Sen. Tammy Duckworth calls for FAA review of Boeing’s failure to disclose 737 Max flight deck features to pilots

Sen. Tammy Duckworth is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to take a closer look at how it responds to what she says is a pattern by Boeing of not disclosing 737 Max cockpit features to pilots, according to a letter that will be sent Thursday and obtained exclusively by CBS News.

Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, is calling on FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker to investigate why pilots d Alaska Airlines was unaware that the plane’s cockpit door was designed to open automatically during a rapid depressurization – which is exactly the case. what happened on flight AS1282 when a door panel on a Boeing 737 Max 9 exploded in mid-flight early January.

“Boeing’s failure to disclose this feature is chilling given its history of withholding 737 MAX information from pilots,” Duckworth writes.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy told reporters following a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Jan. 17 that the flight crew should have been informed of the feature. “No one knew about it. So it was a complete surprise. And the flight crew needs to know that,” she said, adding that “knowing it could happen is the key to safety.” .

NTSB investigates Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 after section of plane explodes during flight
In this document from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an opening is visible in the fuselage of Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 MAX Flight 1282 on January 7, 2024 in Portland, Oregon. A door-sized section near the rear of the Boeing 737-9 MAX exploded 10 minutes after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 5, bound for the Ontario, California.


Following the January 5 incident with the door panel, Boeing updated the flight crew operating manual to include that the cockpit door opens in order to equalize pressure between the cockpit and cabin in the event of rapid depressurization of the passenger cabin.

We agree with Senator Duckworth. As a fellow pilot, she understands the importance of informing pilots about safety-critical designs and systems,” said 737 Capt. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilot Association, which represents American Airlines pilots.” This non-disclosure of the cockpit door design only adds to Boeing’s record of withholding information from pilots. The FAA must stop this bad behavior before tragedy strikes again. »

But NTSB investigators say it wasn’t just the pilots of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 who were unaware that the cockpit door was supposed to open during a depressurization. This caught the flight attendants off guard as they responded to the emergency in the cabin.

“When the security culture collapses and the opportunity to inject profits into Wall Street becomes the mission, this is what you get. It’s not right. It’s not sustainable,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing 50,000 people. Flight attendants from 19 airlines, including Alaska Airlines, told CBS News. “And we, as a nation, cannot allow this great American company to be burned down by shareholder capitalism. We stand with the workers who are now trying to take back the company they built.”

In his letter, Duckworth says the FAA must determine whether changes are needed to the 737 cockpit in light of the door design and that the regulator may need to consider taking action against the company.

“This unknown and undisclosed feature caused the flight crew to be surprised when the rapid depressurization event caused the cockpit door to open abruptly, vacuuming an emergency checklist from the cockpit and removing the ‘one of the pilots’ helmets,’ writes Duckworth. “As a pilot, I cannot express clearly enough how critical it is that the flight crew be fully informed of all cockpit features. Keeping pilots in the dark about the MAX’s features has become a habit at Boeing. This is the third time that Boeing has failed to disclose a cockpit feature to 737 MAX pilots. This is dangerous, and the FAA should not view this latest omission in isolation. Instead, the FAA should consider regulatory action informed by Boeing’s past deceptive behavior. “

Senate hearing examines aviation safety after reports of near-misses
Tammy Duckworth, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, questions witnesses during a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 9, 2023 in Washington, DC

Puce Somodevilla/Getty Images

Duckworth points to Boeing’s decision not to include the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, in the 737 Max flight manual and its failure to inform pilots that the angle of attack mismatch alert (AOA) on board most Max 8 airliners was not functional. It was a design flaw in the MCAS system that led to the two fatal accidents of the 737 Max 8 which left 346 deadand the AOA problem which was only disclosed after the second Max 8 crash. The AOA sensor was a factor in both crashes.

“While not a safety-critical feature, the manufacturer’s blatant disregard for type design requirements and lack of candor with pilots is breathtaking,” Duckworth writes. “Even more concerning is the FAA’s failure to consider any civil action. If Boeing faces no consequences from the FAA when it engages in shockingly inappropriate conduct like this, what incentive does the company have Does she need to change her behavior?”

Boeing said in a statement to CBS News on Wednesday that it was “committed to continuing to be transparent and share information with our regulator and operators.”

In recent weeks, Duckworth has asked the FAA to deny Boeing a key safety waiver for the 737 Max 7 and Max 10 which would have allowed the planes to be certified for use despite a problem with the anti-icing system found on all Max engines. Boeing withdrew the request following its letter to the FAA and committed not to seek certification of any of the airliners until a the fix has been developed. These delays have led Key Boeing customer Southwest Airlines to reduce its aircraft capacity for 2024 and United to suspend pilot recruiting and encourage some of its existing pilots to take unpaid leave as both carriers will receive less more planes than expected.

Katie Krupnik contributed reporting.


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