Boeing has come under attack from US politicians in a damning report investigating the ill-fated 737 Max in the wake of two crashes that killed almost 350 people.
The House Committee on Transportation said the aerospace giant risked passenger safety through cost-cutting and faulty design to boost profits, had a “culture of concealment” that hid crucial information, and pressured the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to override concerns raised by the regulator's own experts.
Congressman Peter De Fazio, the committee's Democrat chairman, said the report “lays out disturbing revelations about how Boeing - under pressure to compete with Airbus and deliver profits for Wall Street - escaped scrutiny from the FAA, withheld critical information from pilots, and ultimately put planes into service that killed 346 innocent people”.
He added: “What’s particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes.”
The first 737 Max crashed off Indonesia in October 2018, killing 189 passengers and crew aboard the Lion Air flight.
The following March an Ethiopian Airlines flight went down near Addis Ababa, with the loss of 157 lives. The aircraft was subsequently grounded.
Both flights made a series of sudden clips and dives before crashing, leading investigators to focus on a flight control system called MCAS fitted to the 737 Max.
This was installed to give the 737 Max the same handling as earlier models, making it cheaper to train pilots for the new aircraft.
However, it could also cause the plane to go out of control with some pilots unaware of how it functioned, leading to the crashes.
There were worries about other 737 Max planes experiencing similar dives and climbs, highlighting a widespread problem, yet it was not grounded as concerns mounted.
After an 18-month investigation, a 238-page report that examined 600,000 pages of documents said the crashes were “a horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA”.
Politicians said that Boeing rushed forward with the 737 Max in a desperate attempt to compete with Airbus’ new A320neo - a direct rival.
This led to “extensive efforts to cut costs, maintain the 737 Max programme schedule, and avoid slowing the production line”, the report said.
Boeing said it “co-operated fully and extensively” with the investigation and has been “hard at work strengthening our safety culture and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators, and the flying public”.