Will JATR Report On Boeing 737 MAX Further Delay Relaunch?

Boeing 737 Max Planes Sit Parked At Boeing Field In Seattle, Washington
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While we await publication of the official Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) report on the 737 MAX, initial reporting from the New York Times and Reuters, who have viewed the 69-page report ahead of publication, raises troubling questions of Boeing’s failure to identify systems vulnerabilities in the MCAS software.

“The JATR team found that the MCAS was not evaluated as a complete and integrated function in the certification documents that were submitted to the FAA,” Reuters quotes the report. “The lack of a unified top-down development and evaluation of the system function and its safety analyses, combined with the extensive and fragmented documentation, made it difficult to assess whether compliance was fully demonstrated.”

The “extensive and fragmented documentation” is particularly concerning. A manufacturer is responsible to present complete reports on the form, fit and function of the item for approval and that includes any and all technical details that would confirm the safe operation. This is to be presented in a full technical report, with supporting testing documentation and other technical documents that substantiate the claim to airworthiness. Any supplemental documents, requested by the regulator during review to validate the certification, must also be submitted on request.

So what happened here? Did Boeing underestimate the impact of MCAS in its own testing and present an initial scope of testing for the software that missed the systems problems that might have led to the two accidents? Or did Boeing underestimate the scope of these problems? Or did Boeing fail to document problems that the company considered too unlikely to arise?

These questions are particularly problematic because we know that Boeing was already working on a software update at the time of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. That this software update was in-process and would be sufficient contributed to the FAA's initial determination that the aircraft should be considered airworthy, despite the accident.

However, the software update itself has proven problematic with testing still ongoing. At each of these points along the way, Boeing will have submitted documentation on the scope of their work that should have been included in the JATR review. If the documentation is described as “fragmented” it raises questions on what was missing.

Did Boeing have a thorough software testing plan in place at any point during the 737 MAX design? Or did they work on certain technical assumptions which led them to overlook potential problems? 

If regulators lack confidence in Boeing’s ability to submit complete and reliable documentation of their testing, then they are bound to want to take a closer look at any new information they receive now. Even if that information is complete, to the best of Boeing’s ability, the collective of regulators are unlikely to uniformly agree to a rapid re-approval.

We will know more once the report is published and the full scope of recommendations is known, but it may be a challenge for Boeing to address and satisfy 69-pages of findings and recommendations between now and December of this year. 

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Will the latest report on the 737 MAX failure result in further delays for re-launch?

While we await publication of the official Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) report on the 737 MAX, initial reporting from the New York Times and Reuters, who have viewed the 69-page report ahead of publication, raises troubling questions of Boeing’s failure to identify systems vulnerabilities in the MCAS software.

“The JATR team found that the MCAS was not evaluated as a complete and integrated function in the certification documents that were submitted to the FAA,” Reuters quotes the report. “The lack of a unified top-down development and evaluation of the system function and its safety analyses, combined with the extensive and fragmented documentation, made it difficult to assess whether compliance was fully demonstrated.”

The “extensive and fragmented documentation” is particularly concerning. A manufacturer is responsible to present complete reports on the form, fit and function of the item for approval and that includes any and all technical details that would confirm the safe operation. This is to be presented in a full technical report, with supporting testing documentation and other technical documents that substantiate the claim to airworthiness. Any supplemental documents, requested by the regulator during review to validate the certification, must also be submitted on request.

So what happened here? Did Boeing underestimate the impact of MCAS in its own testing and present an initial scope of testing for the software that missed the systems problems that might have led to the two accidents? Or did Boeing underestimate the scope of these problems? Or did Boeing fail to document problems that the company considered too unlikely to arise?

These questions are particularly problematic because we know that Boeing was already working on a software update at the time of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. That this software update was in-process and would be sufficient contributed to the FAA's initial determination that the aircraft should be considered airworthy, despite the accident.

However, the software update itself has proven problematic with testing still ongoing. At each of these points along the way, Boeing will have submitted documentation on the scope of their work that should have been included in the JATR review. If the documentation is described as “fragmented” it raises questions on what was missing.

Did Boeing have a thorough software testing plan in place at any point during the 737 MAX design? Or did they work on certain technical assumptions which led them to overlook potential problems? 

If regulators lack confidence in Boeing’s ability to submit complete and reliable documentation of their testing, then they are bound to want to take a closer look at any new information they receive now. Even if that information is complete, to the best of Boeing’s ability, the collective of regulators are unlikely to uniformly agree to a rapid re-approval.

We will know more once the report is published and the full scope of recommendations is known, but it may be a challenge for Boeing to address and satisfy 69-pages of findings and recommendations between now and December of this year. 

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I worked in aviation from 1994-2010 before turning my experience to writing about airlines and airports for leading industry and consumer publications in 2013. I’ve spe

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