Senator Cantwell and Democrats Reject Boeing Families’ Plea

In recent weeks, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) has been meeting with family members who lost their 346 loved ones in the two Boeing 737 crashes.

Maria Cantwell

The families want Senator Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and her Democratic colleagues in the Congress to leave in place an end of the year deadline requiring Boeing to upgrade its crew alert system on Boeing MAX airplanes. 

Boeing wants an exemption.

And Boeing will get it in the next couple of weeks from Cantwell and a Democratic Party that is increasingly seen as siding with its corporate donors over their citizen constituents.

The Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act (ACSAA) prohibits the FAA from approving, after December 2022, any future aircraft designs which do not comply with an eleven-year-old FAA flight crew alerting safety rule. 

All manufacturers have complied with the 2011 FAA flight deck rule, except Boeing.

In July, Boeing CEO David Calhoun said that he was ready to cancel the 737 MAX 10 program if Congress didn’t extend the December 31 deadline.

(Two lawyers representing a number of the Boeing families in the wrongful death lawsuits against Boeing in Illinois state court in October called for a criminal investigation of Calhoun and former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg for their complicity in the two crashes. (It’s Time for a Criminal Investigation of Boeing’s CEOS, by Robert A. Clifford and Shanin Specter, October 17, 2022.) )

In a letter to Senate Democratic leaders last week, the 921 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash victim families and friends from across the world opposed “any National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendment that would extend the time for Boeing, or any aircraft manufacturer, to avoid installing modern, safe flight decks in future aircraft. Such an amendment is not relevant to national defense and would make civilian aircraft less safe.”

“After the ET302 crash of the Boeing MAX 8 occurred on March 10, 2019, the world learned about Boeing’s fraud on the FAA relating to MCAS (maneuvering characteristics augmentation system),” they wrote. “What is less known is that an old, confusing flight deck was found, by crash investigators, to be a contributing factor to the crash. The crew alerting system startles and confuses pilots with false and nuisance alerts who are trying to diagnose and correct problems in life threatening conditions.”

“We have since found out that the FAA issued a 2011 rule which requires airplanes to include modern flight crew alert systems that are intuitive while accurately diagnosing and prioritizing problems to assist, rather than confuse, pilots. That rule was long overdue because five prior crashes showed how unsafe the old system was.”

Captain Chesley Sullenberger

“In 1996, two Boeing 757 airplanes, AeroPeru 603 and Birgenair 301, crashed, killing a total of 259 people. Subsequently, three more crashes, this time involving Boeing 737s, occurred: Helios 522 – 121 dead, Turkish Airlines 1951 – 9 dead, and Aeroflot 821 – 189 dead. Pilot confusion from the crew alert system was determined to be a contributing cause in all the crashes.”

“To our sorrow and loss, Boeing advocated and received an FAA approved exception from the flight crew alert rule for the MAX 8 and 9 aircraft. But predictably the old system again caused pilot confusion with false and nuisance alerts in the JT610 and ET302 crashes which killed 346 people, including our loved ones, in 2018 and 2019.”

“We have heard industry insiders and Boeing claim that some pilots want commonality between old and new aircraft alert systems. Those same insiders were a part of the problem before, and are motivated by profits. They have not learned the lessons of seven crashes. This is an aerospace engineering safety issue relating to human factors and system safety assessments, not airmanship. All the data shows the modern crew alerting system is more safe. Zero data supports the bogus commonality argument.”

“Safety in many industries would be frozen in time if incumbents could rebut safety engineering data by merely claiming that some people are comfortable with the old ways.”

“Therefore, we demand that you oppose any NDAA amendment that would grant an extension of time for Boeing to certify yet another aircraft that violates safety rules as the company pursues shareholder profit and executive stock option value.”

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, famed for successfully landing an Airbus A320-214 on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 with no loss of human life, is siding with the families over Boeing. 

“As someone who has been in the left seat of an airliner when very suddenly faced with an extreme emergency of a lifetime, I can tell you from firsthand experience that the startle effect is real and it is huge,” Sullenberger said earlier this year. “That means that the airliners we fly must have the most effective and state of the art crew alerting systems so that pilots can quickly determine the nature and severity of emergencies and act rapidly and correctly to keep safe everyone on board — passengers and crew alike.” 

“I agree with the Airline Pilots Association and their opposition to the extension of Boeing’s current equipment exemption. The Federal Aviation Administration must require Boeing to install modern crew alerting systems on them.”

But most in Congress will be siding with Boeing next week over the families and Sullenberger.

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