Boeing held off for months on disclosing cockpit alert change

Boeing admits it knew of flaw in 737 MAX planes before fatal crash

In a statement Sunday, the company said its engineers became aware of a problem with the model's cockpit alert system roughly a year after beginning deliveries of the aircraft.

According to Boeing, a supposedly standard piece of equipment that tells pilot about disagreements between angle of attack (AOA) indicators - which measure the plane's angle vis-a-vis the oncoming air to warn of impending stalls - did not in fact activate unless an additional optional indicator was purchased by airlines.

In its statement on Sunday, Boeing said that because in-house experts decided that the non-working light did not affect safety, the company chose to fix the problem by disconnecting the alert from the optional indicators at the next planned update of cockpit display software.

In March, another 737 Max jet, this one belonging to Ethiopian Airlines crashed, killing 157 people.

Boeing's board of directors is increasingly under scrutiny as more details come to light about what went wrong aboard two doomed 737 Max planes.

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The software delivered to Boeing linked the signal with a second cockpit gauge - available for a fee - that displayed the readings from the two vanes. The review also concluded that the indicator could be decoupled from the optional indicator at the time of a future software update.

In a statement issued over the weekend, the American airliner manufacturer admitted that its software was not properly displaying fleet-standard warning captions to pilots.

Boeing Co did not tell United States regulators for more than a year that it inadvertently made an alarm alerting pilots to a mismatch of flight data optional on the 737 Max, instead of standard as on earlier 737s, but insisted on Sunday (May 5) that the missing display represented no safety risk.

"Investigators of the Lion Air plane crash. say a faulty sensor fed the system erroneous data, and the system forced the nose of the plane down repeatedly".

"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.

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Pilots in the ill fated Ethiopian plane also reported difficulty in controlling the aircraft just like those who were at the helm of Lion Air. They criticized Boeing's original software design that chose to rely on data from a single AOA sensor, noting that a scenario in which a breakdown of the single sensor due to defects was not considered. "Boeing shared this conclusion and the supporting SRB analysis with the FAA", the company said in the statement.

Boeing said it also told the FAA that company engineers had identified the issue in 2017, along with the findings from their internal review process. Through Friday, Boeing had dropped 11% since the Ethiopia crash. After media leaks pointed to Boeing's dodgy behaviour after the Lion Air disaster last October, new reports have suggested that the aviation giant was not forthcoming about its new plane's faulty alert system with airlines.

Before the Max returns to service, Boeing plans to issue a software update that will allow the AOA disagree light to operate as a standalone feature.

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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