Boeing Didn’t Tell Airlines That Safety Alert Wasn’t On

Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett walks through the exhibit hall as shareholders gather to hear from the billionaire investor at Berkshire Hathaway Inc's annual shareholder meeting in Omaha

A new statement from Boeing has indicated that the aerospace manufacturer knew about a problem with the 737 MAX aircraft well before the deadly October 2018 Lion Air crash in Indonesia killing 189 people, but decided not to do anything about it.

Boeing said it is issuing a display system software update "to implement the AOA Disagree alert as a standard, standalone feature before the MAX returns to service".

Marking a departure from that stand, a new statement said the company had spotted the problem but made a decision to act on it under a longer timeline.

Boeing revealed Sunday that the company knew about the issues with its 737 Max airplanes for months before the two deadly crashes that killed almost 350 people. It was created to warn pilots about the kind of sensor malfunction that occurred in the crash in Indonesia and another five months later in Ethiopia.

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Senior company management is said to have become aware of the problem after the Lion Air plane crashed. Investigations into the Lion Air and more recent Ethiopian Airlines crashes unearthed the role of Boeing's planes in the fatal incidents, which were initially thought to be unrelated.

Boeing made the discovery "in 2017, within several months after beginning 737 MAX deliveries" in May 2017, the company said Sunday according to The Seattle Times.

The software linked the AOA disagree alert to a separate indicator, which was not standard and had to be purchased as an add-on feature, Boeing wrote. Boeing said the problem stemmed from software delivered to the company. Had pilots been alerted to the change in pitch by a functioning AOA alarm, the accidents may have been averted.

"However, Boeing's timely or earlier communication with (airlines) would have helped to reduce or eliminate possible confusion", the spokesman said in an emailed statement. But former Boeing engineers and aviation analysts interviewed by CNN criticized Boeing's original software design for relying on data from a single AOA sensor, claiming that those devices are vulnerable to defects.

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Boeing Co said on Sunday that a Safety Review Board convened in late 2018 corroborated its prior conclusion that an angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor on the 737 MAX, which has suffered two fatal crashes, was not necessary for the safe operation of commercial aircraft. Boeing also broke the news of the glitch to Max operators such as Southwest Airlines in the aftermath of the initial crash. That review, which involved multiple company subject matter experts, determined that the absence of the AOA Disagree alert did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation.

Tajer said the American pilots were told in the meeting that on the flight deck of their 737 MAXs, the AOA disagree light would have lit up on the ground and so, because that's a "no-go item", the plane wouldn't even have taken off.

It, however, ruled that absence of AOA indicator didn't pose any safety threats and it was an option system update. The panel determined the issue to be "low risk", and said Boeing would have to fix it as part of an overall package of enhancements to the Max in response to the Lion Air accident.

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