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US transport chief asks why some Boeing safety devices not included

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said on Wednesday it was “very the question” why some of the safety features were not required on the Boeing Co 737 MAX, with an edge of a long-awaited Senate hearing where the leaders in her department will be questioned about two recent 737 MAX crashes.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, USA, 21 March, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

Chao stopped briefly to say: the government would require retrofitting all aircraft with new safety features.

“I do not think that we are not there yet, but it is very questionable whether this safety-oriented additions, why they were not part of the desired template of measures that need to go in a plane.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, said she was considering the introduction of a bill that would require key “safety equipment” included in “basic aircraft sales costs… I feel very strongly that important safety equipment is to be included in the basic price of a plane.”

Chao said: “it is worrying that if it was indeed a part of the safety that it was not included.”

Reuters reported last week that Boeing plans to mandate a previously optional cockpit warning light, as part of a software update for the 737 MAX fleet, which is grounded. That function would have warned previously of issues that may have played a role in the accidents of Ethiopian and Indonesian planes that killed almost 350 people.

Boeing is expected to disclose personal information to the anti-stall software upgrade on Wednesday and confirm plan to the alert are required.

At a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the transportation department’s budget, Chao said that the matter will be assessed by an external commission and the department of the inspector-general.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat and the pilot, questioned Chao why it took the Federal Aviation Administration so long to the land of the 737 MAX while regulators around the world moved faster to halt the aircraft.

He also questioned why the safety mechanisms cannot be imposed by Boeing or the FAA. “It seems that we are following,” Manchin said, adding that it was “simply wrong” did not need the warning.

Chao defended the FAA’s decision as a “fact-based” review and decided on the basis of the aircraft after it has received new satellite data and evidence on the place.

The FAA has said that it will be the software upgrade and the plans to mandate it in April, but has stressed that it does not agree to unground the aircraft until it has more details about what led to the March 10, Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Senator Ted Cruz, who will chair the hearing later on Wednesday, said on CNBC, “Another important point of research is the process of certification of the 737 MAX to start.”

“Why didn’t this process catch this problem if this was the cause of the accident?”

Chao said 1,461 Boeing employees are involved in the certification. She also defended the FAA’s decision to Boeing to perform much of the certification work for the government.

U.S. Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel will testify that the FAA is a significant modification of the monitoring approach to the safety of the air traffic in July 2019.

At the same hearing, the FAA’s acting administrator, Dan Elwell, told a Senate Commerce Committee panel of the agency monitoring approach should be “grow”.

Scovel’s testimony for the hearing of the first reported by Reuters says that in response to a 2015 inspector general report, the FAA agreed to improve the supervision of organizations for the execution of certifications to his name.

Slideshow (4 Images)

GRAPHIC-Understanding of the controls on the Boeing 737 MAX: tmsnrt.rs/2OjLSAt

GRAPHIC-Ethiopian Airlines crash plane and black boxes:tmsnrt.rs/2ChBW5M

GRAPHIC-Boeing 737 MAX deliveries in question: tmsnrt.rs/2Hv2btC

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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