Boeing Max planes have ‘optional’ safety mechanisms

Media Contacts

Call for FAA to tell Boeing and other plane manufacturers to retrofit jets and mandate “optional” safety features

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

PHILADELPHIA– Newly-revealed details by the New York Times about of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes may stun even the most hardened observer. The planes lacked a safety feature that may have warned pilots about problems because it was not required and Boeing charged airlines extra to include it.

Both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines chose to not purchase this safety upgrade, which is being investigated as the likely cause of both crashes. The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) is designed to push the plane’s nose down to avoid stalls. However, errors in the system may have given incorrect readings, leading to the deadly crashes.

The story says Boeing charges more when it adds safety features, including for backup indicator lights that could have notified pilots of issues with the MCAS system. There are other such safety systems sold at a price such as a backup fire suppression system. Japan requires the installation of that particular feature but the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration does not. 

Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement:

“Safety should never be optional, let alone monetized for additional profit. A simple additional sensor could have warned pilots both that a malfunctioning system threatened the safety of their passengers and also let Boeing know about serious problems in the MCAS system sooner. 

“Boeing should install both solutions, at no cost, to all of its 737 Max 8s and 9s. Pilots need to have the best information available to keep passengers safe. In addition, the FAA should evaluate any safety options being sold as upgrades on all planes — regardless of who builds them — and err on the side of requiring their inclusion to keep people safe.”