The Department of Justice reportedly issued a series of subpoenas Thursday morning to Boeing over its 737 MAX aircraft, which has now been involved in two fatal crashes in just the last six months.
Business Insider reports that the subpoeans show that the DOJ is likely opening a criminal investigation into Boeing over the plane, the plane's certification process, and how the plane was marketed, and how Boeing determined the aircraft was safe to fly.
"The investigation reportedly concerns the process Boeing used to determine its 737 Max aircraft were safe for flight and the data it gave to the Federal Aviation Administration about that process. Investigators have asked for information from Boeing about the company's pilot-training manuals and marketing for the 737 Max aircraft, according to the CNN report," BI says.
Although it's not yet entirely clear what caused either the crash of a Lion Air flight in October 2018, or the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight earlier this month — investigators in both cases are far from being able to release final reports — both incidents involved the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. All on board both flights perished when they crashed shortly after takeoff.
The DOJ reportedly opened the investigation into Boeing after the October crash, but the Ethiopian Airlines incident was so markedly similar that the investigation process has been thrown into high gear. In both cases, the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft "displayed erratic flight patterns" shortly after takeoff, and both planes crashed mere minutes after becoming airborne. Both pilots reportedly struggled with the plane's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which took effect automatically to even out the aircraft's tendency to point skyward.
"Boeing installed the [MCAS] system on 737 Max aircraft because they feature larger engines that had to be mounted in a different way from those on prior 737 aircraft," according to an earlier Business Insider report. "The new engines created a tendency for 737 Max aircraft to tilt upward, which makes it more likely that they will stall in midair. The MCAS was designed to counter this tendency."
Investigators are concerned that both pilots were not properly trained on using and controlling the MCAS system, leaving them helpless as the plane tried to compensate for its upward tilt, and as the plane's stabilizers shifted into downward positions. They are also concerned, according to a New York Times report that surfaced Thursday morning, that Boeing may have made certain safety features "extras" rather than selling them as standard with certain planes, including the 737 MAX.
"Boeing’s optional safety features, in part, could have helped the pilots detect any erroneous readings. One of the optional upgrades, the angle of attack indicator, displays the readings of the two sensors. The other, called a disagree light, is activated if those sensors are at odds with one another," according to the NYT.
In anticipation of more information on Boeing's 737 MAX, the United States, China, France, and Britain have grounded all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
Boeing's CEO responded that the company is complying with the government's investigation in the interest of making sure air travel remains safe, according to a local report.
"“We’re united with our airline customers, international regulators and government authorities in our efforts to support the most recent investigation, understand the facts of what happened and help prevent future tragedies.”