U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao has asked the DOT Inspector General’s office to conduct a formal audit of the certification process for the Boeing 737 Max 8, the department confirmed Tuesday. The memo comes amid previously unconfirmed reports first published in the Wall Street Journal that the DOT’s Inspector General had begun a probe into the nature of the relationship between the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing during the certification of the airplane.
“Safety is the top priority of the department, and all of us are saddened by the fatalities resulting from the recent accidents involving two Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in Indonesia and Ethiopia,” wrote Chao. “As you know, Boeing requested an amended type certification for this aircraft in January 2012, and the Federal Aviation Administration issued the certification in March 2017.
“To help inform the department’s decision making and the public’s understanding, and to assist the FAA in ensuring that its safety procedures are implemented effectively, this is to confirm my request that the Office of Inspector General proceed with an audit to compile an objective and detailed factual history of the activities that resulted in the certification of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.”
The government scrutiny into the workings of the Max program’s certification process comes as Ethiopian authorities noted “clear similarities” between information gleaned from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders recovered from the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 that crashed just southeast of Addis Ababa on March 10 and the October 29, 2018, crash of a Lion Air Max 8 off the coast of Indonesia.
Earlier in the day, Boeing published an open letter from CEO Dennis Muilenburg to reiterate the company’s “core” commitment to safety. In the letter, Muilenburg alluded to the company’s work on a software upgrade designed to mitigate the possibility of an uncommanded dive originating from false readings from one of the airplane’s angle-of-attack sensors. Officials continue to investigate the possibility that a false reading from an AOA sensor prompted the model’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) to force the nose of the Max down into a steep descent from which the pilots commanding the airplanes involved in two fatal crashes in five months failed to recover.
“Soon we’ll release a software update and related pilot training for the 737 Max that will address concerns discovered in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident,” wrote Muilenburg. “We’ve been working in full cooperation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board on all issues relating to both the Lion Air and the Ethiopian Airlines accidents since the Lion Air accident occurred in October last year.”