'Sully' Sullenberger blasts Boeing and FAA over 737 MAX crashes

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who famously landed an aircraft in New York's Hudson River in 2009, has told a congressional panel on Wednesday that pilots of the now-grounded Boeing 737 MAX should get new simulator training before the plane returns to service.

Sullenberger managed to glide his Airbus A320 to a safe landing on the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese shortly after takeoff, saving all 155 on board, in what became known as the "Miracle on the Hudson".

Captain Sullenberger, who has been scathing of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration for their roles in the two 737 MAX crashes since October which have killed 346 people, told congress the US system of certifying new aircraft is not working.

"Our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us," he said.

His testimony came during a hearing meant to give lawmakers looking into the 737 MAX crashes a better understanding of the steps needed to prevent similar crashes, particularly given the rising use of automation on airplanes.

Boeing said in May it had completed an update to software, known as MCAS, which would stop erroneous data from triggering an anti-stall system that automatically turned down the noses of the two planes that crashed, despite pilot efforts to stop it.

Sullenberger told the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee "it is clear that the original version of MCAS was fatally flawed and should never have been approved".

Family members want answers.
Family members want answers. Photo credit: Getty Images

Family and friends of those killed in the crashes of Lion Air flight JT610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 were present at the testimony during a transportation subcommittee hearing on the status of the Boeing 737 MAX, at Capitol Hill.

Allied Pilots Association President Daniel Carey told the committee that getting all pilots in simulators before the 737 MAX returns to service poses logistical issues, with 4,200 737 MAX pilots at American Airlines and 9,000 737 MAX pilots at Southwest Airlines.

Boeing has said that simulator training is not necessary, and is recommending a computer-based course that could be completed at a pilot's home in about an hour, according to pilot unions.

Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio criticised Boeing for failing to disclose details about the MCAS system to pilots. 

The crash site of ET302 in Ethiopia.
The crash site of ET302 in Ethiopia. Photo credit: Getty Images

"The pilots didn't know it existed," DeFazio said.

Two people briefed on the matter said Boeing is set to conduct a certification flight as early as next week, the first step towards getting the fleet back in the air.

Some in Congress have criticised the long-standing FAA practice of designating some certification tasks to Boeing or other aircraft manufacturers.

In March, Sullenberger told CBS News "there is too cozy a relationship" between the industry and the regulators for proper oversight to be assured.