Senate Report Says Boeing Officials ‘Inappropriately Coached’ 737 MAX Test Pilots, Reveals FAA Lapses

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Andrew Jose Contributor
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A congressional report released Friday alleged that Boeing officials “inappropriately coached” 737 MAX test pilots during recertification efforts and revealed several alleged failures in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) leadership and aviation safety oversight.

The report, released by Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, is the product of an investigation that began April 2019, following two Boeing 737 MAX crashes, the committee’s press release stated(RELATED: Boeing Knew About Warning Light Problem A Year Before Fatal Crash, But Kept Info To Itself)

The crashes were a Lion Air crash in October 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019 — all involving the aforementioned aircraft model.

According to the committee, several whistleblowers had disclosed numerous safety-related aviation concerns to committee staff before the investigation’s start.

The report mentioned a whistleblower who complained that Boeing officials, attempting to manipulate results, told an FAA Aircraft Certification Office (ACO) test pilot and an Aircraft Evaluation Group (AEG) pilot to “remember, get right on that pickle switch” before a test.

“Pickle switch” refers to “stabilizer trim control switches” that enable a pilot to counter the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) action quickly, the report explained. The MCAS is the software system blamed for the two 737 MAX crashes, according to The Verge.

During the tests, the report mentioned, the FAA test pilot responded in four seconds, the “assumed” reaction time, while the AEG pilot responded in about 16 seconds, four times longer than the “accepted assumption.” 

FAA and Boeing officials “had established a pre-determined outcome to reaffirm a long-held human factor assumption related to pilot reaction time,” the committee concluded. “Boeing officials inappropriately coached test pilots in the MCAS simulator testing contrary to testing protocol.”

“It appears, in this instance, FAA and Boeing were attempting to cover up important information that may have contributed to the 737 MAX tragedies,” the committee added.

In addition to this incident, the report revealed several other findings. Senior FAA managers allegedly were not held accountable for failing to deliver “adequate” flight standards training, according to the report. The FAA allegedly retaliates against whistleblowers instead of “welcoming their disclosures in the interest of safety.” Furthermore, the FAA allegedly allowed Southwest Airlines to operate several planes with “unknown airworthiness” for years, putting millions of travelers at risk, the report stated.

The rest of the findings are accessible in the full Committee report accessible here.

Boeing takes “seriously the committee’s findings and will continue to review the report in full,” the company said Friday, according to Reuters.

The FAA said it was “carefully reviewing the document, which the committee acknowledges contains a number of unsubstantiated allegations,” Reuters reported.