- 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.”
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)
Amazon Backs GOP Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Effort to Ramp Up Lobbying
The proposal is the first Republican-sponsored marijuana bill Amazon has backed since the company first began lobbying for legalization last summer.
Amazon Endorses States Reform Act
Amazon announced Tuesday that it is endorsing a Republican-backed proposal to legalize marijuana.
The move comes as the e-commerce giant has ramped up its efforts to legalize cannabis on the federal level since it came out in support of the idea last summer. Amazon argues that the move would remove hiring barriers — which disproportionately impact people of color — and, in turn, could increase the company’s application pool and boost employee retention.
The company has previously backed similar proposals by forward by Democrats, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time Amazon has put its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at addressing the issue.
The legislation, called the States Reform Act, was authored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Among other measures, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance, allow states to create their own laws, impose an excise tax, and regulate the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.
While Mace’s bill is fundamentally very similar to others put forth by Democrats, by proposing it herself, the Republican hopes to rally other members of her party around the idea that legalization is pro-business, pro-state’s rights, and anti-big government.
The measure has already received support from the highly influential conservative group, American’s for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch brothers.
Mace and Amazon have painted the company’s endorsement as a game-changer for garnering more support — both from other large corporations and politicians on either side of the aisle. Mace specifically told reporters she believes Amazon’s decision will push other companies to do the same. If more major corporations like Amazon back the effort, other Republicans may be more persuaded to jump on board.
That sentiment was echoed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, who said in an interview with The Washington Post that the company was “particularly excited by Congresswoman Mace’s bill” because “it shows that there’s bipartisan support for this issue.”
Huseman also emphasized that, as part of its decision to back her bill, Amazon will use its powerful influence in Washington to try and drum up bipartisan support.
“We are talking with members of both parties, including Republicans, about why we think this is the right thing to do, especially from the standpoint of a major employer and what this means for our business and our employees and broadening the employee base,” he continued.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (Marijuana Moment)
CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron
Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.
A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron
COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.
The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.
One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week.
In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.
Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization.
By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.
Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.
Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates
Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.
Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection.
The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.
While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.
Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.
Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)
California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent
Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
State Senator Proposes Legislation
Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California.
“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”
“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”
Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians.
Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.
“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”
Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15.
Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.
In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.”
In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate.
The Fight to Vaccinate California
This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”
While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail.
“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added.