In a series of stories that led media coverage of the two deadly crashes of Boeing’s 737 MAX jet, The Seattle Times was the first to reveal how Boeing misinformed the Federal Aviation Administration and airlines about key features of the plane’s automated flight control system.

The weekend after the second crash, a Seattle Times front-page story — citing proprietary Boeing information submitted to the FAA — laid bare how the federal regulator was not fully informed as Boeing expanded the powers of its MCAS flight control system, the automated software whose malfunctioning killed 346 people.

The follow-up stories, using numerous internal Boeing and FAA documents obtained by our reporters, showed how the flawed design was approved by a flawed regulatory process as the FAA increasingly delegated responsibility for safety assessments to the manufacturer, and how management at both organizations pressed for shortcuts and money-saving solutions against the recommendations of both low-level FAA officials and Boeing safety experts.

These stories are part of a yearlong reporting effort that included more than 150 bylined stories examining the human toll, the local economic impact, the technical complexity of airplane engineering and the convoluted threads of air safety regulation.

 


 

Published March 17, 2019

Flawed analysis, failed oversight: How Boeing, FAA certified the suspect 737 MAX flight control system

By Dominic Gates | Read story »

A worker is seen inside a Boeing 737 MAX 9 at the Renton plant. The circular sensor seen at bottom right measures the plane’s angle of attack, the angle between the airflow and the wing. This sensor on 737 MAX planes is under scrutiny as a possible cause of two recent fatal crashes. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
A worker is seen inside a Boeing 737 MAX 9 at the Renton plant. The circular sensor seen at bottom right measures the plane’s angle of attack, the angle between the airflow and the wing. This sensor on 737 MAX planes is under scrutiny as a possible cause of two recent fatal crashes. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

 


 

Published May 5, 2019

Engineers say Boeing pushed to limit safety testing in race to certify planes, including 737 MAX

By Dominic Gates and Mike Baker | Read story »

The first flight of the Boeing 737 MAX 9, the second version of the MAX airplane, lands at Boeing Field in Seattle on April 13, 2017. The certification of the 737 MAX airplane has come under intense scrutiny after 346 people died in crashes off Indonesia and in Ethiopia. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
The first flight of the Boeing 737 MAX 9, the second version of the MAX airplane, lands at Boeing Field in Seattle on April 13, 2017. The certification of the 737 MAX airplane has come under intense scrutiny after 346 people died in crashes off Indonesia and in Ethiopia. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

 


 

Published June 22, 2019

The inside story of MCAS: How Boeing’s 737 MAX system gained power and lost safeguards

By Dominic Gates and Mike Baker | Read story »

An angle-of-attack sensor can be seen at far right, near the nose of a 737 MAX at Boeing Field in Seattle. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
An angle-of-attack sensor can be seen at far right, near the nose of a 737 MAX at Boeing Field in Seattle. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

 


 

Published October 2, 2019

Part 1: Boeing rejected 737 MAX safety upgrades before fatal crashes, whistleblower says

By Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich and Lewis Kamb | Read story »

(Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times)
(Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times)

 

Published October 2, 2019

Part 2: Boeing pushed FAA to relax 737 MAX certification requirements for crew alerts

By Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich and Lewis Kamb | Read story »

(Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times)
(Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times)

 


↓ MORE COVERAGE ↓

Here, we examine the arc of two tragic Boeing 737 MAX flights, Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302, tracking the movements of pilots and the details of flight-deck data through critical seconds.

A Boeing 737 Max 8 sits behind the Boeing 737 Renton factory waiting for engines. The Angle of attack (AOA) instrument of the 737 MAX, is the bottom piece of equipment below just below the cockpit windshield. 

Photographed on March 13, 2019 209611 209611

As Boeing designed an automated safety system for the 737 MAX, the company built it to potentially activate based on the reading of a single sensor. That decision has baffled even those who worked on the plane inside a company that has long embraced the need for redundancies.

Throttle controls are seen in the cockpit of a grounded Lion Air Boeing Co. 737 Max 8 aircraft at terminal 1 of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cenkareng, Indonesia, on Tuesday, March 15, 2019. Sunday’s loss of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737, in which 157 people died, bore similarities to the Oct. 29 crash of another Boeing 737 Max plane, operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air, stoking concern that a feature meant to make the upgraded Max safer than earlier planes has actually made it harder to fly. Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg 775315808

After the Lion Air 737 MAX crash, Boeing described an emergency procedure to use if its new flight-control system was inadvertently activated. But that procedure may have been inadequate to save the Ethiopian 737 MAX, not accounting for heavy loads on the tail that would have made it difficult to move manually.

Samya Rose Stumo was in Africa to work on a health initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Courtesy of the Stumo Family)

Like the families who lost loved ones on Lion Air Flight 610, those now mourning the loss of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 face agonizing questions that have intensified as the Boeing's 737 MAX controversy unfolds.

The nose section of a 737 MAX, framed by the wingtips of neighboring 737s, have their engines, landing gear, and front nose sensors protected from the weather at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake Washington. Nearly 200 completed Boeing 737 MAX airplanes, built for airlines worldwide, are currently parked at his Eastern Washington airport.
 In March 2019, aviation authorities around the world grounded the passenger airliner after two separate crashes.

Photographed on November 13, 2019. 212113 212113

Aviation experts believe Boeing's 737 MAX software fix will definitively prevent a recurrence of the flight scenarios that killed 346 people in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Regulators must still work out details of the training pilots need before they fly the MAX again.

Nearly 200 completed Boeing 737 MAX airplanes including some for Southwest Airlines, are parked at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake Washington. In March 2019, aviation authorities around the world grounded the passenger airliner after two separate crashes.

Photographed on November 13, 2019. 212113 212113

Grounded worldwide after two crashes killed 346 people, Boeing’s 737 MAX faces a potential consumer backlash as its return to flight looms closer. The fate of the MAX — along with Boeing’s reputation — largely depends on winning over nervous passengers who may seek to avoid flights on the troubled aircraft.

Verian Utama, 31, a building contractor and married father of a toddler son, ran a small bicycle shop selling high-end Italian road and racing bicycles in Jakarta, Indonesia. He and his friend and business partner, retired Italian cycling pro Andrea Manfredi, 26, were among 189 people aboard the 70-minute flight from Jakarta to Bangka Island when Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea one year ago. All passengers were killed. (Courtesy of Utama’s brother, Fenlix and The Herrmann Law Group.)

One man's harrowing experience of discovering the fate of his only sibling played out again and again last Oct. 29, as relatives and loved ones of the 189 people aboard the Boeing 737 MAX jet, Lion Air Flight 610, learned of its crash.

“It started a couple months ago, slowing down a little bit and just over the last several weeks its been like a ghost town” says The Hop Garden manager Kristen Fisher as she poses for a portrait inside the pub in Renton on Dec. 16, 2019.  212419

For decades, Boeing was the backbone of Renton’s local economy, though that’s become less so as the city's population has grown and the number of Boeing jobs has shrunk.

Nearly 200 completed Boeing 737 MAX airplanes built for airlines worldwide, have their engines and landing gear protected from the weather while they are parked at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake Washington.
 In March 2019, aviation authorities around the world grounded the passenger airliner after two separate crashes.

Photographed on November 13, 2019. 212113 212113

Boeing's disastrous year will be followed by a precarious 2020: As the company's new leaders struggle to recover control, they face crucial decisions about developing new airplanes while coping with depleted financial resources, a distracted engineering corps and a loss of a strategic advantage against rival Airbus.

Parked Boeing 737 MAXs are seen at Boeing Renton Factory on Dec. 16, 2019. 212419

Boeing released more than 100 pages of documents to Congress on Thursday detailing internal messages that reveal how, during certification of the 737 MAX, company employees spoke of deceiving regulators and Boeing’s airline customers, and fought off moves over several years to require anything but minimal pilot training.

An Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 at center, is one of nearly 200 completed Boeing 737 MAX airplanes destined for airlines worldwide that are parked at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake Washington. In March 2019, aviation authorities around the world grounded the passenger airliner after two separate crashes.

Photographed on November 13, 2019. 212113

Boeing documents related to the 737 MAX jet suggest a troubling culture that prioritized costs over safety.

Just over seven weeks after it rolled out of the paint hangar, Boeing’s first 737 MAX “the Spirit of Renton” lifts off the runway and flew for the first time Friday, from Renton Municipal Airport at 9:48 a.m. January 29th, 2016.

See the latest headlines in our continuing coverage of the Boeing 737 MAX crisis.