FAA oversight needs total reevaluation

The worldwide grounding of Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX jets in March in the aftermath of two fatal crashes that claimed a total of 346 lives hasn’t garnered much visible attention and discussion in this part of Pennsylvania.

Most flight- and airport-related public attention in recent months has focused on passenger volumes, eligibility for continued federal subsidies and the three area airports themselves — Altoona-Blair County, John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County and University Park near State College.

Despite all of the reported developments surrounding Boeing and the identified malfunctions in the MAX automatic anti-stall system that have been deemed responsible for the two deadly crashes, the problem has seemed worlds away even though area news reports aimed at keeping the flying public — and the public in general — informed about what went wrong.

Actually, this part of Pennsylvania isn’t as far removed from the MAX issue as many area people might think. It’s safe to say that, prior to the grounding of the MAX jets, people from area counties flew on the jets many times, whether or not they embarked or deplaned at this area’s airports sometime within their travel itinerary.

There probably is no way to determine how many people from this region were, in fact, endangered because of irresponsibility, not only on the part of Boeing, but also the Federal Aviation Administration.

The fact that MAX jets remain grounded is indicative of how big of a problem — and how broad the scope of mistakes — that put the flying public at risk, culminating in the crash of an Indonesia Lion Air flight last Oct. 29 and the loss of an Ethiopian Airlines flight on March 10.

For the benefit of anyone not familiar, MCAS is short for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, although that name doesn’t carry much meaning for most people.

As described in an Associated Press article published in the May 30 Mirror, MCAS automatically pushes the plane’s nose down when it is at risk of stalling. In the fatal crashes in question, the system “misfired,” causing the pilots to lose control.

Bad news has piled upon bad news regarding Boeing, including last Tuesday, when the Wall Street Journal reported that an international panel is preparing in the next few weeks to rebuke the FAA for alleged lack of clarity and transparency in the way the FAA delegated authority to Boeing to assess the safety of certain flight-control features, including MCAS.

The panel is expected to allege that essential design changes didn’t receive adequate FAA attention — building upon a report in mid-May that senior FAA officials didn’t participate in or monitor crucial MCAS safety assessments.

Abominable, considering the hundreds of thousands — more likely many millions — of people whose lives were jeopardized in no matter how big or small of a way due to that breakdown in oversight for which the federal agency is responsible. Senior leadership changes within the FAA rightly seem in order.

“Boeing knew of problem for a year,” “Pilot: We are asking for trouble,” “Boeing gave test pilots few 737 MAX details,” “Boeing didn’t advise it shut off warning,” “FAA identified high risk in MAX” and “The 4-second catastrophe: Why Boeing’s MAX failed” are just a small sampling of deeply troubling reports that have chronicled the grounded-plane saga.

For the sake of area fliers and airline passengers everywhere, returning MAX to the skies is secondary to first resolving its problems — completely and without any shortcuts.