What to Know
- The December 2018 document was released during a House hearing on the 737 Max certification.
- FAA personnel predicted 15 more crashes over the course of the 737 Max assuming no software changes were made.
- The FAA and other regulators didn’t ground the jets until after as second crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration predicted more fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 Max after a Lion Air flight went down in October 2018, an internal document released Wednesday showed, but the agency allowed the planes to keep flying until a second Max crashed earlier this year.
The FAA and other air safety regulators around the world didn’t ground the planes until a second crash, which occurred in March in Ethiopia, killing the 157 people on the flight. The first crash, less than five months earlier was a Lion Air 737 Max that went down shortly after takeoff in October 2018, killing all 189 people on board.
The internal FAA review, dated Dec. 3, 2018, said 15 fatal crashes of the 737 Max were possible if there were no changes made to flight-control software that was implicated in both crashes, over the course of the plane’s lifetime, which would last decades.
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The FAA review was released during a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on the agency’s approval of the 737 Max.
After the Lion Air crash in October 2018, the FAA issued an emergency directive to airlines flying the 737 Max, ordering them to spell out procedures to counter conditions like those that occurred on the Lion Air flight.
Boeing said in a statement that the FAA found the measures the manufacturer and agency took after Lion Air “sufficed to allow continued operation of the MAX fleet until changes to the ... software could be implemented.” The company added that Boeing’s risk analysis matched the FAA’s conclusions about the aircraft’s risks.
The planes remain grounded after a flight ban was implemented in March and the FAA has repeatedly said it has no firm timeline to allow the jets to fly again. Boeing has developed a software fix for the jets that makes it less aggressive to give pilots greater control. It also plans to install more redundancies.
Pilots in both crashes battled the system, known as MCAS, which repeatedly pushed the nose of the planes down until their final, fatal dives. It was erroneously activated by faulty sensor data. Pilots complained after the first crash that they didn’t even know the MCAS system was on the plane.
“My highest priority is to make sure something like this never happens again,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who started a five-year term at the helm of the agency in August, said at the House hearing. Aircraft groundings “illustrate what we have done historically we cannot be satisfied with. We’ve got to continue to put process improvements in place.”
Dickson said the agency reserves the right to fine Boeing for failures related to the 737 Max but doesn’t have immediate plans to do so.
The hearing will also include testimony from a former Boeing manager who raised safety concerns about the 737 Max production line to Boeing executives and to federal regulators in several letters.
FAA officials said they are looking into those concerns and have interviewed several Boeing employees about the issues.
“We are looking into those problems,” Dickson told lawmakers.
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