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Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Boeing is facing intense scrutiny for failing to provide instructions on how to operate a new automated flight-control system in the operations’ manual for its 737 MAX aircraft, a decision investigators say might have led to October's Lion Air crash that killed all 189 people on board off the coast of Indonesia.

Why it matters: As the Wall Street Journal notes in a detailed report published Wednesday, the move to “omit the control system from manuals has put a Boeing design principle at the center of a probe into a fatal airliner crash for the first time in more than two decades.” Questions about the crash have also threatened “to tarnish Boeing’s reputation for safety and its tradition of prioritizing pilot authority over automation.”

The bottom line: There’s reportedly an intense ongoing debate over the amount of training pilots should receive before they can safely go behind the controls of a Boeing 737 MAX.

What they're saying: A Boeing spokesperson told WSJ that the company did not deliberately keep information regarding how to operate the 737 MAX's control system away from aviators, and that officials have discussed the new system at industry conferences in recent years.

  • “When Boeing developed its training and materials, it followed a process that was absolutely consistent with introducing previous new airplanes” and new models, the spokesperson said.

But regulators and pilots are questioning why Boeing failed to explain how the new system operates and why pilots weren’t trained on the specifies. “Key aspects of the system differ markedly from systems on the plane’s older versions,” WSJ notes.

  • “Airline pilots need to know everything they can know about how the airplane works,” Gordon Bethune, a former Boeing executive who later served as the CEO of Continental Airlines, told WSJ. “The ball was dropped.”

The backdrop: Preliminary findings of the Lion Air investigation have focused on an erroneous input from one of the plane's angle of attack indicators. The indicators feed instruments and pilots information about whether the nose is pointed up or down, and by how much.

  • Erroneous readings could cause the plane's computers to detect an impending stall, or loss of lift, and force the nose down repeatedly, overriding the pilot's inputs.
  • This is apparently what happened in October's crash, when the plane eventually rapidly nosedived into the sea.
  • According to a preliminary report of the crash, outline by WSJ: [T]he plane’s flight-control alerts malfunctioned ... providing erroneous stall-warnings from the instant it lifted off the runway. Cockpit instruments displayed a barrage of fault warnings, including unreliable airspeed and altitude, according to the report. The crew battled more than two dozen repeated automated nose-down commands by manually commanding nose-up maneuvers, until they lost control some 11 minutes after takeoff."

Yes, but: The overall safety of the 737 MAX isn't being questioned, WSJ notes. American Airlines, Southwest and United Continental Holdings — three of Boeing’s biggest 737 MAX customers — reportedly said their pilots are well-trained to fly the planes they said are safe.

  • Meanwhile, Lion Air’s co-founder said the airline may cancel more than 200 orders for Boeing planes.

State of play: "The FAA confirmed it is reviewing its decision to accept Boeing’s initial risk analyses of the automated system and other approved systems on the new plane," per WSJ. "The FAA and Boeing also are developing a test of the entire MCAS system, which wasn’t previously required"

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”