According to Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the December 2018 FAA report - a little more than a month after the deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people - revealed that the aircraft would most likely be involved in 15.4 deadly accidents during its 45-year lifespan if no design changes were made. Despite the report’s harrowing findings, the FAA still allowed the plane to fly.
Three months later on March 10, 2019, a second Boeing 737 Max 8, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people onboard.
“I think that the system had just failed to capture how serious these decisions could be and how irrevocable those consequences are with the death of all of these innocent folks. So, I don’t know the processing behind that thinking, but surely it [has caused] a level of outrage when we see every month or so, sometimes every week … a new disclosure of a previously undisclosed items,” Tajer, an American Airlines pilot, told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker on Thursday.
American Airlines announced earlier on Thursday its fleet of Boeing 737 Max jets would remain grounded until April 7, 2020.
“Things like this, along with the chairman of Boeing [Dave Calhoun] recently in an interview earlier this month saying that shortly after the Lion aircraft [crashed], they realized that they had made a deadly assumption about how pilots would react to a misfire,” are concerning, he added. “The rearview mirror is not what we drive with, but we certainly use it as we move forward. We had a meeting with Boeing in November. They didn’t come to us and say, ‘Hey, we made a deadly assumption about this, listen closely.’ They came to us and, in many cases, downplayed” the issues.
“We like what we’re seeing now from the FAA, but we cannot ignore: how did we get here? Because it's the same system in place that is now being charged to recertify this aircraft and review pilot training. So, we’re going to stand independent as an advocate for our passengers. And sometimes it may make other stakeholders uncomfortable when we demand and call out to see the documents, but we’re going to be persistent in that, because ultimately we are the ones that are the final line of defense for our passengers - and by the way, we’re on the airplane too,” Tajer added.
The plane’s new flight control system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), was found to be the cause behind the accidents. The MCAS, designed to be a safety feature, is supposed to evaluate sensor data and push the plane’s nose down to keep it from stalling in the event that the nose of the plane is too high.
In a November 5 interview with CNBC, Calhoun referred to Boeing’s prediction of how a pilot would react to an MCAS issue as a “deadly assumption.”
“Fairly early on, that assumption, that deadly assumption around what a pilot would do in that circumstance when that boundary condition was tested … started to come to light,” Calhoun is quoted as saying.
“In the initial development of the aircraft, they had information about the MCAS for the pilots in a company training, and they did pull it out of the manuals,” Tajer said of Boeing. “The first layer, where they talk about ‘they made a deadly assumption,’ the assumption they’re talking about is how the pilot would react, the startle effect, and that they assumed it was four to 10 seconds for pilot reaction and resolution of the problem.”
“They didn’t take into account all the distractions that would go with this. They pulled out of the manual the information. And the second layer is, when you determine you had made some deadly assumptions, when were you going to disclose that to us?” Tajer noted.
According to a report by the Seattle Times, since the MCAS was only supposed to be activated in what Boeing thought would be very uncommon circumstances “outside the normal flight envelope,” Boeing assumed that pilots would not need to be trained on how to operate the system, removing information on the MCAS from its flight manuals.