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Boeing executives and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials appear likely to soon face public scrutiny over how they handled the certification and rollout of the company’s new 737 MAX 8 aircraft.
After insisting the planes remained safe to fly even after several international regulators grounded them elsewhere in the world, U.S. officials relented Wednesday and ordered the new planes sidelined. Multiple lawmakers now plan hearings over the mounting concerns unleashed by two mass-casualty crashes involving the Max 8 planes that occurred over a five-month span. In both instances, airplanes slammed to earth within minutes of takeoff in clear weather — a shocking outcome potentially linked to a new feature in the planes’ onboard software system that Boeing had concealed from pilots for the first 18 months of the new aircraft’s time in service.
These hearings will present lawmakers with the choice to either probe deeply into the matter or to go shallow. One basic question — What convinced the FAA to keep the MAX 8 in the air amid this burgeoning anxiety? — will undoubtedly receive substantial attention at any congressional hearing.
But the full backstory of the MAX 8’s design and subsequent regulatory approval merits equal scrutiny, as does the FAA’s ability and willingness, in this instance, to effectively police the line between the public interest and the profit-seeking needs of an influential corporation.
Just a few years on from a pair of massive automobile recalls where regulators missed basic issues that led to scores of fatalities, it matters more than ever that lawmakers pick the right lines of inquiry. These are those questions.
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