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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

Former Sen. David Perdue to launch bid for Georgia governor

Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images

Former Senator David Perdue (R) plans to announce a campaign against Georgia's incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp Monday, according to a source familiar with Perdue's thinking.

Why it matters: Perdue's challenge to his former ally Kemp sets up an unprecedented "scorched earth" battle between Georgia Republicans fueled by former President Donald Trump, in the battleground state. The news was first reported by Politico.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan tributes flood in for "giant of the Senate" Bob Dole

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and former Sen. Bob Dole at an event put on by the World Food Program where he was awarded the first “McGovern-Dole Leadership Award” in December 2013. Photo: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Senate colleagues, are sharing condolences and memories commemorating the life of Bob Dole, who passed away at 98 on Sunday morning.

The big picture: Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, was the longest serving Republican leader in the Senate until 2018, when current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell surpassed his record.

Former Sen. Bob Dole dies

Former Sen. Bob Dole in 2019. Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole passed away Sunday morning at the age of 98, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced in a statement.

Driving the news: Dole, a revered figure in U.S. politics and the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, served in the Senate for 27 years, including 11 years as GOP leader. Earlier this year he revealed he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.