American pilots angrily confronted a Boeing official about an anti-stall system on the 737 MAX aircraft they said they didn’t know enough about, audio released by CBS News has revealed. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren
American pilots angrily confronted a Boeing official about an anti-stall system on the 737 MAX aircraft they said they didn’t know enough about, audio released by CBS News has revealed. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren

Audio reveals pilots’ fury at Boeing

An audio recording has captured the moment pilots angrily confronted Boeing about an anti-stall feature on the 737 MAX aircraft, months before it was implicated in a fiery crash that killed everyone on board.

The audio, obtained by CBS News, captured American Airlines pilots demanding more information about the anti-stall system, known as MCAS, during a tense meeting with Boeing officials in November.

The MCAS, or manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system, was an automated feature on Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft designed to stop the plane stalling.

 

A Boeing 737 MAX 8 aeroplane built for India-based Jet Airways lands from a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren
A Boeing 737 MAX 8 aeroplane built for India-based Jet Airways lands from a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren

It was believed to have played a role in the erratic flying and fatal plunge of an Indonesian Lion Air flight in October and the similar crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March, which prompted the aircraft to be grounded worldwide.

A combined 346 people died in the crashes.

Union groups have claimed pilots were not properly trained on the MCAS, and Boeing has been criticised for failing to warn airlines of potential hazards with the feature.

"We flat-out deserve to know what is on our aeroplanes," one pilot can be heard saying in the recording of the meeting, which took place weeks after the Lion Air crash.

"I don't disagree," a Boeing official replied.

The pilots, represented by the American Airlines pilots union, said they weren't aware of the MCAS system until after the Lion Air crash. American Airlines is one of the biggest 737 MAX operators in the US.

"These guys didn't even know the damn system was on the aeroplane - nor did anybody else," one pilot said.

The Boeing official did not appear to be aware he was being recorded, CBS reported.

"I don't know that understanding this system would've changed the outcome on this," the official said, referring to the Lion Air crash.

"In a million miles, you're going to maybe fly this aeroplane, maybe once you're going to see this, ever. So, we try not to overload the crews with information that's unnecessary so they actually know the information we believe is important."

The pilots did not appear convinced.

"We're the last line of defence to being in that smoking hole. And we need the knowledge," one of the pilots said.

Boeing said in the meeting it would make software changes but didn't want to "rush and do a crappy job of fixing the right things".

"We also don't want to fix the wrong things," the official said.

The MCAS feature was added to the MAX aircraft because its nose tended to pitch up in flight, and sensors told the MCAS to pitch the nose down.

As both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines pilots appeared to have trouble controlling the erratically flying planes, experts are probing whether a faulty sensor was involved.

Sources familiar with the Lion Air cockpit voice recordings said the pilots frantically flicked through the plane's manual to try to understand why the plane was lurching downwards in its final moments.

 

The Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines planes flew erratically before crashing minutes after takeoff. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren
The Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines planes flew erratically before crashing minutes after takeoff. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren

 

Pilots of the doomed Ethiopian Airlines plane followed Boeing's emergency procedures when the plane began to pitch down but could not regain control of it.

Boeing recently proposed new computer-based training for MAX aircraft, instead of time in a simulator, but pilots opposed the suggestion, saying it didn't go far enough in addressing their concerns about the aircraft.

The US Allied Pilots Association said this month computer explanation would "not provide a level of confidence for pilots to feel not only comfortable flying the aircraft but also relaying that confidence to the travelling public".


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