Boeing withheld key information on 737 MAX flight controls

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Lion Air MAX 8
Lion Air MAX 8

Boeing withheld key information on 737 MAX flight controls

Boeing is coming under fire from pilot unions and FAA officials over its decision to not include information about potential hazards associated with a new flight-control feature that some officials believe may have played a key role in the October Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

The automated stall-prevention system on Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 models, which is supposed to help pilots avoid stalls, may, under unusual conditions, actually push the nose down so hard and so strongly that pilots cannot pull it back up. Boeing told airlines in a world-wide safety bulletin roughly a week after the accident that such a situation can result in a steep dive or crash even if pilots are manually flying the jetliner and don’t expect flight-control computers to kick in, according to reports by the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and other media outlets.

Safety experts said that neither airline managers nor pilots had been told such a system had been added to the latest 737 variant and pilots therefore were not prepared to deal with the situation.

“It’s pretty asinine for them to put a system on an airplane and not tell the pilots who are operating the airplane, especially when it deals with flight controls,” said Capt. Mike Michaelis, chairman of the safety committee for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents about 15,000 American Airlines pilots. “Why weren’t they trained on it?”

One Federal Aviation Administration manager familiar with the details said the new flight-control systems weren’t highlighted in any training materials or during lengthy discussions between carriers and regulators about phasing in the latest 737 derivatives.

Boeing declined to immediately answer specific questions Monday. “We are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this incident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved,” the company said in a statement. “We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX.”

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