Boeing’s 737 Max was built with “effectively neutered” oversight, writes the New York Times, citing interviews with over a dozen current and former employees at America’s Federal Aviation Agency.
Their damning conclusion? The agency “had never independently assessed the risks of the dangerous software known as MCAS when they approved the plane in 2017.”
The regulator had been passing off routine tasks to manufacturers for years, with the goal of freeing up specialists to focus on the most important safety concerns. But on the Max, the regulator handed nearly complete control to Boeing, leaving some key agency officials in the dark about important systems like MCAS, according to the current and former employees…The company performed its own assessments of the system, which were not stress-tested by the regulator.
Turnover at the agency left two relatively inexperienced engineers overseeing Boeing’s early work on the system. The F.A.A. eventually handed over responsibility for approval of MCAS to the manufacturer. After that, Boeing didn’t have to share the details of the system with the two agency engineers…
Late in the development of the Max, Boeing decided to expand the use of MCAS, to ensure the plane flew smoothly. The new, riskier version relied on a single sensor and could push down the nose of the plane by a much larger amount. Boeing did not submit a formal review of MCAS after the overhaul. It wasn’t required by F.A.A. rules… The agency ultimately certified the jet as safe, required little training for pilots and allowed the plane to keep flying until a second deadly Max crash, less than five months after the first…. By 2018, the F.A.A. was letting the company certify 96 percent of its own work, according to an agency official.
The article ends by describing the days after the first 737 Max crash, when Boeing executives visited the regulatory agency’s headquarters in Seattle.
“The officials sat incredulous as Boeing executives explained details about the system that they didn’t know.”