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House Investigation Faults Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration for MAX 8 Crashes

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  • The Democratic majority on the House Transportation Committee released the results of their 18-month investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes.
  • It has been described as the most comprehensive report yet that looks the roles Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) played.
  • Among other information, the inquiry found that Boeing prioritized profit over public safety and that the FAA provided “grossly insufficient oversight.” 
  • The report comes as the FAA is expected to recertify the MAX 8 to fly within just a few months.

House Committee Report

A sweeping Congressional investigation released Wednesday directly blamed Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for two 737 MAX 8 planes that crashed within five months of each other, killing 346.

The inquiry, which was released by the Democratic majority on the House Transportation Committee, has been described as the most comprehensive report yet regarding the role both Boeing and the FAA played in certifying the plane that caused two fatal crashes.

In October 2018, a MAX 8 operated by Lion Air crashed off the coast of Indonesia resulting in the death of 189 people. Then, in March 2019, another MAX 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed outside of Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board.

Drawing from interviews with two dozen Boeing and FAA employees and around 600,000 pages of records, the findings of the committee’s 18-month investigation paint a grim picture of the numerous issues with the development and certification of the MAX 8, and specifically, the software system faulted with bringing both planes down.

The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was designed to automatically correct the level the plane was flying at to prevent it from stalling and falling out of the sky. However, investigations found that on both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights, MCAS had pushed the planes’ noses down at a dangerous angle.

When the pilots tried to stabilize, the system kept pushing them down again and again until they eventually went into uncontrollable nose-dives and crashed. Further complicating matters was the fact that after the first crash, numerous pilots came forward and said they were never told about MCAS, were not trained on it, and that it had been left out of their flight manuals.

Five Key Themes

In their report, the Democrats explicitly state that the crashes were “the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA.”

To illustrate their findings, the committee outlined five overarching themes that they say ultimately lead to such fundamental problems with the MAX 8’s design, construction, and certification.

The first theme is “Production Pressure.” Here the inquiry notes that there was significant financial pressure on Boeing to quickly build and certify the MAX 8 because the model was designed to compete with a new line of planes being developed by their biggest rival, Airbus.

This, the committee says, led Boeing to prioritize cost-cutting, production goals, and maintaining their schedule to meet certification deadlines over public safety.

The second theme the report outlines is “Faulty Design and Performance Assumptions.” Specifically, it says that Boeing made “fundamentally faulty assumptions about critical technologies on the 737 MAX, most notably with MCAS.”

The committee then goes on to list a handful of examples, like the fact that MCAS relied on only one sensor, so if that censor failed — as it did during both the crashes — it could cause MCAS to engage when it should not. It also says Boeing expected that pilots would be able to deal with that malfunction even though they did not know the system even existed. 

Notably, the report claims that Boeing “failed to classify MCAS as a safety-critical system, which would have attracted greater FAA scrutiny during the certification process,” and that “the operation of MCAS also violated Boeing’s own internal design guidelines” regarding interactions with piloting and interfering in dive recovery.

The overarching problem the inquiry flagged was “Culture of Concealment.” 

“In several critical instances, Boeing withheld crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and 737 MAX pilots,” it stated before going to provide examples.

In addition to the fact that Boeing did not tell pilots about MCAS, the company also failed to disclose that a crucial safety feature was “inoperable on the vast majority of the 737 MAX fleet, despite having been certified as a standard aircraft feature.”

The safety feature in question informed pilots if the sensors that activated MCAS were feeding the system incorrect data, which is what happened in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights.

The investigation also found that Boeing concealed a flight simulation where it took a test pilot more than 10 seconds to respond to an unwanted MCAS activation — “a condition the pilot found to be ‘catastrophic’” — given the fact that federal guidelines assumed pilots would respond to massive system problems of that nature within four seconds.

While the report does note that Boeing was not legally required to disclose these things to the FAA or its customers, it still argued that it was “inconceivable and inexcusable that Boeing withheld this information from them.”

Under the fourth theme, “Conflicted Representation,” the committee reported that “the FAA’s current oversight structure with respect to Boeing creates inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public.”

It goes on to note several documented instances where Authorized Representatives, which are Boeing employees who were given the ability to act on behalf of the FAA and certify that some of the plane’s designs meet the agency’s requirements, “failed to disclose important information to the FAA that could have enhanced the safety of the 737 MAX aircraft.”

The inquiry also states that some of the concerns raised internally by those representatives that were not relayed to the FAA, not investigated, or dismissed by Boeing employees involved the same issues with MCAS that caused both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.

The final theme the committee put forward in their report was “Boeing’s Influence Over the FAA’s Oversight Structure.” 

There, the investigation found multiple instances documented by FAA officials where “FAA technical and safety experts determined that certain Boeing design approaches on its transport category aircraft were potentially unsafe and failed to comply with FAA regulations, only to have FAA management overrule them and side with Boeing instead.”

Broader Issues

The last theme is extremely important in understanding both how Boeing got into this debacle and how the industry can move forward.

For years, the FAA — at the direction of Congress — has been giving more and more regulatory oversight powers to plane manufacturers like Boeing. That has been a win-win for both the FAA and Boeing.

The FAA is a government agency with very limited resources, so giving Boeing more authority over day-to-day safety assessments lets them focus their energy on the bigger picture safety aspects of the certification process.

For Boeing, which has lobbied Congress in favor of these practices, it cuts back a ton of red tape so they can speed up the certification of their planes and compete with foreign rivals like Airbus.

Both the FAA and plane manufacturers have said they are using this cooperation to make planes safer, but watchdog groups and unions have repeatedly expressed concerns that letting manufacturers self-regulate too much could compromise safety and allow plane manufacturers to act in their own self-interest.

Those concerns grew during the aftermath of the MAX 8 crashes and the mounting evidence from investigations and hearings. While the House committee’s report does not provide many new pieces of bombshell information, many believe it is the necessary first step in crafting legislation to better regulate the aerospace industry.

In a statement with the release of the inquiry’s findings, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Or.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said it was “mind-boggling” that “both FAA and Boeing came to the conclusion that the certification of the Max was compliant.”

“The problem is it was compliant and not safe. And people died,” he said, adding that it is “clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired.”

“This is a tragedy that never should have happened. It could have been prevented and we’re going to take steps in our legislation to see that it never happens again as we reform the system.”

While the Senate Commerce Committee is set to consider a bill this week to strengthen the airplane certification process, House Republicans on the Transportation Committee did not endorse the investigative report. 

In a statement regarding the Democrat’s report, the committee’s ranking member Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) criticized Democrats for an investigation that “began by concluding that our system was broken and worked backwards from there.”

“If aviation and safety experts determine that areas in the FAA’s processes for certifying aircraft and equipment can be improved, then Congress will act,” he added.

But Congress may be running out of time.

“The report was issued as the F.A.A. appeared close to lifting its grounding order for the Max after test flights this summer. F.A.A. clearance could lead aviation authorities elsewhere to follow suit and allow the plane to fly again as soon as this winter,” The New York Times noted in its coverage of the committee’s report on Wednesday

Boeing has been doing a lot of work to update the problems with the plane and make it flyable. However, there are still many concerns as to whether or not lawmakers, airlines, and customers should still trust the company to fix the flawed aircraft without an overhaul to the regulatory system — especially given all the flaws in the certification system that so many investigations have revealed. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Seattle Times)

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Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl

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  • Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
  • Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
  • Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
  • The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.  

Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police

Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.

The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care. 

During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.

The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.

In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.

Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”

Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.

Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.

Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.

Protests & Response

According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.

The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.

“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”

Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.

“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)

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USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022

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  • The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
  • The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.

USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.

In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.

Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.

The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.

These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.

Helps Remove Extra Burdens

Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.

“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”

It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Washington Post) (EdSource)

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Chauvin Trial Judge Says Rep. Waters Comments Could Be Grounds for Appeal

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  • Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, said on Monday that Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-Ca.) suggestion that protesters “get more confrontational” if the jury does not return a guilty verdict could be grounds for the case to be appealed.
  • Cahill’s remarks came after Chauvin’s lawyer moved for a mistrial, arguing that  Waters’ comments, made this weekend, amounted to threats and intimidation. Cahill rejected the motion.
  • Republican politicians quickly condemned Waters and claimed she was inciting violence, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), who proposed a measure to censure her.
  • Democrats defended the Congresswoman, arguing she was not encouraging unrest and accused McCarthy of hypocrisy. Others slammed Cahill, arguing he was undermining free speech and pointing to incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

Judge Cahill Admonishes Rep. Waters

The judge overseeing the trial against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, said Monday that comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) over the weekend could be grounds for the entire case to be appealed.

While speaking in Minneapolis on Saturday, Waters said that protesters should “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is acquitted.

Following closing arguments Monday afternoon, Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, asked for a mistrial, arguing that the Congresswomen’s remarks amounted to threats and intimidation against the jury.

Judge Peter Cahill, who ended every day of testimony by telling jurors “have a good night and don’t watch the news,” dismissed the request, arguing that he believed her remarks would not prejudice the jury, but adding a key caveat.

“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” he said. “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function.”

Response & Backlash

Immediately, numerous Republicans seized on Cahill’s comments, condemning Waters and accusing her of inciting violence.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), announced on Twitter that he was introducing a resolution to censure Waters.

Many also defended Waters, claiming she was not inciting violence. That includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) who said her colleague was talking “about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement.” 

Others who took to Twitter echoed that, arguing that McCarthy was being a hypocrite because he himself spread false election claims promoted by former President Donald Trump. Those claims would later incite the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Some additionally accused the minority leader of censuring a Black woman for speaking out against violence in her community but refusing to take any action against members of his party. Many specifically flagged Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), who is being investigated for sex trafficking a minor, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who previously posted racist and antisemitic comments on social media and liked posts calling for Pelosi to be assassinated.

Others took direct aim at Judge Cahill, arguing that he was undermining Waters’ right to free speech and that he was the one who warned the jury not to pay attention to the news but did not sequester them from the get-go.

That point was bolstered by some who pointed out previous incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

“If a statement from Maxine Waters can be used as justification to overturn a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin on appeal, then courts are gonna have to go back and revisit every single case where Donald Trump made a comment about pending trials for 4 years when he was in office,” CNN commentator Keith Boykin wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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