U.S. transport chief: ‘Questionable’ why some Boeing safety features not required

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a Senate committee on Wednesday it was “very questionable” why some Boeing 737 MAX safety features were not required, but she stopped short of saying the government would require retrofitting all aircraft.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

“It is very questionable that these were safety oriented additions, why they were not part of the required template of measures that should go into an airplane,” Chao said, saying the issue will be reviewed by an outside committee and the department’s inspector general.

Reuters reported last week that Boeing plans to mandate a previously-optional cockpit warning light as part of a software update to the 737 MAX fleet that was grounded in the wake of the fatal crashes, said the officials, who asked not to be identified. That feature might have warned earlier of problems that possibly played a role in the crashes of Ethiopian and Indonesian planes that killed almost 350 people.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat and pilot, questioned Chao why it took the FAA so long to ground the 737 MAX while major regulators around the world had moved faster to halt planes.

He also questioned why any safety features were not mandated by Boeing or the FAA. “It looks like we are following,” Manchin said.

He said it was “just wrong” not to require the alert. “If there are options on a plane that deals with safety, there is a problem.” Those options should be “mandatory from the factory if it is about safety.”

Chao defended the FAA’s decision making as a “fact-based” review and decided to ground the planes after it received new satellite data and evidence at the scene. Prior to that, “There was no factual basis to ground the planes,” she said.

GRAPHIC-Understanding controls on the Boeing 737 MAX:

GRAPHIC-Ethiopian Airlines crash plane and black

GRAPHIC-Boeing 737 MAX deliveries in question:

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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