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The plane truth

Federal Aviation Administration acting chief Daniel Elwell was on the Capitol Hill hot seat this week — and members of Congress were right to grill him harshly.

Elwell was called before the aviation subcommittee in the House of Representatives to answer questions about the Boeing 737 Max airliner. On FAA orders, the plane has been grounded because of two catastrophic crashes.

Between them, one 737 Max crash last October in Indonesia and another during March in Ethiopia claimed 346 lives.

It appears both disasters resulted from an automated flight-control system and a design that forced the planes’ noses down despite pilots’ attempts to recover.

What is especially unsettling is that the problem was suspected after the crash in October ?– but no one took decisive action until after the tragedy in March.

Elwell said all the right things to lawmakers, telling them his agency “welcomes scrutiny that helps make us better.” How many times have we heard that from federal bureaucrats?

And, he assured members of the subcommittee, “the 737 Max will return to service only when the FAA’s analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is safe to do so.”

That will be of small comfort to the families and friends of those who perished in the two crashes.

What members of Congress need to establish is why the FAA cleared for service what appears to have been a potentially dangerous airplane. And, of course, there are questions regarding how Boeing handled the aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers do not sell dangerous planes on purpose, of course. That simply is not a wise business practice.

And FAA personnel do not approve equipment and procedures that could kill people. They, too, fly. They, too, put their families on airliners.

Clearly, however, something went wrong badly in regard to the 737 Max. Ensuring the plane’s flaws are corrected before it can be used again is one thing.

But members of Congress should be focused on whether a similar scenario could play out with aircraft developed, manufactured, sold and flown in the future.

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