The inspector general of the Department of Transportation is investigating the approval by the Federal Aviation Administration of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft after the new reports raised doubts about the FAA's dependence on the aircraft manufacturer during its process of certification. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are also investigating Boeing. The Wall Street Journal reports that a citation has been issued to at least one person involved in the development of the Max 8.
The DOT investigation focuses on the FAA office in Seattle , which certifies the safety of new aircraft. The subpoena is looking for office documents, including emails, correspondence and other messages, reports Journal .
over the weekend, The Seattle Times reported that the FAA managers put pressure on the agency's security engineers to delegate the Boeing security assessments and quickly approve the resulting analysis. Under pressure to catch up with Airbus to approve its new 737 Max jets, Boeing delivered a safety assessment to the FAA that was riddled with errors, reported Times .
The Chicago-based company is under greater scrutiny after two of its Max 8 aircraft crashed within five months of each other. Last Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed a few minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. This followed the October crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia, which killed all 189 passengers and crew. On Wednesday, the FAA ordered the plane to land.
As a consequence, researchers have focused on an anti-blocking feature known as the Maneuver Characteristics Increase System (MCAS). A preliminary report from Indonesian researchers indicates that the Lion Air 610 crashed because a faulty sensor erroneously reported that the plane was stagnant. The false report triggered the MCAS, which tried to point down the nose of the aircraft so that it could gain enough speed to fly safely.
The Boeing MCAS safety assessment underestimated the power of the system and did not take into account how it could be restarted after each time a pilot responded. The black box data retrieved after the Lion Air crash indicates that a single faulty sensor activated the MCAS several times during the deadly flight. This led to a fight between the pilots and the plane, as the system repeatedly pressed the nose of the plane down and the pilots struggled with the controls to raise it before the final crash.
The Justice Department's investigation into the FAA certification process is highly unusual, and could raise questions about President Trump's involvement . According to The Washington Post Trump was the "key arbitrator" in the decision on the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft. Trump participated in telephone conversations with key Boeing executives and other interested parties, offering your opinions on the aviation industry. But since then, he has faced criticism that his excess participation prevented the FAA from acting earlier.
Boeing declined to comment on the citation of federal investigators. In a statement, the company said: "The FAA considered the final configuration and operating parameters of MCAS during the MAX certification, and concluded that it met all regulatory and certification requirements."
On Sunday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg issued a statement describing Steps the company was taking to update its technology. "While researchers continue to work to establish definitive conclusions, Boeing is finalizing its development of a previously announced software update and a review of pilot training that will address the behavior of the MCAS flight control law in response to erroneous sensor inputs." said Muilenburg.