Just months before a second deadly crash of a Boeing 737 Max airplane, American Airlines pilots angrily confronted a Boeing official about a computerized anti-stall system that preliminary reports have now implicated in both deadly wrecks, audio obtained by CBS News reveals.
The meeting between the pilots and Boeing happened in November — just weeks after an October crash of a Lion Air 737 Max into the Java Sea, and four months before a 737 Max operated by Ethiopian Air crashed in Ethiopia.
On the audio, a Boeing official is heard telling pilots that software changes were coming, perhaps in as little as six weeks, but that the company didn’t want to hurry the process.
The pilots indicated they weren’t aware of the 737 Max’s computerized stability program — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
“We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes,” a pilot is heard saying.
“I don’t disagree,” the unidentified Boeing official answers.
“These guys didn’t even know the damn system was on the airplane,” a pilot says, seemingly referring to the Lion Air pilots. “Nor did anybody else.”
“I don’t know that understanding this system would have changed the outcome of this,” the Boeing official says. “In a million miles you’re going to maybe fly this airplane, and maybe once you’re going to see this ever.”
The Dallas Morning News and the New York Times reported on the November 27 meeting between American Airlines pilots and Boeing earlier this week, citing recordings of the meeting. The papers reported the pilots were frustrated that Boeing didn’t disclose the presence of the MCAS system.
Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the audio from CNN.
Boeing’s 737 Max 8 and 9 planes were grounded worldwide after the Ethiopian Air crash in March. Between the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, 346 people were killed.
Preliminary reports of the crashes implicate the MCAS and faulty sensor readings
Preliminary reports on both crashes have implicated a flight-control system that Boeing designed to operate in the background, making the 737 Max fly like earlier versions of the workhorse jetliner. Maintaining enough similarities between the planes avoided costly pilot training programs, a fact Boeing touted as a selling point.
But that computerized stability program, the MCAS, received faulty sensor readings in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian jets, and repeatedly pushed the planes’ noses downward, and ultimately into steep dives. The pilots’ attempts to overcome it were unsuccessful. As is standard practice, the preliminary reports did not lay blame for either accident.
The emergency flight procedure Boeing says pilots should rely on when the system malfunctions has not been substantially updated since the 1960s and is now under FAA review, CNN recently reported. But Boeing admitted its software could be improved to break what it described as links in the chains of events that ended in the crashes.
Boeing did not perform a flight test of a scenario where the system malfunctioned, CNN has reported.
Boeing knew about a problem linked to the sensors in 2017, but did not deploy the fix
The company recently revealed that it knew as early as 2017 — as much as a year before the Lion Air disaster — that it was aware an indicator linked to the sensors was not functional in many 737 Max aircraft. It planned to deploy a fix in a regularly scheduled software update.
A person familiar with the matter told CNN last week that the company had not deployed the fix, even after the Lion Air crash.
The New York Times reported one American Airlines pilot in the November 27 meeting, Todd Wissing, told the company, “I would think that there would be a priority of putting explanations of things that could kill you.”