Editor’s Comment: MCAS solution moves forward, then back, then – where?

LARA editor Glenn Sands provides a summary of the latest happenings across the low-fare airline and regional aviation industry.


During a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on 15 May, acting head of the US FAA, Daniel Elwell, testified about the manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) in the Boeing 737 MAX. Elwell described the MCAS as a ‘safety critical’ item that the company should have included in the model’s pilot training manuals.

“As a pilot… as somebody who has devoted my entire life to flying and safety, I, at the beginning, when I first heard of this, thought that the MCAS should have been more adequately explained in the operations manual… Absolutely,” he said when questioned further on the issue by Democratic politician Greg Stanton.

Less than 24 hours after this ‘grilling on the hill’, Boeing’s PR department released a statement that it had completed development of the updated software for the 737 MAX, along with associated simulator testing and an engineering test flight. The manufacturer said it had flown the 737 MAX with an updated MCAS software for more than 360 hours on 207 flights.

“With safety as our clear priority, we have completed all of the engineering test flights for the software update and are preparing for the final certification flight,” said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

Elwell and the FAA executive director for aircraft certification, Earl Lawrence, endured heavy criticism about why Boeing failed to inform the agency of a software problem connected to the MAX’s angle of attack disagree alert. There was a 13-month delay between Boeing engineers discovering the function wouldn’t work unless the aircraft came with an optional AOA indicator and informing the agency of this issue.

Both men downplayed the disagree alert’s significance, referring to it more as a maintenance reporting problem, rather than a safety imperative issue. But after two fatal crashes, what does constitute a safety issue for the FAA? I hope this does not become a blame game between Boeing, the FAA and Capitol Hill.

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