Boeing 737: Trump's government shutdown delayed fixes to airplane involved in multiple deadly crashes

Chris Riotta

Boeing has announced plans to release a software update for its MAX fleets that may fix reported flaws in the new planes’ automated safety features following a second deadly crash in just five months.

Though the cause of the latest accident remains under investigation, the plane company said in a press conference on Tuesday it had been working on the update over “the past several months” to address a feature that reportedly caused one of its 737 MAX planes to nose-dive into the ocean last year, killing everyone on board. The two pilots on that Lion Air flight struggled to correct the issue as the plane plunged into the sea, according to investigators.

The fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash, which also killed all 157 passengers on the flight, followed the US government shutdown — the longest of its kind in American history — in which pilots warned Donald Trump and Congressional leadership that “certification and work on safety-related airworthiness directives” had been stalled by the federal closure.

A coalition of nearly 61,000 pilots wrote in multiple letters to the government during the shutdown that oversight at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had been “significantly reduced” or halted outright.

“There are also airline and aircraft manufacturing oversight activities that either stop or are significantly reduced,” the pilots association warned the White House in early January. “These safety and oversight inspections will potentially allow for the introduction of safety issues that put passengers and airline crews at risk.”

In another letter sent to Mr Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell just eight days later, the pilots said that oversight systems “critical to resolving identified issues” had been suspended due to a furlough involving “FAA staff who certify the safety of aircraft,” Quartz reported.

Airline regulators with the European Union — a group that typically provides standards for worldwide aviation safety, according to the outlet — said an “unsafe condition” had been discovered on the Boeing 737, 8 and 9 planes in an updated “airworthiness directive” to US operators after last year’s crash involving Lion Air.

A growing number of countries have grounded the Boeing 737 MAX, including China, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and more. The US continued allowing the models to be used in commercial flights, meanwhile, until Mr Trump issued an emergency order grounding the MAX fleets on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Trump forced the government into a partial temporary shutdown over his demands for a wall to be built with Congressional funds across the US-Mexico border after failing to receive enough support for his campaign promise from lawmakers.

The president has since declared a national emergency, allowing him to circumvent Congress and withdraw money from other federal funds in order to build the wall. The declaration faces a lengthy, nationwide legal battle which could prevent that process from moving forward, however.

The White House did not return requests for comment.