Safety upgrades to software on the Boeing 737 Max 8 that would address the known issue which led a Lion Air flight to crash in Indonesia last October — and potentially another flight in Ethiopia on Sunday — were delayed in part due to the partial government shutdown, according to Quartz.
Boeing said on Tuesday it had been working on the fix for several months, but the rollout initially planned for January was pushed back to April, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
Why? The delay was “because of ‘engineering challenges,’ ‘differences of opinion’ between federal and Boeing officials, and the 35-day government shutdown, during which ‘consideration of the fixes was suspended.’”
The Trump administration and members of Congress were warned several times that the shutdown — the longest in American history at 35 days — was undercutting air travel safety.
In a letter to the president on Jan. 2, the 61,000-member Airline Pilots Association International warned Trump that resources were being stretched too thin:
For example, at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) there are fewer safety inspectors than are needed in order to ensure the air traffic control infrastructure is performing at its peak levels of performance. There are also airline and aircraft manufacturing oversight activities that either stop or are significantly reduced. These safety and oversight inspections will potentially allow for the introduction of safety issues that put passengers and airline crews at risk.
Another warning came from the group on Jan. 10 with a letter addressed to the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which they wrote:
Most of the FAA staff who certify the safety of aircraft have been furloughed and safety reporting and oversight systems have been suspended. This is critical to resolving identified issues. The continued shutdown of these certification functions will also delay some companies in bringing their products to market and hurt deliveries and exports…
This will slow the introduction of new products and technology and result in airlines not being able to add new planes to their fleets, hindering planned routes and potentially resulting in flight cancellations. Certification and work on safety-related airworthiness directives are curtailed during the shutdown and aircraft that have been delivered to airlines are idled…
Though it is too early to know exactly what caused the latest 737 Max 8 to crash, it is clear that government officials were warned on several occasions that the government shutdown — in service of securing Trump’s border wall funding — would harm air travel safety.
All 157 people aboard the plane that crashed in Ethiopia were killed.