FAA predicted more fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes before second crash, document shows

Stephen Dickson, administrator of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) nominee, speaks during a Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation confirmation hearing in Washington D.C., May 15, 2019.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration predicted more than a dozen fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 Max after the first of two deadly crashes of the plane, an FAA document released during a House hearing on Wednesday showed.

The FAA and other air safety regulators around the world didn’t ground the planes until a second crash, which occurred in March in Ethiopia, killing the 157 people on the flight. The first crash, less than five months earlier was a Lion Air 737 Max that went down shortly after takeoff in October 2018, killing all 189 people on board.

The internal FAA review, dated Dec. 3, 2018, said 15 fatal crashes of the 737 Max were possible if there were no changes made to flight-control software that was implicated in both crashes, over the course of the plane’s lifetime, which would last decades.

The FAA review was released during a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on the agency’s approval of the 737 Max.

The planes remain grounded after a flight ban was implemented in March and the FAA has repeatedly said it has no firm timeline to allow the jets to fly again. Boeing has developed a software fix for the jets that makes it less aggressive and installs more redundancies.

Pilots in both crashes battled the system, known as MCAS, which repeatedly pushed the nose of the planes down until their final, fatal dives. It was erroneously activated by faulty sensor data.

“My highest priority is to make sure something like this never happens again,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who started a five-year term at the helm of the agency in August, said at the House hearing. Aircraft groundings “illustrate what we have done historically we cannot be satisfied with. We’ve got to continue to put process improvements in place.”

The hearing will also include testimony from a former Boeing manager who raised safety concerns about the 737 Max production line to Boeing executives and to federal regulators.

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