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Two fatal air crashes in Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 model in less than six months have aroused a lot of questions on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) safety analysis procedure. Per CNBC, the State’s Department of Transportation started their investigation after a new Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea in October last year killing 189 passengers. A similar air crash was reported this month on March 10 when a second Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 157 people on board.

Post these incidents, authorities around the world — including the U.S., Europe, China, and Indonesia have grounded Boeing 737 Max planes.

Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges told the Wall Street Journal, “Clear similarities were noted between Ethiopian Air Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which will be the subject of further study during the investigation.”

The FAA is responsible for certifying an aircraft as airworthy by putting out bulletins and advisories on problems and fixes. It is often considered as the go-to agency for many aviation flight authorities around the world.

Boeing’s flight safety control system, MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) was  “added to the Max-8 series because new, heavier and larger engines replaced the old engines and as a result, the updated Max planes had a strong tendency to pitch nose up”, the Asia Time reported. “The new engine, CFM Leap-1B, was selected by Boeing because it was much more fuel efficient than the older models, one of the big reasons customers want the 737 Max.”

The DOT investigation suspected that the flight safety system played a role in the fatal crash in Indonesia. The WSJ reported in November last year, that Boeing failed to warn the airline industry about a potentially dangerous feature in its new flight-control system.

According to the Asia Times, “Almost every expert today puts the blame for both flight disasters on faulty software that took over running the plane’s flight control system. Many have pointed to Boeing’s alleged lack of transparency in telling pilots what to do if the software malfunctioned. In addition, there had been at least eight pilot-reported flight control incidents prior to the first Lion Air crash.”

Trevor Sumner, a software engineer and the CEO of PERCH Interactive tweeted saying that the 737 MAX tragedies were not a software problem. Instead, it was an economic problem as the “737 engines used too much fuel, so they decided to install more efficient engines with bigger fans and make the 737MAX.”

In spite of the system complied with all the applicable FAA regulations, “the black box data retrieved after the Lion Air crash indicates that a single faulty sensor — a vane on the outside of the fuselage that measures the plane’s “angle of attack,” the angle between the airflow and the wing — triggered MCAS multiple times during the deadly flight, initiating a tug of war as the system repeatedly pushed the nose of the plane down and the pilots wrestled with the controls to pull it back up, before the final crash”, the Seattle Times reported.

According to the Seattle Times, “Since MCAS was supposed to activate only in extreme circumstances far outside the normal flight envelope, Boeing decided that 737 pilots needed no extra training on the system — and indeed that they didn’t even need to know about it. It was not mentioned in their flight manuals. That stance allowed the new jet to earn a common “type rating” with existing 737 models, allowing airlines to minimize training of pilots moving to the MAX.”

According to a detailed FAA briefing to legislators, Boeing plans to change the MCAS software to give the system input from both angle-of-attack sensors. Boeing also plans to update pilot training requirements and flight crew manuals to include MCAS.

After two fatal crashes in less than six months involving the same plane model, authorities around the world — including the U.S., Europe, China, and Indonesia — grounded Boeing 737 Max planes.

To know more about this news in detail, read more at The Seattle Times.

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