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After two faulty Boeing jets crash, the Trump administration blames foreign pilots

Dana Milbank on

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. aviation system needs urgently to restore the world's confidence after two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets.

Instead, the Trump administration's top aviation official, goaded by some Republican lawmakers, informed the world Wednesday that the problem isn't that Boeing put a faulty aircraft into the skies, nor that the Federal Aviation Administration's lax oversight kept it flying. The trouble, they argued, comes from lousy foreign pilots -- particularly the ones on Ethiopian Airlines and Indonesia's Lion Air who died struggling to pull the Max jets from death plunges.

"I'm trying to be respectful because they're deceased," Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., said of the doomed crews. But, "do we not have concerns not only with the training of pilots in other nations, but the reliability of their logs?"

The acting FAA administrator, Daniel Elwell, shared this skepticism and said he "absolutely" wants to "take a hard look at the training standards globally."

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., voiced concern about "the maintenance programs, the pilot experience requirements, the pilot training programs of the air carriers involved."

And Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.), ranking Republican on the House transportation committee and a pilot (as he repeatedly mentioned), criticized the deceased: They "never pulled the throttles back," they "were simply going too fast," they followed "no operating procedure that I have heard of."

 

Elwell concurred that the problem should have been "immediately recognizable" to the pilots, but there was "apparent lack of recognition." He blamed the Indonesians for failing to disable the system and said the Ethiopian crew "didn't adhere to the emergency [advisory] we put out" and "never controlled their air speed."

Sam Graves rejoined the denunciation. "I hate to disparage another country and what their pilot training is, but that is what scares me in all of this: climbing on an aircraft or airline that is outside U.S. jurisdiction," he said. "It just bothers me that we continue to tear down our system based on what has happened in another country."

Yep. Nothing makes foreigners want to buy Boeing jets like a little jingoism.

Pilot inexperience may well have played a role in the crashes after the infamous MCAS stabilization system malfunctioned. But that doesn't negate the fact that screwups by both Boeing and the FAA put the faulty aircraft in the air in the first place. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that senior FAA officials failed to review key safety assessments of the MCAS system and that Boeing failed to label the stall-prevention system as a critical component whose malfunction could be catastrophic. MCAS wasn't even originally mentioned in the plane's manual. In addition, Boeing had disabled a safety feature designed to warn pilots about malfunctioning sensors related to the system -- but it allegedly didn't inform airlines. Boeing didn't inform the FAA until 13 months after it discovered it had offered the safety feature as an add-on option instead of standard.

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