Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates carved time out of his busy schedule for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) conversation on Reddit on Thursday, April 25, answering questions about the Boeing 737 MAX and his ongoing coverage in the aftermath of two recent crashes of Boeing’s newest single-aisle jet.
Updated 11:45 a.m.: The Q&A is no longer live, but you can still read through the entire conversation. Below are some highlights.
Some background: A week after the Lion Air crash last October, Boeing issued a service bulletin to all airlines operating the MAX that identified a new flight-control system on the airplane, known as MCAS, that had erroneously activated on the Lion Air Flight due to a faulty sensor. Gates’ stories quickly focused on the potential design flaws in this system. By January, Gates was following leads that indicated the certification of this system had been deeply troubled. In early March, Gates asked Boeing for comment on the details of a story that laid out how Boeing, rather than the FAA, had largely done the certification work on the MCAS system, leaving serious flaws in its safety analysis. Four days later, the second plane crashed in Ethiopia.
Soon it was clear that the trajectory of that flight was similar to the Lion Air flight, with MCAS again erroneously triggered by the same faulty sensor. Within days the MAX was grounded around the world, with the FAA the last major regulator to fall in line. Gates and more Seattle Times reporters followed up with stories on the victims of the Ethiopian crash; on the baffling decision to design the system so that it was activated by a single angle-of-attack sensor; on why the emergency instructions Boeing issued after the Lion Air crash failed to save the Ethiopian airliner; and about how the current FAA safety chief, working to placate industry, pushed more delegation of oversight to Boeing.
Gates and his colleagues continue to work on follow-up pieces, with all the stories collected here on our 737 MAX page.