Boeing knew of 737 MAX safety system glitch year before deadly crash


The warning light, standard on the MAX and included in the pilot manuals, is created to light up if there's a disagreement between the two sensors on either side of the plane's nose that measure the jet's angle of attack - the angle between the oncoming air flow and the airplane's wing.

In both flights, for example, investigators found that faulty "angle of attack" sensors activated software that forced the planes into nosedives.

Boeing engineers discovered a fault in the 737 MAX pilot warning system in 2017, a year before the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people, according to a statement released by the company.

When the jet returns to service, it will have the AOA Disagree alert as a standard feature and an optional AOA indicator, Boeing said.

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"That review, which involved multiple company subject matter experts, determined that the absence of the AOA disagree alert did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation", the statement continued. The FAA accepted Boeing's assessment, but spoke out against the firm for being slow admitting the problem. "Boeing shared this conclusion and the supporting SRB analysis with the FAA", the company said in the statement. "However, Boeing's timely or earlier communication with the operators would have helped to reduce or eliminate possible confusion", the FAA said.

Due to the developments, Boeing has said it will be issuing a display system software update on MAX planes before they are reinstated. "Until after Lion Air, our manuals said that worked", Weaks said.

It, however, ruled that absence of AOA indicator didn't pose any safety threats and it was an option system update. However, complaints of shoddy manufacturing, near-misses only a handful of days before one fatal crash, and conflicting information and safety precautions made by Boeing itself, have led many to question Boeing's side of the story.

Another relative, Imam Rismanto, whose brother died in the crash, said Boeing should never have sold the plane without the safety feature.

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"Boeing discussed the status of the Angle-of-Attack Disagree alert with the FAA in the wake of the Lion Air accident", the company said. Boeing has said that in both fatal crashes, erroneous AOA data was fed to the jet's Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), an anti-stall system which has come under scrutiny since the crashes. That means it starts to fall instead of fly. Even if an airline didn't pay extra for the AOA indicator display gauge (pictured here on a schematic for earlier 737 versions than the MAX), if the sensors went out of sync, a warning should have been shown to the pilots.

Neither the FAA or Boeing interfered with the fleet's operations until the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019.

Nevertheless, it did not reportedly provide some carriers and pilots with consistent explanations even after the first tragedy and became "more forthcoming" with airlines only after the second 737 MAX crashed in Ethiopia. But former Boeing engineers and aviation analysts interviewed by CNN criticized Boeing's original software design for relying on data from a single AOA sensor, claiming that those devices are vulnerable to defects.

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