Congress held two combative hearings on Wednesday on the FAA's oversight and approval process of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. The Max 8 was the type of plane involved in the deadly crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 in October and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 earlier this month.
Senate embers specifically pressed FAA, NTSB, Transportation Department chiefs for answers about the FAA's approval of Boeing's MCAS anti-stall safety system. Scroll below to read the running update CBS News kept of the hearings held yesterday by two different Senate committees.
Sen. Markey has fiery exchange with FAA head
Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, had a fiery exchange with Daniel Elwell, the Acting Administrator of the FAA.
Senator Markey asked him, "Do you believe Boeing's practice of selling the Angle of Attack Indicator and warming lights as separate optional features may have contributed to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes? Yes or no."
Elwell said, "The AOA is not an optional piece on the airplane. We look at a certification process that we've using for decades, that we've refined over 130 times, is geared toward one thing, the safest possible aircraft --"
"Should all of these safety features been mandatory that could've alerted pilots and mechanics to issues with the sensors? Yes or no," Markey interrupted.
"Senator, safety critical pieces on an aircraft are mandatory, that's what certification does."
"So you don't think they should've been mandatory? Is that what you just said? They should not have been mandatory?"
"Sir, I'm saying that any safety..."
"Yes or no? Should they have been mandatory? Yes or no?"
"Sir, the distinction between what goes in a flight deck and what stays out is a discussion, and whether or not a display is safety critical or not, is a distinction FAA is qualified to make."
FAA head on "duty to warn" about software update after Lion Air crash
Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, asked the FAA's Daniel Elwell if pilots and airlines around the world should have been warned that Boeing was updating the MCAS software on 737 Max planes following the Lion Air Crash in October.
"Is there a corresponding duty to warn either on the part of Boeing corporation or the FAA, either pilots or airlines, a duty to warn that there may be something wrong and a fix is on its way?" Moran asked.
Elwell said nine days after the Lion Air accident, the FAA put out an emergency airworthiness directive to all flying authorities around the world, calling it "a reminder" for pilots of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft to follow standard procedures if experiencing a problem with the anti-stall system. But when asked specifically about the software update, he said:
"The software update that you're referring to -- Boeing came to us with this and we talked with them about it, we accepted their applications and began work -- but we determined the issues that this software update was making, the things that it was improving upon for MCAS, did not warrant anything more than the announcement that this was in progress."
FAA, NTSB heads asked what they would have done at the controls
In an exchange with Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, neither Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of National Transportation Safety Board, nor Daniel Elwell, the FAA acting administrator, could answer how they would have taken control of Lion Air Flight 610, a Boeing 737 Max 8, when the nose of the plane dipped down 21 times before crashing. Both men are certified airline pilots with decades of flying experience between them.
After recounting how the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 experienced the MCAS system kicking in, pushing the nose down some 21 times, Senator Wicker asked, "What should the pilots have done there?"
NTSB chair Sumwalt answered, "Well, I flew the 737 for 10 years, and I do believe there is a procedure on the Flintstone version of the 737 I flew, a very old 737, but I do believe the first thing you would do is oppose that motion by pulling the yoke back. That should engage the stab break. Now, apparently that feature was not on the Max."
Senator Wicker heard enough and asked, "Mr. Elwell, what should the pilots have done based on 21 times of the system kicking in and pushing the nose down?
"Well, Mr. Chairman I did not fly the 737, so I can only speak to all the different airplanes I flew," Elwell said.
"But I'm actually asking about this aircraft," Senator Wicker said. "Do you know? If you don't know that's fine."
"Sir, I'd have to get back to you on the specific, there is a non-normal checklist," the FAA head said.
Questions about training for faulty sensor readings
FAA Acting Administrator Daniel K. Elwell said he did not believe the certification process of the Boeing 737 Max 8 included training for an angle of attack sensor malfunctioning or the reporting of faulty data in any of the simulated pilot training scenarios.
Senator Ted Cruz, R- Texas, asked, "Mr. Elwell you told Senator Sinema that part of certification was based on pilots flying simulators in multiple different scenarios: did any of those scenarios include Angle of Attack (AOA) sensors malfunctioning and reporting the wrong data?"
Elwell answered, "Sir, I can get an answer for you on that but I don't believe so."
FAA head: "Flight training was not needed"
Senator Krysten Sinema, D-Arizona, asked why information about the MCAS system was not required in pilot training materials for the Boeing 737 Max 8.
The FAA's Elwell began by answering that during new certification there is a Flight Standardization Board of experts, pilots and engineers whose responsibility is to determine if the handling characteristics of a new aircraft require flight training. Elwell said, "What the MCAS did was correct for some very slight modification that the Max had. The Max has slightly larger diameter engines," compared to earlier Boeing 737 models.
The FAA "put pilots in these simulators and fly the aircraft that's being amended and the new aircraft and after many scenarios, flights in all regimes of these pilots, there was a consensus opinion from the pilots, European, American and Canadian pilots, that there was no market difference in the handling characteristics of these two aircraft," he said.
"That is what we need to determine what kind of flight training was not or needed. And there was by the recommendation of the Flight Standardization Board -- understand this is a board that has been used dozens and dozens of times -- their unanimous opinion was flight training was not needed, and they didn't flight test the MCAS per say because the MCAS is a device that is supplement to another system."
FAA head: "I am confident in the MCAS system"
In response to questions from Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell said pilots did not have specific instruction on the MCAS system in the online course they were required to take before flying the Boeing 737 Max 8. Elwell also said he was confident in the controversial MCAS system.
Cruz asked, "Was there any information on the MCAS that was included in the short, self-administered online course that pilots were required to go through?"
Elwell replied, "There was not specific instruction on the MCAS, to my knowledge, specifically because it was not a system that went directly to what the pilots flew on the Max, the difference between the Max and the NG," referring to Boeing's Next Generation, the previous models of 737s.
Cruz asked, "How did FAA come to the conclusion that it was appropriate to certify an anti-stall software system, the MCAS, that drew data from a sensor that had a history of problems but also didn't have redundancy?" The sensor he referred to is the angle of attack sensor, or AOA, which is supposed to detect the plane's angle in the sky.
Elwell answered by noting that angle of attack is an input to the MCAS system and that the MCAS is not an anti-stall system, but a supplement to the speed-trim system. When pressed on question, Elwell said, "Sir, it is still yet to be determined if the malfunctioning of the AOA (angle of attack) caused the crash. We actually don't yet know what caused the crash."
He added, "I am confident in the AOA veins that are produced and put on airplanes and I am confident in the MCAS system."
FAA head: "Safety is at the core of the FAA"
FAA Acting Administrator Daniel K. Elwell extended his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of the two recent plane crashes and said, "safety is at the core of the FAA."
"Safety is not just a set of programs that can be established or implemented," he said. "It is a way of living and working."
In his opening statement, Elwell said the FAA was "fully involved" in the certification of the Boeing 737 Max 8, including "133 of the 297 flight tests."
"The FAA continues to seek and evaluate any additional data that might help us understand the underlying factors that led to the recent 737 Max accidents. We will take immediate and appropriate action based on the facts," adding that airline operators are "relying on the FAA get it right."
"The 737 Max will return to service for U.S. carriers only when the FAA's analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is appropriate to do so."
Secretary Chao: "I'm concerned about allegations of coziness"
When asked by Senator Susan Collins at the morning hearing about the cooperative relationship between FAA and Boeing regarding safety certification, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said that while the relationship is necessary, she was "concerned about any allegations of coziness."
"The FAA is the one that certifies," Chao said. "The FAA does not build planes. They certify. But this method of having the manufacturer also be involved in looking at these standards is really necessary because once again the FAA cannot do it on their own."
"Having said that, I am of course concerned about any allegations of coziness," she added.
Elaine Chao takes questions from Congress
In her opening remarks Wednesday morning, Secretary Chao said, "Let me emphasize that safety is always number one at the Department of Transportation."
Chao said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has taken two actions to help determine what went wrong with Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
"First, I've asked the Department's Inspector General to initiate an audit to compile a detailed factual history of the activities that resulted in the certification of the Boeing 737 Max 8 involved in the accident. Second, on Monday I announced the formation of a special advisory committee to provide independent, impartial advice on ways to improve the FAA safety oversight and certification process."
Office of the Inspector General announces Boeing 737 Max audit
The Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it will be conducting an audit of the FAA's certification process of the Boeing 737 Max 8.
"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for overseeing the safety and certification of all civilian aircraft manufactured and operated in the United States," the statement said. "While FAA has maintained an excellent safety record, two recent accidents involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft have raised significant safety concerns."
It continues, "Our audit objective will be to determine and evaluate FAA's overall process for certifying the Boeing 737 MAX series of aircraft. In addition, we will identify and undertake future areas of work related to FAA's actions in response to the crashes as needed."
Senators ask Boeing's CEO about safety features
Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, and a number of colleagues drafted a letter to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg asking him to respond to several questions concerning the 737 Max aircraft, including some extra safety features the company provided for an additional fee.
"One feature -- the angle of attack indicator -- displays the readings of the system's sensors in the cockpit. The other feature -- a disagree light -- alerts the pilots if the plane's sensors are providing different readings, which could help pilots and mechanics detect a sensor malfunction," the letter reads. "The FAA and other aviation regulators did not require these features to come standard on the 737 Max 8 and 9 ... We write to request answers about Boeing's ongoing practice of charging airlines extra for safety-critical systems important to the operation of an aircraft."
The letter requests the Boeing CEO respond by April 16.
"Safety must be a standard part of our fleets, engrained in every bolt, sensor, and line of code on an aircraft," the letter urges. "Boeing should include all safety-critical systems instrumental to the safe operation of an aircraft as part of the standard cost to the airlines of purchasing their aircraft. Safety features on jets that fly hundreds of passengers should never be sold as a la carte add-ons."
House Transportation Chair writes letter to FAA head
In a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Daniel K. Elwell, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Oregon, the Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, requested an independent, third-party take control of the review of any technical modifications being proposed for the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.
DeFazio's letter comes as the public has become increasingly concerned about the airworthiness of the 737 Max 8 aircraft. The plane has been grounded worldwide.
"In order to provide this level of assurance, we urge you to engage an independent, third-party review composed of individuals with technical skills and expertise to objectively advise on any measures being considered requiring the safety certification of new and novel technology, as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board," DeFazio wrote. "To be clear, we believe this proposed third-party review should be separate from the recently established Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee, which Congress required in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018."
Boeing 737 Max-8 grounding causing canceled flights
Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are canceling dozens of flights per day and will continue to do so as the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max-8 affects air travel.
Southwest is canceling up to 130 flights a day due to the grounding of its 34 Boeing 737 Max-8 airliners. Affected passengers are being contacted five days before their flight to be rebooked or refunded. The Dallas-based airline had been flying about 180 Max flights per day prior to the grounding. Southwest keeps up to 20 planes in reserve to serve as backups so does not have enough reserve aircraft to cover the flights.
American Airlines is canceling about 90 flights a day due to the grounding. The world's largest airline, American has 24 Boeing 737 Max-8 planes. The airline is planning for the grounding to last until at least late April.
It is estimated that the cost to airlines is $150,000 a day per plane that's grounded. Factoring in the costs to own and lease the planes along with the lost revenue from cancelled flights, the cost is easily in the many millions a month for each carrier.
Kris Van Cleave contributed to this report