Concerned pilots confronted Boeing over safety issues with the 737 Max 8 jet after the Lion Air disaster – four months before the second deadly crash in Ethiopia, a new audio recording reveals.
In the weeks following the deadly crash 737 Max 8 jet in Indonesia back in October, American Airlines pilots called a meeting to press Boeing executives to urgently address a series of safety issues.
The call for action, which could have required the best-selling aircraft model to be temporarily grounded, was made during a November 27 meeting between the American Airlines pilots union and officials from the aircraft manufacturer.
Pilots voiced a particular concern about the jet’s MCAS anti-stall system during the conference, but Boeing executives resisted, insisting they didn’t want to rush out a fix and they believed pilots would be capable of handling any glitches in the system.
Boeing’s Vice President, Mike Sinnett, said the company was investigating potential design flaws with the aircraft – including the anti-stall software – but refused to take more any further action saying the circumstances surrounding the Lion Air Crash that killed 198 people were still unclear.
‘No one has yet to conclude that the sole cause of this was this function on the airplane,’ Sinnett can be heard saying in November, according to The New York Times.
‘The worst thing that can ever happen is a tragedy like this, and the even worse thing would be another one.’
Less than four months after, another 737 MAX 8 crashed in Ethiopia, leaving no survivors among the 157 people on board.
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Weeks after a Lion Air flight crashed in October, American Airline pilots urged Boeing to address safety concerns regarding the new MCAS anti-stall system (pictured: AA Boeing 737 Max 8 takes off from JFK, March 2011)
One pilot asked Boeing executives at the meeting to consider a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8 – which probably would have required the planes be grounded for some time – in the wake of the Lion Air disaster (Rescue workers lowered parts by the plane crash Lion Air JT 610 aircraft on Saturday 3 November 2018
An investigation into each of the crashes has since suggested that the contentious anti-stall system played a part in each of the crashes.
The 737 MAX 8 is currently grounded worldwide while further investigations into the aircraft’s development are carried out, and its design addressed.
Alongside Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration is also facing fierce scrutiny for its part in certifying the jet as well as waiting several days before grounding the MAX after the second crash.
In November’s meeting, held at the Fort Worth headquarters of the American Airlines pilots union, members expressed that they weren’t told enough about the MCAS system, a new feature of the 737 MAX 8.
‘These guys didn’t even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else,’ said Mike Michaelis, head of safety for the pilot’s union.
‘No one has yet to conclude that the sole cause of this was this function on the airplane,’ Sinnett can be heard saying in the November meeting
An investigation into each of the crashes has since suggested that the contentious anti-stall system had played a part in each of the crashes (pictured: Rescuers work at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302)
In the conference, Michaelis urged Boeing to push the FAA to enact an emergency airworthiness directive.
The FAA had previously issued a directive after the Lion Air flight crashed, in which they instructed airlines to amend their flight manuals to include information on how to respond to an MCAS malfunction.
But in a letter obtained by AFP, Michaelis said the instructions weren’t sufficient for pilots to know how to handle malfunctions with the anti-stall system.
The New York Times said Michaelis asked Boeing executives at the meeting to consider a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8 – which probably would have required the planes be grounded for some time.
‘I don’t know that understanding this system would’ve changed the outcome on this,’ Sinnett told the congregated pilots, insisting the Lion Air crash would be an isolated incident.
‘In a million miles, you’re going to maybe fly this airplane, maybe once you’re going to see this, ever. So we try not to overload the crews with information that’s unnecessary so they actually know the information we believe is important.’
Another 737 MAX 8 crashed in Ethiopia (above) in March, leaving no survivors among the 157 people on board. The aircraft was been grounded globally since
But tensions became heated, with one dissatisfied pilot saying: ‘We’re the last line of defense to being in that smoking hole. And we need the knowledge.’
Boeing assured the pilots it would make software changes, projecting a six week completion period, but said it didn’t want to rush anything.
‘We want to make sure we’re fixing the right things,’ an official said in CBS’ exclusively obtained recording.
‘That’s the important thing. To make sure we’re fixing the right things. We don’t want to rush and do a crappy job of fixing the right things, and we also don’t want to fix the wrong things.’
That fix was still in development when the second 737 Max crashed in March, leading to the worldwide grounding of the plane.
As the meeting drew to a close, spokesperson for the union, Dennis Tajer, asked the Boeing board if they were still confident in the aircraft.
‘Do you feel comfortable that the situation is under control today, before any software fix is implemented?’ Tajer asked.
Sinnett replied: ‘Absolutely.’
Airlines and governments worldwide ordered the 737 MAX 8 to stop flying in the days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Boeing has been working on a software fix for the flight system and hoping for quick approval from regulators, but it is unclear if the planes will be back in the air before the end of the critical summer travel season.
American Airlines told The News it has the ‘utmost confidence’ in its fleet.
‘We remain confident that the impending software updates, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing for the MAX, will lead to re-certification of the aircraft soon,’ the airline said in a statement. ‘Our team continues to work collaboratively with the FAA, Boeing and the Allied Pilots Association in this process.’