Boeing Kept Pilots In Dark About 737 MAX Auto Trim System

Boeing said it is confident in the safety of the 737 Max family of jets

737 MAX 8 crashed offshore of Indonesia last week killing all 189 people on board, the company referred operators of the aircraft to the plane's operation manual for procedures to deal with possible erroneous input from a sensor created to prevent the aircraft from going into a stall.

Now, investigators speculate the nose-down command could have been activated by an improper signal, adjusting the plane's trajectory into an irreversible dive into the ocean.

The complaints from pilot union leaders at Southwest Airlines Co. and American are significant because of the size of those carriers' 737 fleets and their Max purchases.

Other major customers for the 737 MAX include FlyDubai with 7 in operation out of an order of 251, Jet Airways with a fleet of 5 out of a total of 220 on order and Lion Air who had received 13 of their order of 201.

"Because the Max is a derivative aircraft, we doubt that this is a difficult-to-correct technical issue as the battery fire early in the 787's life, appeared to be", Cowen analyst Cai von Rumohr said in a note.

The Chicago-based aerospace giant didn't immediately respond a request for comment on the FAA statement.

Rescue crews have called off the search for evidence and survivors, and have located the black box which stores flight data and may give clues to explaining the crash.

Indonesian investigators said on Monday a system created to deal with the accident scenario was not described in the flight manual. That prompted aviators, unions and training departments to realize that none of the documentation for the Max aircraft included an explanation of the system, the union leaders said.

Stalls are one of the most common causes of airplane crashes.

The approved training was restricted to three hours of computer-based training and a familiarization flight, Lion Air Training Centre general manager Dibyo Soesilo said during a media tour of the center on Monday.

Boeing (BA -1.4%) plunges as much as 4% after making fewer 737 deliveries than expected and news that the company had failed to advise pilots of new safety systems on the 737 MAX, which may have played a role in the recent Lion Air crash.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it is not conducting a probe separate to the ongoing Lion Air accident investigation, of which it is a part.

The Journal also reported on Tuesday that when Boeing made a decision to install the flight-control feature, the company determined that it was fail-proof because it was impossible for the combination of sensor failure, pilot actions, and automated nose-down commands to cause any serious safety hazards. "This has not changed", the FAA said.

Last week Boeing said the fix for this type of event - known as a "runaway stabilizer" - was covered by existing procedures.

But, according to Roger Cox, a retired investigator with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and a former airline pilot who spoke to TIME, crews have every right to be angry at Boeing.

To answer that question fully, investigators may need access to cockpit voice recordings thought to be hidden in the seabed.

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