Aerospace & Defense

DOT watchdog probes FAA's pilot training after 2 deadly crashes of Boeing 737 Max

Key Points
  • The U.S. Transportation Department's watchdog said it will audit the FAA's pilot training standards.
  • Concerns about increasing automation in aircraft design have come into focus after two deadly Boeing 737 Max crashes.
  • Boeing has designed a software fix for the planes but regulators haven't yet cleared them to fly.
The cockpit of Jet Airways Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft
Abhirup Roy | Reuters

The Department of Transportation's watchdog on Monday said it will review federal pilot training requirements, a move that comes after two fatal crashes of Boeing's 737 Max raised questions about increasing automation in aircraft.

Pilots in both crashes battled an automated flight-control system that was erroneously activated and repeatedly pushed the planes' noses down before their fatal dives. Boeing has updated the system to give pilots greater control but the Federal Aviation Administration hasn't yet approved the planes to return to service. The manufacturer faces several more hurdles including a certification flight with the FAA, before regulators will sign off on the jetliners, which have been grounded since last March after the second of the two crashes.

Pilots complained that they didn't even know the flight-control system, known as MCAS, was included in the planes until after the first crash — Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia that went down shortly after takeoff in October 2018. That crash, and a 737 Max crash in Ethiopia last March, killed all 346 people on the two flights.

"These fatal accidents have drawn widespread attention to FAA's oversight and certification practices, including the Agency's process for establishing pilot training requirements for the aircraft," the department's Office of Inspector General said in a statement. The office will review how the FAA formulates pilot training requirements as well as how international regulators design their training requirements "regarding the use of flight deck automation."

The FAA said it welcomed the audit. "Raising and harmonizing pilot training standards across the globe are among the FAA's top aviation safety priorities," it said. "We continue to pursue expanded conversations among the world's aviation regulators to identify ways to enhance international aviation safety through robust pilot training programs."

Boeing didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.