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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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Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance

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News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.


Federal Vaccine Mandate

President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.

While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.

Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective

The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.

Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.

While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab. 

Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective. 

No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.

According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.

While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.

“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.

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

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Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage

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The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.


Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence

The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.

The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.

The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.

Source: Facebook/ GlockBoy Savoo

Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage

After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.

Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.

Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.

Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.

Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.

In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.

The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.

“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.

“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.

The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.

Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.

See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated

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The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.


Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors

More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.

The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.

“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.

The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.

While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11. 

An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.

In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.

Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.

Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People

Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.

But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.

In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.

While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.

According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.

Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.

Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.

For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.

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

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