Families of MAX crash victims call for plane to be “fully recertified”

Pressure is growing on the FAA and Boeing to recertify the entire 737 MAX design rather than just its troubled automation software, and to require pilots to spend time in flight simulators with that software running.

“The families demand that the 737 Max 8 be fully recertified as a new plane because it is too different from the original certified plane,” Canadian Paul Njoroge told the House subcommittee on aviation in a hearing today.

Njoroge’s 6-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter, 9-month-old daughter, wife and mother-in-law died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the second of two accidents involving the MAX.

So far, Boeing has been working with FAA to recertify just the MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, software.

The investigative reports from the accidents that killed a combined 346 people have not been released, but investigators have said that in each case, the crews could not control the planes after MCAS activated itself due to faulty readings from angle-of-attack sensors, metal vanes on either side of the fuselage that measure the angle between the aircraft and oncoming air flow. If the readings had been accurate, the planes would have been in danger of stalling, so MCAS forced the nose of the aircraft down.

Recertifying the MAX as a new model would trigger a more extensive review process that includes examining the MAX’s entire design and conducting additional ground and flight tests. The MAX’s original certification in 2017 took about five years.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., the top Republican on the panel, stopped short of embracing the calls to treat the MAX like a new aircraft, but said “every single step in this process will be thoroughly examined” and that “the process that was used to certify this aircraft will not in any way be used to unground this aircraft.”

For now, hundreds of MAX jets around the world remain grounded. In the U.S., airlines have removed the aircraft from their schedules through early November.

Njoroge also joined a chorus of U.S. lawmakers, family members and independent analysts who have criticized the latitude that FAA provided to Boeing in the certification process for the MAX.

“The FAA should have known that the failure to have triple redundancy in critical safety systems could cause crashes and death. They recklessly left Boeing to police itself,” Njoroge said.

Boeing and the FAA did not testify at the hearing, but CEO Dennis Muilenburg has underscored the company’s commitment to safety. FAA says it does not allow companies to police themselves.

The FAA, through its Organization Delegation Authorization program, does permit employees at Boeing and other companies to sign off on the design of certain parts. The FAA says ODA streamlines the certification process, but that ODA does not amount to self-certification of aircraft.

On the topic of pilot training, Njoroge said the families of the MAX crash victims “demand” simulator training with MCAS, something pilot groups in the U.S. and abroad have also requested.

The crash families are not alone in calling for this. “We should all want pilots to experience these challenging situations for the first time in a simulator, not in flight with passengers and crew on board,” Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a damaged jet in the Hudson River in 2009, told a congressional panel last month, according to video of the hearing.

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Aircraft Safety
Several parked commercial airplanes from different airlines, including Turkish Airlines, Icelandair, and American Airlines, lined up at an airport with a backdrop of trees and a residential area.
Undelivered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in a lot in Seattle. Credit: SounderBruce/Wikimedia Commons

Families of MAX crash victims call for plane to be “fully recertified”