Top air safety officials face US lawmakers after fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes

Employees work on Boeing 737 MAX airplanes at the Boeing Renton Factory in Renton, Washington on March 27, 2019.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

Top U.S. air safety officials face lawmakers on Wednesday about the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, the fast-selling plane that was involved in two crashes that killed 346 people.

The aviation panel of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is set to question Daniel Elwell, acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, which gave Boeing its seal of approval of the 737 Max jets in March 2017. Lawmakers will also hear testimony from National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, whose agency investigates accidents and joined the probe of most recent crash in March.

Lawmakers are likely to probe the officials on how much authority Boeing had in the certification of the planes and when the FAA expects the planes to fly again. Boeing and the FAA are facing several investigations into the certification process.

Investigators have pointed to erroneous sensor data that fed into an automated anti-stall system in the crashes shortly after takeoff in Indonesia in October and in Ethiopia in March. Some pilots said they weren’t aware the system, known as MCAS, existed on the planes until after the crash of the Lion Air flight in Indonesia.

Aviation authorities across the world, including the FAA, grounded the fleet of close to 400 Boeing 737 Max planes in March after the Ethiopian Airlines plane went down.

Boeing is working on a fix for the planes but the grounding has already pinched some airlines’ revenue and is threatening to crimp sales further if the planes remain off limits during the peak summer travel season.

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