May 6, 2019

Boeing knew of 737 MAX safety issues before fatal Lion Air crash

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in storage in Victorville, California. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Boeing said Sunday it knew of a safety alert flaw in the cockpit of its 737 MAX jetliners months before the first of 2 fatal crashes involving the now-grounded aircraft, but it didn't immediately notify regulators.

Details: The issue concerns a warning light in the cockpit, known as the AOA Disagree alert. This alert is meant to notify the flight crew that two angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors are providing data that disagree with each other, which suggests one is erroneous. The company said in a statement the aircraft’s "display system software did not correctly meet" the AOA alert requirements in 2017 — well before October's Lion Air crash in Indonesia, which killed 189 people.

The big picture: A Federal Aviation Administration official told Reuters that Boeing waited 13 months before reporting the issue in November. Southwest Airlines told CNBC that Boeing didn't inform it about the issues until after the Indonesia crash. It's unclear if Boeing reporting the warning light issues could've prevented the Lion Air crash or March's Ethiopian Airways disaster, which killed 157 people.

What they're saying: Boeing said neither the AOA indicator nor the AOA Disagree alert identified in the flaws are necessary for the safe operation of a plane. "They provide supplemental information only, and have never been considered safety features on commercial jet transport airplanes," it said.

Detailing the issue, Boeing said in 2017, "within several months after beginning 737 MAX deliveries, engineers at Boeing identified that the 737 MAX display system software did not correctly meet the AOA Disagree alert requirements."

Why it matters: Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company, and its fortunes can ricochet throughout the economy, per Axios science editor Andrew Freedman. As federal investigators examine the two crashes and evaluate the safety of the plane, this latest issue raises questions about Boeing’s candor with regulators.

The 737 MAX's success is essential to Boeing's future, given that the airline has thousands on order.

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World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Countries where novel coronavirus cases are falling may be hit with a "second peak" if they relax restrictions too soon, World Health Organization emergencies chief Mike Ryan warned during a briefing Monday. "We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up," he added.

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.6 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,900 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,498,849 — Total deaths: 346,306 — Total recoveries — 2,233,180Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,662,768 — Total deaths: 98,223 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

LATAM Airlines files for U.S. chapter 11 bankruptcy

A LATAM air attendant aboard one of the company's planes in March. Photo: Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

LATAM Airlines Group SA said in a statement early Tuesday the firm and its affiliates in in the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Why it matters: Latam is Latin America's largest airline and its shareholders include Delta Air Lines. CEO Roberto Alvo noted in the statement the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the airline industry.