A troubling new report from Politico reveals that flight crews filed at least five separate reports with the FAA, complaining about issues with the controls of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Pilots who reached out to the regulatory agency described technical issues remarkably similar to the problems reportedly described by the captains in the final moments of two ill-fated flights in less than six months.
Prior to a late-breaking announcement from the White House, Boeing officials, U.S. airlines and federal regulators had been holding firm to an insistence that calls to ground the 737 MAX 8 in response to two back-to-back air disasters were overblown. A new report, however, sheds light on a number of official complaints to the FAA by flight crews regarding the suspect controls of the next generation Boeing aircraft.
According to documents obtained by Politico’s Kathryn Wolfe, pilots in the U.S. reported problems controlling Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft on no fewer than five occasions. Details of the disconcerting in-flight events, all self-reported by flight crews, can be found in the FAA incident database. The five incidents were reported to the regulatory agency under a program that allows crew members to anonymously report flight safety issues. While all of the reported problems are said to have occurred in the U.S, no other location or airline information was included in the documentation.
The reports appear to voice similar concerns as those alarmingly raised by the crews of two ill-fated 737 MAX 8 flights just prior to the near back-to-back catastrophes. This week, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told CNN that the pilot of the 737 MAX that crashed immediately following takeoff on Sunday, reported “flight control problems” moments before losing contact with air traffic control. Indonesia National Transport Safety Committee (NTSC) Deputy Chief Haryo Satmiko said that a faulty airspeed monitor caused pilots to struggle to control the aircraft on the penultimate flight of the doomed Lion Air 737 MAX in October, just hours before the plane, passengers and crew were lost in a crash moments after takeoff the very next day.
In a November 2018 report to the FAA, a 737 MAX captain reported an issue with autopilot which caused the aircraft to pitch nose down during takeoff, triggering alerts and forcing the crew to disengage some automated systems. Weeks later, another 737 MAX crew reported that the aircraft’s auto-throttle features failed to function properly during takeoff, forcing crews to disable the system in order to climb safely. In three other reports from 2018, captains complained of remarkably similar issues with automated and semi-automated flight controls.
“I think it is unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA, and the airlines would have pilots flying an airplane without adequately training, or even providing available resources and sufficient documentation to understand the highly complex systems that differentiate this aircraft from prior models,” one unnamed pilot wrote in a recent incident report. “The fact that this airplane requires such jury-rigging to fly is a red flag. Now we know the systems employed are error prone — even if the pilots aren’t sure what those systems are, what redundancies are in place, and failure modes. I am left to wonder: what else don’t I know? The Flight Manual is inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”
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