Boeing under mounting pressure amid widening 737 Max probe

Boeing, US aviation regulator called to testify in US senate on jet certification and crashes

FILE PHOTO: An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight from Los Angeles approaches for landing at Reagan National Airport shortly after an announcement was made by the FAA that the planes were being grounded by the United States in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2019.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
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Pressure on Boeing intensified on Wednesday as US lawmakers called on executives to testify about two deadly crashes of its 737 Max amid unprecedented scrutiny of the jet's certification process.

A US senate committee is planning a hearing on March 27 about aviation safety and will also schedule a hearing with Boeing and other manufacturers.

The Senate Commerce subcommittee on aviation and space, will also question the US Federal Aviation Administration officials in parallel to Boeing executives and other manufacturers. Officials will likely be asked why the regulator agreed to certify the Max jets in March 2017 without requiring extensive additional training. The hearing by the committee will include FAA's acting administrator Dan Elwell, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumalt and Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel.

Widening the probe into the jet, the FBI has joined the criminal investigation into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX, lending its considerable resources to an inquiry already being conducted by US Department of Transportation agents, according to the Seattle Times which published an investigative report this week that the FAA had delegated most safety guarantees of the jet to Boeing.

Criminal prosecutors at the US Justice Department, who are also investigating the FAA’s oversight of Boeing, are reported to have issued multiple subpoenas to Boeing in an effort to find out more about how the Max was certified and marketed.

Criminal investigations into the US aviation industry, including federal oversight of airplane manufacturing and airline operations, are rare — mainly because of the belief that a civil-enforcement system better promotes candid reporting of concerns without fear of criminal repercussions.

An Ethiopian Airlines crash nearly two weeks ago shook the global aviation industry and cast a shadow over Boeing 737 Max, that was intended to be a standard for coming decades, given parallels with the Lion Air disaster off Jakarta in October. The two crashes killed 346 people in all and investigators have drawn striking similarities between the two incidents.

Weeks after the brand-new Lion Air 737 Max crashed five months ago, US officials, according to Bloomberg began probing the FAA's approval of a software system linked to the accident and why Boeing didn’t flag the feature in pilot manuals.

The inquiry into the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, has taken on new urgency since the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 fell from the sky in a similar manner to the Lion Air plane minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa on March 10.

A probe into the reasons for the Ethiopian Air crash is turning to the  jet’s black-box data as an international investigation team gathers in Ethiopia.

After downloading the March 10 flight’s data and cockpit audio, France’s civil aviation safety authority is sending three investigators to help the Ethiopian probe. All analysis will be carried out by Ethiopians at their investigating bureau, a spokesman for France’s Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) said late Wednesday.

While Ethiopia is leading the investigation, other agencies including the BEA, the FAA, the US National Transportation Safety Board, as well as Boeing, have been invited to take part, the BEA spokesman said.

Boeing has said it will soon release a software update and pilot training for the 737 Max that will address concerns stemming from the Lion Air accident.

More than 350 MAX aircraft are grounded while deliveries of nearly 5,000 more - worth more than $500 billion at list prices - are on hold.

Development of the 737 MAX began in 2011 after European rival Airbus launched the competing A320neo narrowbody jet series. The MAX cluster of jets entered service in 2017 with customers including Texas-based Southwest Air and UAE-based carrier Flydubai.