April 12, 2024

Senator Tammy Duckworth calls for FAA review of Boeing’s failure to disclose 737 Max cockpit features to pilots

Senator Tammy Duckworth is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to take a closer look at how it responds to what it says is a pattern by Boeing of not disclosing the 737 Max’s cockpit features to pilots, according to a letter expected Thursday. are shipped. obtained exclusively by CBS News.

Duckworth, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, calls on FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker to investigate why Alaska Airlines pilots did not know the plane’s cockpit door was designed to open automatically during an rapid depressurization – which is exactly what happened on flight AS1282 when a door panel on a Boeing 737 Max 9 blown out mid-flight early January.

“Boeing’s inability to release this feature is chilling given its history of hiding 737 MAX information from pilots,” Duckworth wrote.

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters after a Jan. 17 Senate Commerce Committee hearing that the flight crew should have been notified of this article. “Nobody knew about it. So it was a complete surprise. And the flight crew needs to know,” she said, adding, “knowing that this could happen is critical to safety.”

NTSB is investigating Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 after part of the plane blew off during the flight
This National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handout shows an opening in the fuselage of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737-9 MAX on January 7, 2024 in Portland, Oregon. A door-sized section at the back of the Boeing 737-9 MAX plane exploded 10 minutes after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland, Oregon on January 5 en route to Ontario, California.


Following the January 5 door panel incident, Boeing updated the Flight Crew Operating Manual to include opening the cockpit door to equalize pressure between the cockpit and cabin in the event of a rapid depressurization of the passenger cabin.

We agree with Senator Duckworth. As a fellow pilot, she understands the importance of educating pilots on safety-critical designs and systems,” said 737 Capt. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilot Association, which represents American Airlines pilots. withholding information from pilots. The FAA must stop this bad behavior before disaster strikes again.”

But NTSB investigators say it wasn’t just the pilots of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 who were unaware of the design of the cockpit door that swung open during a depressurization. It caught the flight attendants by surprise and they responded to the cabin emergency.

“When the safety culture is broken down and the opportunity to shift profits to Wall Street becomes the mission, this is what you get. It’s not okay. It’s not sustainable,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing 50,000 people. flight attendants at 19 airlines, including Alaska Airlines, told CBS News. “And we as a nation cannot allow this great American corporation to be burned by shareholder capitalism. We stand with the workers who are now trying to take back the company they built.”

In her letter, Duckworth says the FAA should consider whether changes are needed to the 737’s cockpit in light of the door design and that the regulator may need to consider taking action against the company.

“This unknown, undisclosed feature caught the flight crew by surprise when the rapid depressurization caused the cockpit door to swing open, sucking an emergency checklist out of the cockpit and removing one of the pilots’ headsets,” Duckworth wrote. “As a pilot, I cannot convey strongly enough how important it is that the flight crew is fully aware of all features in the cockpit. Keeping pilots in the dark about the MAX’s features has become a habit at Boeing. The third time Boeing has failed to communicate a cockpit feature to 737 MAX pilots. This is dangerous and the FAA should not take this latest omission in isolation. Instead, the FAA should consider regulatory action based on Boeing’s prior pattern of deceptive conduct.”

Senate hearing examines aviation safety after reports of near collisions
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation Chairman Tammy Duckworth questions witnesses during a hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 9, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Duckworth points to Boeing’s decision not to include the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) in the flight manual for the 737 Max and its failure to inform pilots that the Angle of Attack (AOA) alarm on board most Max 8 aircraft was not functional. It was a design flaw in the MCAS system that led to the two fatal 737 Max 8 crashes that killed 346 people, and the AOA problem that was only revealed after the second Max 8 crash. The AOA sensor played a role in both accidents.

“While this was not a safety-critical feature, the manufacturer’s blatant disregard for type design requirements and lack of candor toward pilots is breathtaking,” Duckworth wrote. “Even more troubling is the FAA’s inability to consider any form of civil enforcement action. If Boeing faces no consequences from the FAA when it engages in egregiously inappropriate behavior like this, what incentive does the company have to change its behavior? “

Boeing said in a statement to CBS News late Wednesday that it was “committed to continued transparency and information sharing with our regulator and operators.”

In recent weeks, Duckworth has called on the FAA to do so Denying Boeing an important safety exemption for the 737 Max 7 and Max 10, allowing the planes to be certified for service despite an issue with the anti-icing system found on all Max engines. Boeing withdrew the request following her letter to the FAA and vowed not to seek certification of either aircraft until a solution has been developed. These delays have led major Boeing customer Southwest Airlines to cut its aircraft capacity for 2024 and United to halt pilot hiring and encourage some of its existing pilots to take unpaid leave as both airlines cut fewer aircraft. will receive than expected.

Katie Krupnik contributed reporting.

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