Questions are swirling around the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) relationship with airplane manufacturer Boeing, after the second major disaster involving the company's 737 Max 8 jets in five months.
The reported Sunday that the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Inspector General is opening up an investigation into the FAA's approval process for Boeing's aircraft. The inquiry stems from the ostensibly cozy relationship between Boeing and the FAA. According to a , engineers from Boeing—rather than officials from the regulatory agency—were given authority to approve the Max 8 aircraft for flight. That approval includes the automated safety system that investigators suspect might've played a role in both fatal crashes.
The 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft has been grounded by aviation authorities throughout the world following the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people onboard last Sunday. Last October, the same plane model crashed when Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea only 15 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people onboard.
With the Lion Air incident, a faulty sensor on the plane fed inaccurate information into the cockpit, signaling the plane's nose was too high. The readings triggered an automated safety feature that sent the plane into a nosedive pilots were unable to avoid. While it's unclear whether the same glitch was at fault for the Ethiopian Airlines disaster, it's been a central question in the investigation. Authorities in France and Ethiopia currently investigating the Ethiopia Airlines' black box data recorders noted "clear similarities" between both ill-fated flights:
The potentially flawed safety feature, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, will be central to the DOT's Inspector General investigation, the Journal reported Sunday. , a grand jury in Washington state issued a subpoena seeking "documents, including correspondence, emails and other messages" from at least one person at the company tasked with developing the Max 8.
Approval of the potentially fatal safety software was reportedly the product of lax oversight and correspondence between the FAA and Boeing, a Seattle Times investigation Engineers who spoke with the newspaper anonymously said that Boeing reportedly "understated the power of the new flight control system," in a safety analysis delivered to the FAA in 2015. Additional unnamed safety experts at the FAA claim they were pressured by managers to hastily approve the plane, in an effort to stay competitive with European rival Airbus, which had just released its A320neo aircraft nine months prior.
The FAA maintains that all standardized safety procedures were followed during the Max 8's approval process.
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