737 Max crash investigation could start with flight control system

    737 Max crash investigation could start with flight control system (KOMO photo)

    RENTON, Wash. - While Boeing’s fleet of 737 Max planes sits idle, questions abound over the future of the program and what course the crash investigation will take.

    What caused the planes to crash still isn't known but there are some similarities between the two deadly disasters. That has focused some initial attention on the automated flight control system — a unique feature of the Max jets.

    The 737 Max is outfitted with powerful engines positioned more forward on the wing, which changes the aircraft's center of gravity. Boeing designed the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, to help level out the aircraft. However, now there are questions about whether MCAS might also force the jet into a dive.

    “Information came out that the air speed was erratic and that there was some up and down movement in the altitude,” said Scott Hamilton, a commercial aviation expert.

    Flight data recovered from the Lion Air crash in October showed the pilots struggled to pull the nose up. In November, Boeing issued a safety warning showing how to deactivate MCAS. Still, many pilots said the company did not provide enough information and training on this critical feature.

    “There are some things that should have been done differently in terms of the information to the pilot community,” said John Nance, an aviation expert and commentator for ABC News, but added, “there is no inherent flaw that we know of right now with this airplane."

    Investigators will have a better sense of where to look once the flight data recorders are analyzed. Meantime, Boeing is working on a software fix for the MCAS that should be ready in April.

    Aviation experts also said the company will likely forge ahead manufacturing the Max out of its Renton facility.

    “The production will continue unabated,” Hamilton said. “I think the real key thing is how much parking space does the airport have, dependent upon how long the grounding goes."

    These types of crash investigations typically take months to analyze and a full report on the first accident in Indonesia likely won't be done until August or September.

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