Legal News - April 2019

Reaction of U.S. Department of Transportation towards Ethiopian Airlines crash

(cited from Law360 dated March 25, 2019)

Shocked by the March 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that killed 157 people and 29 October's Lion Air Flight 610 crash in the Java Sea that killed 189 people, a Special Committee of U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was launched to review the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Aircraft Certificate Process under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, particularly conducting an intense scrutiny to the accidents caused by Boeing737 MAX. According to DOT, the Special Committee therefore is expected to be led by interim co-chairs retired Air Force General Darren McDew, the former head of the U.S. Transportation Command, and Captain Lee Moak, former president of the Air Line Pilots Association, and includes individuals which no more than 20 members for representing aircraft and engine manufacturers, labor unions — including those that represent FAA aviation safety inspectors and aviation safety engineers — airport owners and operators, and others.

Boeing 737 MAX is now reportedly facing a pair of rare simultaneous investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice’s separate criminal probe, and by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General which has initiated an audit of FAA's certification of the aircraft. The MAX 8's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, an automated anti-stalling system, is likely the main point on the investigations due to its widely citation as a potential major factor in both crashes.

Meanwhile, Boeing will be presented before a second yet-to-be scheduled hearing of the Senate aviation subcommittee.

Federal Aviation Administration under testimony of Senate Panel

(cited from Law360 dated March 27, 2019)

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator, Daniel Elwell, strongly defend that “Our certification processes are extensive, well-established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs” despite several hearings from Senate's Subcommittee on Aviation and Space on the FAA's approval of the Boeing Co.'s newest and most popular jet, the MAX 8 after the aviation disasters of March 10 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and last 29 October’s Lion Air Flight 610.

Senators zeroed in on the FAA's Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program, which outsources certain segments of the agency's certification process. The FAA usually designates a qualified person — typically an employee of the manufacturer who is an engineer or quality assurance agent, and not an FAA staffer — to conduct safety inspections and issue certificates on the FAA's behalf. The individuals are sometimes called designated engineering representatives.

However, Elwell said that the FAA, without such a program, would need roughly 10,000 additional employees and about $1.8 billion more to fund its office overseeing aircraft certifications to handle all the work that's currently delegated out.

Disagreed with that, Senator Richard Blumenthal explicitly expressed that the fact is the FAA decided to do safety on the cheap ... and put the fox in charge of the henhouse and really in its rush to produce that aircraft because of competition from Airbus, and consequently, critical safety features were disregarded.

Although the MCAS, the MAX 8's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which is widely considered as the potential major factor of the crashes upon accident investigators’ reports that faulty readings from the planes’ angle of attack, or AOA, sensors might have inadvertently activated the MCAS to force the plane's nose down — going against the pilot's actual actions, Elwell repeatedly described MCAS as "a supplement to the speed trim system" in the MAX jet and the FAA had determined that the MCAS feature did not require pilots to go through additional training for.

The DOT inspector general, Calvin Scovel, told the Senate panel that the FAA plans to introduce a new process by this July that represents a significant change in its oversight of the ODA program. He also outlined what the audit will focus on. "We want to look at the key decisions made by FAA when certifying the airplane and the timeline," he said. "We want to determine when MCAS was added to the aircraft and why FAA approved it or the extent of FAA's involvement in Boeing's decision to approve it, how FAA reached the decision that pilots did not need additional training or that details about the new system did not need to be included in the airplane's manual."

Boeing first suit in Illinois federal court over Ethiopian Airlines crash 

(cited from Law360 dated March 28, 2019)

The family of victim- Rwandan citizen- Jackson Musoni has filed the first suit in Illinois federal court over the March 10 aviation disaster that killed 157 people, saying that the flight stabilization system in the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is defectively designed and leaves pilots unable to regain control when the automatic flight control system pushes the plane into a dive.

Criticism was reportedly raised on how the 737 might obtain a supplemental or amended type certificate when there were substantial changes to the air frame and the engines and the aerodynamic operation of the aircraft and, in addition, even the fact that the agency's Organization Designation Authorization program outsources certain parts of the certification process.

According to the suit, the MAX 8's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, an automated feature that's part of the plane's anti-stall system, was added after Boeing redesigned the 737’s platform for the MAX. More importantly, Boeing didn’t tell pilots about the system or that it might cause the plane to pitch down or force it into a cycle of dives, and the company also didn't tell pilots how to handle the plane when the MCAS forces repeated dives despite some pilots’ complaints about their planes safety concerns filed in a federal database. One example is said “unconscionable that Boeing and the FAA allowed pilots to fly the planes without adequate training or fully disclosing how the systems differed from previous 737 models."

The case is Debets v. Boeing Co., case number 1:19-cv-02170 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.