Anonymous sources surmised that perhaps a bird strike or some other debris might have damaged one of the aircraft’s two angle-of-attack sensors upon took off which would have triggered the MCAS anti-stall system based upon false readings from the damaged sensor. This would have caused the MCAS to keep forcing the plane’s nose down until it crashed, according to ABC News’ anonymous sources. As increased scrutiny on the

MCAS exposed how fl awed the design of it seemed to be, and even more so how the 737 Max may be a profoundly fl awed aircraft, Boeing was questioned even further. Boeing was already working on a software fi x for the plane’s fl ight-control systems after the fi rst crash, but it was not yet complete at the time of the second crash.

THE FALLOUT The FAA followed the lead of all other countries which operated the B737 Max in grounding the plane, being the last to do so. For an agency that is considered the leading aviation regulator globally, this was one of the fi rst strikes against it from a credibility standpoint. Then as more information leaked out about Boeing seemingly rushed the aircraft to market, and how signifi cant risks may have been taken to reduce costs and time to market, more questions arose about what the FAA was doing during all of this time.

In light of all this drama, US

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao formally requested an audit in a memo to the department’s Inspector General Calvin Scovel. According to this memo, the Inspector General was asked to compile “an objective and detailed factual history of the activities that resulted in the

certifi cation of the Boeing 737-MAX 8 aircraft.” Back in January 2012, Boeing had requested an amended “type-certifi cation” for this aircraft, which the FAA issued in March 2017.

This audit is unconnected to

the criminal probe that the same Inspector General is also jointly conducting with the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. This probe was progressing before the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max.

Also, the Democratic leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee requested that the inspector general investigate the FAA’s approach to certifying the 737 Max. The Committee Chairman, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, and the aviation subcommittee chairman, Washington state’s Rick Larsen, asked for an evaluation on how each of the 737 Max’s new features was tested and certifi ed, including new MCAS anti-stall system. It was also requested that investigation review the FAA’s decision not to have Boeing revise training and manuals to refl ect changes to fl ight-critical automation systems.

On top of this, the US Senate Commerce Committee has begun an investigation into the Boeing 737 Max approval process. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker, stated that the committee would scrutinize claims by whistleblowers that FAA employees lacked proper training and valid certifi cations to properly review these new jets. He also indicated that the FAA may have been alerted about these defi ciencies as early as August 2018 and that an agency inquiry into the claims may have already been completed.

Boeing and the FAA are facing some very harsh scrutiny.


AN EVER-CHANGING WORLD As outlined earlier, the FAA is being investigated by various government bodies, and will assuredly see changes to how it conducts its oversight of the industry in the future. But this situation brings up the question of the role of the regulator in the world today, and specifi cally here in the United States. Many industries other than aviation had some degree of self-certifi cation or self-regulation as a norm, and this is for a good reason — as our world becomes more complex, and complex products reach the market faster and across more widespread areas (global reach, with supply chain’s stretching across multiple countries, made up of complex sub-components at times) it becomes increasingly diffi cult for regulators to keep up with all of this. The reasons for this are many, and some of this belies the current political climate where regulatory constraints are being loosened wherever possible. And this situation at Boeing is undoubtedly not unique, but it is one of the most visible results of the crossroads of technology outpacing regulation, and a desire to reduce the costs of regulation. Industry lobbying groups have

convinced politicians over the years to minimize funding for various industry oversight (we have seen examples of this in oil, food processing, electronics, construction), minimizing the number of inspectors and other personnel, as well as not being able to attract the type of fresh personnel to oversee new technologies properly (i.e. pay better salaries to attract such young talent with specialized skills and training). Self-driving cars have not even

entered production yet, and many are calling for greater regulatory scrutiny already. There has been a

18 | june 2019

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