover, and put two fairly green FAA engineers in charge of overseeing early development of MCAS. After the Lion Air crash, the FAA was stunned to learn it didn't even have a full analysis of the system on file.

"Did MCAS get the attention it needed? That's one of the things we’re looking at," says a federal official investigating the approval process. But MCAS, which pushed down the plane's nose—in theory to help it handle better—wasn't the only safety issue that went ignored. FAA engineers also worried about the plane's big engines: What if they broke apart and severed a cable that manages the rudder? But FAA managers sided with Boeing, dismissing the concern as the company pushed for approval to compete with its rival Airbus. Now, as Boeing seeks to resume flying the 737 Max in October, regulators aren't playing so nice. "We don't have a timeline," FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell tells Reuters. "We have one criteria. ... [that] the Max is safe to return to service." (One airline is switching to Airbus.)

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