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FBI Criminal Investigation Into MAX Certification

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FBI Criminal Investigation Into MAX Certification

Old 23rd Mar 2019, 00:11
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FBI Criminal Investigation Into MAX Certification

Must be a first.

https://www.seattletimes.com/busines...9ym3Vuo71RfUDo

Ethiopian pilots apparently had been briefed following the Lion accident and prior to their accident. Their MAX simulator also not configured to replicate MCAS problems.

Ethiopian Airlines Refutes the Wrong Reporting | Ethiopian Airlines Canada
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 04:16
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The Seattle Times article was referenced in this forum when it was first published 2 days ago. I don't think your thread title accurately reflects the details of the story, nor the original headline.

Whether the FBI investigation results in criminal charges remains to be seen. The most likely scenario is that the evidence gathered is referred to Congress, for legislative oversight changes in the FAA.

Just my 2c.
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 13:22
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My sense of the FBI involvement is to aid the FAA IG in gathering evidence via document searches and more importantly interviews.

I have dealt with IGs purely on a volunteer basis in interviews. It had occurred to me that if I refused then other means may be employed.
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 14:13
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What makes this accident notable is the way the Boeing press machine has failed.

This from Bloomberg.


Soon after Lion Air Flight 610 plummeted into the Java Sea last October, killing all 189 people aboard, Boeing Co began to point gingerly toward mistakes the airline may have made.

A preliminary report by Indonesian authorities recounted the trouble pilots had had with a litany of mechanical woes. That same day, Boeing released its own summary of the findings. The American aircraft maker didn’t draw conclusions. But it focused on other factors – potential miscues by maintenance crews and then by pilots who didn’t follow a checklist on the final flight of the 737 Max 8 jet.

The November statement angered Rusdi Kirana, the founder of Lion Air. Days later, he said he felt “betrayed” by what he saw as a shifting of blame. In a conference call, he hurled expletives at Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, according to a person who heard the exchange and asked for anonymity to describe the private conversation.

Boeing’s narrative largely held – until Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed minutes after takeoff this month. Now scrutiny is landing on the iconic American planemaker, facing Congressional hearings and law enforcement investigations into how it handled its own responsibilities to guarantee the safety of the 737 Max planes.

At the heart of the questions is the almost fraternal relationship between the company and its regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

As both pushed for savings and efficiency, alarms sounded. In one previously unreported case involving a separate aircraft programme, a Boeing engineer sued three years ago, claiming he was fired for flagging safety problems that might have slowed development. Boeing has denied the claims.

Some FAA inspectors raised similar concerns, saying the agency had given Boeing too much responsibility for its own safety checks. The FAA manager at the centre of complaints that triggered a federal audit seven years ago is now, after a stint at an aerospace lobbying group, in charge of safety for the agency.

The official, Ali Bahrami, was a vocal supporter of delegating authority. He would tell FAA staffers that Boeing knew the systems and the rules and that the company could handle the programme, said one former employee in the office. Bahrami, who wasn’t at the agency during the certification of the 737 Max, declined to comment for this article.

‘NATION UNTO THEMSELVES’

The office, in the Seattle area, “defaulted” to Boeing – and didn’t answer to headquarters staff back in Washington either, said Mary Schiavo, a former inspector-general for the Transportation Department. “They were a nation unto themselves, and basically they treated themselves as independent,” she said in an interview this week.

The FAA defended the delegation programme, noting that similar approaches are also used by Canadian and European regulators. In a statement, the agency said certification of the 737 Max took about five years and that it received no complaints about pressure to speed the process.

“FAA has never allowed companies to police themselves or self-certify their aircraft,” it said. “Delegation extends the rigour of the FAA certification process to other recognised professionals, thereby multiplying the technical expertise.”

Boeing says the designated representatives “participate in regular training and receive guidance and oversight from the FAA”.

Still, weeks after the Lion Air crash, the US Transportation Department inspector-general’s office obtained information that raised concerns about the 737 Max’s certification, according to people familiar with the matter.

An investigation initiated then by US federal law-enforcement agents focuses on how Boeing won approval for stall-prevention software implicated in the crash, and why it wasn’t flagged in pilot manuals, Bloomberg News reported.

For Boeing, these are extraordinarily sensitive inquiries, casting doubt on both the aircraft that supplies a third of its profit, and its tight relationship with regulators. In recent years, Boeing’s variations on popular planes, including the 737 Max 8 and 9, and the 787-9 and 787-10, entered the market smoothly and on time, a rarity in the industry.

Boeing and its main rival, Airbus, have focused on upgrading existing airplanes with new engines, saving tens of billions of dollars that would be required to design them from scratch. They’ve successfully argued to regulators that planes like the Max and the Airbus A330neo are similar enough to older versions to share the same airworthiness certificate. Doing so narrows the scope of certification. It also saves money for customers by shortening pilot training.

In a statement on Friday, Boeing stressed that “safety is our highest priority as we design, build and support our airplanes”

JET INSPECTIONS

In a decades-old system, the FAA lets engineers employed by manufacturers themselves oversee tests and vouch for safety. At Boeing, the work is overseen by an FAA certification office in the Seattle area, where most of the jetliners are designed and assembled.

The Transportation Department oversees the FAA, and an audit in the 1990s found that 95% of the 777 was inspected and certified by Boeing itself, said Schiavo, the former inspector-general. She’s now an aviation attorney and the author of a 1997 expose, Flying Blind, Flying Safe, contending the agency hasn’t done enough to protect travellers because of persistent conflicts of interest.

In 2005, the FAA shifted even more authority to manufacturers under an approach pushed by then-chief Marion Blakey, who later ran the Aerospace Industries Association, the industry’s main lobbyist. She insisted staff refer to airlines and aircraft makers as “customers” and billed the changes as a way to promote efficiency. Under the new rules, which took effect in 2009, the agency let Boeing pick the employees who would vouch for its safety. Previously, the company only nominated them.

Bahrami, now the FAA’s top safety official, is himself a former aircraft engineer. When he managed the agency’s Seattle office, Boeing was under enormous pressure to complete the 787 Dreamliner, which was billions of dollars over budget. Airbus had also startled Boeing by stealing customers with its updated A320neo, forcing Boeing into its own update: the 737 Max.

iPAD COURSE

A big selling point for the Max was that pilots wouldn’t need to be drilled on its finer points in a flight simulator; it handled so similarly to a preceding generation of 737 that they could teach themselves via a take-home iPad course.

The Dreamliner won certification and entered service in 2011, three years late. At the same time, scrutiny of the shift in delegation to the company was mounting. The Transportation Department inspector-general said in a report that year that the FAA “has not ensured engineers are adequately trained to perform their expanded enforcement responsibilities”.

The next year, a Transportation Department special investigator wrote to the FAA’s audit chief, telling him that employees in the office run by Bahrami had complained the agency wasn’t holding Boeing accountable. The memo detailed cases where people had told the investigator that managers were slow to address safety issues, and said many feared retaliation for speaking up.

In January 2013, after the Dreamliner had flown 52,000 hours with paying customers, the FAA grounded it when lithium-ion batteries on two planes caught fire within a week. It was the first time the agency had grounded a model since 1979. Boeing designed an FAA-approved fix and the planes were flying again within three months.

FAA managers including Bahrami were called before a National Transportation Safety Board hearing that April that laid bare the scope of the agency’s reliance on Boeing. The NTSB later found that a test of the battery’s flammability – driving a nail into it – was inadequate and faulted FAA for failing to catch the design deficiency.

Within a few months, Bahrami took a job as vice-president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Association, whose members include Boeing, Lockheed Martin Corp and other industry giants. His compensation there rose to $315,228 in 2016, tax filings show.

In congressional testimony in 2013, representing the association, he applauded the delegation of the FAA’s work. “While industry has continued to grow, certification offices have been facing budget cuts, hiring freezes and furloughs,” he said. “Expecting the FAA to keep pace with industry while conducting business as usual is not realistic.”

In November 2013, as Boeing worked its way past the Dreamliner fiasco, the company launched the 777X, with a wingspan so wide that the tips fold to squeeze into airport gates. This one, too, was a derivative of previous models and deemed to require less-extensive certification and training.

WHISTLEBLOWER’S FEARS

The next year, a Boeing engineer named Michael Neely took a temporary assignment on the 777X at the company’s offices near Seattle. His managers asked him to evaluate a plan to adapt a power-distribution system from the preceding version of the 777, according to a lawsuit he later filed seeking protected whistleblower status. The idea was to require “minimal changes”, according to the suit.

After a month, Neely reported that the plan wasn’t feasible or safe. Managers ignored him, the suit says, and sent the plan on to the electrical contractor, a unit of General Electric. Supervisors began evaluating Neely poorly in 2015 and fired him in 2016, when he sued.

In its statement on Friday, Boeing said: “We encourage an open culture of sharing information on quality and safety. We would never dismiss an employee on the grounds of raising a safety concern.”

GE reported within months of receiving its contract that Boeing’s plan was inadequate and would have to be substantially expanded, according to court documents. Depositions and internal emails filed in connection with the suit offer a glimpse into the culture at the Boeing Commercial Airplanes business, known as BCA. They portray it as lacking the clear responsibility and authority structures that Neely, an engineer for 33 years, was accustomed to at Boeing’s space and defence operation in Huntsville, Alabama.

“In BCA, there is more of a culture of people who know grabbing things and running with them if they have the knowledge and skills,’’ Martin Weikart, then a Boeing employee and one of the FAA’s authorised representatives, wrote in one message to Neely.

“I agree it is not a good way to run a big business. But I think it is part of the culture that we are fighting to get under control.”

Boeing has painted Neely as unreliable. In its motion to dismiss the suit, Boeing said he didn’t get along with co-workers and violated policy on expensing alcoholic drinks with dinner.

The safety-related whistleblower claims were dismissed because of lack of jurisdiction, and are now before an administrative law judge at the Labor Department; the suit also claims age discrimination and violations of securities law. Neely is now representing himself. He declined to comment on the specifics of the case because of the ongoing litigation, but said he was encouraged by the 737 Max investigations.

CUTTING COSTS

Under Muilenburg, a Boeing lifer who became CEO in 2015, the company has focused on reducing costs and boosting productivity to generate record amounts of cash. As share repurchases helped triple Boeing’s stock price, executives and long-time employees alike have benefited handsomely. Muilenburg has collected $88 million since the year he took over as CEO, proxy filings show.

The 737 Max, certified by the FAA and delivered to a Lion Air subsidiary in 2017, seemed like another success.

That same year, Bahrami returned to the FAA as associate administrator for aviation safety in the Trump administration. At one industry event, he told air-cargo carriers that he was especially excited about working with manufacturers to correct safety issues; since 2015, he said, enforcement actions had dropped 70%. “We used to measure success by how high our stack of hate mail was,” he said. “That’s no longer the case.”

In their first year, the 737 Max planes carried 6.5 million passengers for more than 118,000 hours, with what Boeing said was the highest schedule reliability – 99.4% – of any new airplane. Then came the crash of the Lion Air flight in October, carrying, as the Indonesian report tabulated, the flight crew and 181 passengers consisting of 178 adults, one child and two infants.

SOFTWARE TROUBLE

Within weeks, investigators began focusing on the stall-prevention software, one of the supposedly minimal changes Boeing had made. In a testy meeting with Boeing executives in November, American Airlines Group Inc. pilots wanted to know why the software wasn’t highlighted as a key difference.

“Our entire relationship changed after that meeting,” said Dennis Tajer, a 737 captain and a spokesman for the American pilots union. “I don’t need to know about every rivet, but I do need to know about something that’s going to take over my airplane.”

The system baffled the Lion Air pilots by pushing down the plane’s nose about two dozen times, exerting force until they lost control. Five months later, the Ethiopian Airlines jet went down in circumstances that authorities say are similar.

On March 13, the US ordered airlines to stop flying the 737 Max. It’s the second grounding in six years for a nearly new Boeing model, both since the FAA shifted more oversight to the company.

That same day, employees working on the 777X had a low-key party to celebrate a milestone. The first plane had been finished, right on time.
https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/gen...ost_recent_box
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 14:29
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What I am wondering is whose head will roll because of this fiasco? At some point it was decided the plane was 'good enough" to be airworthy.
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 15:00
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IGs have full authority to conduct criminal investigations (as well as audits and evaluations). I'm pretty sure it would be rare for the FBI to get involved just to help -- if it's joining an investigation, it presumably sees potential federal crimes worthy of its attention. One possible factor is that FBI has jurisdiction over all federal crimes, not just ones that touch the Transportation Department (though I wouldn't venture to guess where that line gets drawn).

Of course, none of this means there will ultimately be a prosecution, or if there is, that it will have anything to do with the cause of the crashes. For example, if it turned out that one of the FAA employees involved held Airbus stock, that would likely be a federal crime.
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 15:12
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And of course we all know key USA politicians will never allow their number one aircraft manufacturer to go to the wall.
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 21:01
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Originally Posted by megan View Post
Must be a first.
Originally Posted by Chu Chu;
I'm pretty sure it would be rare for the FBI to get involved just to help
FYI: An Inspector General is only authorized to investigate areas within the department they are assigned. Any requirements external to that department, e.g., private citizens, contractors, etc., do not fall under the jurisdiction of the IG and require some form of law enforcement to pursue those external investigative paths. The FBI is the federal governments police force. The FBI has been involved in a number of IG investigations where their expertise is requested or the IG needs them to pursue leads. Whether this investigation is "criminal" has yet to be determined other than media reports.
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 21:26
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What I am wondering is whose head will roll because of this fiasco? At some point it was decided the plane was 'good enough" to be airworthy.
McAllister. Not Muilenberg for sure.
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Old 23rd Mar 2019, 22:09
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In a decades-old system, the FAA lets engineers employed by manufacturers themselves oversee tests and vouch for safety
That's not an entirely accurate representation of the delegation system. The people who "vouch for safety" are actually making a "finding of compliance" (FoC) to the prevailing design requirement. The FoC may be made by an FAA staff member, or a person delegated by the FAA, who might be a manufacturer's employee, or an independent person, contracted as needed. A delegated person (who is not an FAA staff member) exercises that delegation (to make an FoC) on behalf of the FAA, and values that delegation, as a privilege which could be lost, if abused. On the surface of it, like a pilot, a delegated person making an FoC toward the approval of an aircraft during certification, should be regarded as dedicated to aviation safety. It must be understood, that for projects as advanced as modern airliner certification, the US taxpayer could not afford to have the FAA employ enough people to entirely understand the complex systems and software of the aircraft - delegation is necessary to see the project to certification. The FAA may have whatever involvement they wish in a certification project. The FAA is duty bound to oversee enough to have a broad understanding of the whole project, and a detailed oversight of novel or unusual aircraft systems being certified.

Under the new rules, which took effect in 2009, the agency let Boeing pick the employees who would vouch for its safety. Previously, the company only nominated them.
The nuance here is pretty important - "pick" vs "nominate". Ultimately, no matter how the person is presented to the FAA, it is the FAA who appoints them as an FAA delegate. If the FAA is not satisfied that that person will act objectively with public safety, and a design compliant aircraft as their priority, delegation would not be appropriate.
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 03:50
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Originally Posted by Mike Flynn View Post
And of course we all know key USA politicians will never allow their number one aircraft manufacturer to go to the wall.
Would you want them to ---- do you think that the world would be a better place with only Airbus and a few Russian/Eastern Block and Chinese manufacturers.
And anybody who thinks an Inspector-General's investigation is the complete answer ---- look back to the period Mary (Scary Mary) Schiavo was DoT IG.
Tootle pip!!
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 06:09
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Originally Posted by Pilot DAR View Post
It must be understood, that for projects as advanced as modern airliner certification, the US taxpayer could not afford to have the FAA employ enough people to entirely understand the complex systems and software of the aircraft - delegation is necessary to see the project to certification. The FAA may have whatever involvement they wish in a certification project.
I wonder how it works in other jurisdictions?

EU, others?
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 09:36
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Originally Posted by Mike Flynn View Post
And of course we all know key USA politicians will never allow their number one aircraft manufacturer to go to the wall.
Might this, at the very least, get both sides to accept they receive government assistances in various forms and put an end to the WTO dispute back-and-forth?

My conclusions have been similar to yours. I wonder how much the long haul narrowbody fight played into this. Boeing were faced with the Morton’s Fork of designing a clean sheet aircraft with competitive range, and sitting out of the most profitable category for the best part of a decade, or re-engine the 737 with manoeuvre differences which would make the Max less competitive in terms of fleet integration and training costs. So they bodged it with the MCAS system.

With the triple AoA sensor as standard, and a simulator differences training requirement, is the Max unsafe? Not with those two requirements - which would have made the aircraft non-financially competitive against the A32X Neo. So they bodged it with the FAA’s consent.
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 09:47
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Originally Posted by threemiles View Post
McAllister. Not Muilenberg for sure.
Obviously the blame can be allocated as it suits but McAllister has joined from outside Boeing by the time when 737 max was long time flying the test program and just about 4 month before it was issued with FAA certification.
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 09:59
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Originally Posted by LeadSled View Post
Would you want them to ---- do you think that the world would be a better place with only Airbus and a few Russian/Eastern Block and Chinese manufacturers.
Sending someone to jail will not lead to the demise of Boeing. But it would be a strong signal for the future. If it affects the right person. If they sacrifice a poor entry level Engineer/designer that would be counter- productive -although sadly not unlikely.
Having another MAX crash the same way or doing similar stupid things with the 777X in contrast would rather be a pretty sure way to send Boeing to the wall.
FAA helped the Executives and their Bonuses with that lax oversight. They didn't help the Company in the longer Term. It will be the workers who will take the hit for this (certification) disaster.
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 11:03
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Looks like everyone is trying to "get a piece of the action". I remember NTSB investigators criticizing Asian and Eastern European authorities for opening criminal cases after crashes. Greg Feith, the One and Only, has said it many times (may be a misquote): "As soon as there is a threat of jail time, people start hiding things instead of helping to find the cause of the crash".

While punishing those who are responsible may be important, a much more crucial task is make sure it never happens again. And that's where FBI investigation may become an obstacle. It also puts different laws (and lawyers) in motion. People may start hiding behind warrants, injunctions, court orders, etc. I wish any criminal investigations would stay away until NTSB and BEA have done their jobs.
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 14:24
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Originally Posting by ProPax:
While punishing those who are responsible may be important, a much more crucial task is make sure it never happens again.
If it were me as the Chairman of the Board of Boeing, I would hold a special meeting of the Board and have the key aircraft executives including the CEO to a meeting where I would order the executives to return to Seattle immediately and spend their full time on the floor with the engineers that designed the MAX and those workers that performed the assembly operations to assess what went wrong. The workers are saying it was rush, rush, rush! Get them out the door! I would also tell the executives to plan to relocate their offices back to Seattle as Chicago is apparently too far away for them to know what is going on as it was for McNerney for the 787 problems. Remote filtered interfacing like the use of FaceTime is no substitute for personally walking the manufacturing floor, talking with the people who do the actual work, listening to the problems and solutions, the workers generally know, it doesn't take creation of a task force/forces to achieve good results.
Then in a second Board meeting, I would have the executives back to explain what mistakes they, the executives, made and what documented changes they are making or have made to assure nothing like this happens again. It is one thing to talk the walk, but another to walk the talk which is what is needed.
What a mess Boeing created for themselves and their customers!
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 15:22
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I am pretty sure the amount of "manufacturing floor time" of the Boeing CEO is completely independent of where his office is located.
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 15:51
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Originally Posted by Turbine D View Post
If it were me as the Chairman of the Board of Boeing, I would hold a special meeting of the Board and have the key aircraft executives including the CEO to a meeting where I would order the executives to return to Seattle immediately and spend their full time on the floor with the engineers
Now that's cruel and unusual punishment.

But seriously, the executives of the commercial airplane group are already located in Seattle. Muilenberg has responsibilities to other divisions of Boeing as well. So leave him in Chicago. But I imagine that a number of heads will be rolling around the Pacific Northwest region (both at Boeing and the FAA).
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Old 24th Mar 2019, 18:40
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I would imagine that Boeing are praying that the FAA don't swing hard the other way as a result of the allegedly "cosy" relationship coming under the microscope and make them certify the B777X as a new aircraft type. that would delay the program significantly which would hurt Boeing immeasurably.
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