Federal prosecutors investigating Boeing 737MAX issue are examining whether Boeing knowingly misled the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) while it was seeking certification for its 737 Max jet, the New York times reported.
Prosecutors questing whether Mark Forkner, a top pilot at the Boeing, intentionally lied to the regulator about the nature of new flight control software on the jet during certification process.
In 2017, Boeing engineers discovered that a “disagree light” associated with the flight control system (MCAS) on 737MAX was inoperable on 80% of the planes, but the company chose not to fix it or to inform U.S. regulators.
Disagree light illuminates when Angle of Attack sensors that measure whether the pitch movement of aircraft disagree with each other.
The disagree light was standard equipment on earlier models of the 737, But in the 737MAX disagree light was an optional and the Airlines should pay extra if they wanted that feature to be included.
As a result, 80% of the 387 Maxes the company delivered to airlines didn’t have a working disagree light.
The very next year (2018), a Lion Air jet crashed after suffering from malfunction alert that was designed to detect pitch control failure.
The internal messages within the Boeing staff in 2016, presented to U.S law makers, highlighted the MCAS anti-stall system behaved erratically during testing before the aircraft entered service.
Now the inoperable warning light is threatening to become a costly affair for the planemaker, because absence warning light on the jet violated U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
“A manufacturer cannot alter the airplane’s features after it has been certified,” the then-acting head of the FAA, Daniel Elwell, said in a letter to lawmakers last July, referring to the malfunctioning alert.
The FAA is considering imposing civil penalties, which can run into millions of dollars.
According to agency’s enforcement guidelines, large businesses such as Boeing can be assessed $3,000 to more than $34,000 per plane violation. That could be applied to each of the more than 300 planes on which the alert didn’t work.
Boeing also violated the agency policy that encourages self-disclosure, when it withheld two troves of caustic and sarcastic text messages and emails between its employees from the FAA.
“I think that when companies become repeat offenders, there should be a dramatically escalating series of fines and actions,” DeFazio said.