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Boeing Report To Include Overhaul Of Safety Procedures


Boeing's board of directors will soon receive recommendations aimed at making the company's planes safer. Two 737 Max jets crashed in the last year, killing everyone aboard. An internal committee recommends Boeing change the way potential safety problems are reported. NPR's Chris Arnold is following this story for us.

Hi there.


SHAPIRO: We've been hearing a lot of reporting about how Boeing is adapting to these crashes that both took place within the last year. The planes are still grounded all over the world. The company is still working on a fix. Remind us what's known about what went wrong.

ARNOLD: Well, like you were saying, these 737 Max jets - they had an automated system, and it was designed to keep the planes safe, to keep them in the air and avoid stalls, but it malfunctioned. And as many people know, that sent the planes into a nosedive, and two of them crashed, and 346 people were killed. There's, of course, been a lot of scrutiny, ongoing investigations, concerns that the Federal Aviation Administration maybe handed off too much responsibility to Boeing itself without doing proper government oversight.

This report doesn't deal with all of that, and the crash specifically. What this is is interesting. It's a small group of Boeing board members who've themselves been digging into this and looking for ways to improve safety at the company. And they're about to come out with recommendations about how this company could reshape itself in the wake of these devastating crashes.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about what these recommendations - what this report will say?

ARNOLD: Well, there's a lot of stuff, but one big thing would be that - to change who the engineers who work on these airplanes actually work on them. Currently, they - many of them report to the business leader for each airplane model that this engineer or that engineer might happen to be working on.

So what the recommendation is is that instead of that, engineers, regardless of what plane they happen to be working on, should report directly to Boeing's chief engineer. And the idea there is, well, OK, if they spot a problem, they can more easily send up a flare that'll get seen by top officials at the company.

SHAPIRO: So recommendations on engineers, also on pilots and cockpits - is that right?

ARNOLD: Right. I mean, there's a few different moving parts here, but one you picked up on which is, I think, very interesting - that there's a recommendation that the company reconsider the assumptions about cockpit design and to basically make cockpits for pilots who may not have as much experience.

SHAPIRO: Is there really a risk that pilots are being hired to fly Boeing planes who aren't experienced enough to be doing that job?

ARNOLD: Not really. But, you know, pilots around the world come from different backgrounds. And it used to be that most pilots came right out of the military, and many had a lot more experience troubleshooting under intense pressure. Today, you know, people are trained on simulators. They have hours in the air, but the planes are very automated. They're very reliable. They're very safe.

So the recommendation seems to be saying, look; this is a very rare event, and people - you know, maybe we can't make the same assumptions we used to, and maybe we should be designing cockpits and systems that make it much easier for pilots to troubleshoot and regain control of the plane in the very rare cases where something actually does go wrong.

SHAPIRO: What are outside experts saying about these recommendations?

ARNOLD: Well, I talked to one person today, Sean O'Keefe. He was the NASA administrator when the space shuttle Columbia disaster happened. And Boeing reached out to him for advice. Very quickly, he said, look; from what we're seeing so far, he likes they're not looking at this as a single incident, but they're looking at systemic fixes. He says that's what NASA did.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Chris Arnold.

Thanks a lot, Chris.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.