On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that before the Ethiopian Airlines crash, pilots urged Boeing executives to push the Federal Aviation Administration to issue an emergency airworthiness directive for the 737 Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), only for it to fall on deaf ears.
“My question to you, as Boeing, is why wouldn’t you say this is the smartest thing to do?” said American Airlines pilot and union official Michael Michaelis on a leaked audio recording of the meeting in November, just after the Lion Air crash. “Say we’re going to do everything we can to protect that traveling public in accordance with what our pilots unions are telling us … These guys didn’t even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else.”
Boeing vice president Mike Sinnett said “You’ve got to understand that our commitment to safety is as great as yours,” but declined to do as Michaelis asked, saying that pilots now had the advance warning and training necessary to handle the system as is. He also added, “We don’t want to rush and do a crappy job of fixing the right things and we also don’t want to fix the wrong things … For flight-critical software, I don’t think you want us to rush, rush it faster.”
Boeing declined to comment on the recording.
MCAS is an anti-stalling system that is designed to correct for the 737 Max’s unique weight distribution. While the investigation into the fatal Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes is not yet complete, it is speculated that in both cases, MCAS overcorrected and pitched down the planes after takeoff, with the pilots unable to work out how to disable the system.
An emergency airworthiness directive had already been issued for MCAS after Lion Air, requiring that manuals instruct pilots how to handle malfunctions of the system. But pilots also wanted Boeing to push the FAA to issue a second directive to upgrade the faulty software itself, something that they were reportedly unwilling to do as it would temporarily ground the aircraft.