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US panel to interview Boeing engineer on 737 MAX's safety issues

Reports say the staff filed an ethics complaint on the plane's safety and said Boeing convinced regulator to ease safety standards

Seattle

A US panel has asked Boeing Co to make an engineer available for an interview after reports that the worker filed an internal ethics complaint on 737 MAX's safety and that the plane-maker convinced the regulator to relax safety standards.

The engineer said in the complaint filed this year that during the development of the 737 MAX, Boeing had rejected a safety system to minimise costs, The New York Times had reported earlier.

The engineer, who worked on cockpit instruments and controls, felt the safety system could have reduced risks that contributed to two fatal crashes that killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia, said the report.

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Peter DeFazio, chairman of the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: "All of this information is critical to have as we prepare for our Committee's Oct 30 hearing with Boeing's chief executive, as well as Boeing's chief engineer of its commercial airplanes division, and the chief pilot for the 737."

Boeing said it would continue to cooperate with Congress and the regulatory authorities as it focuses on safely returning the MAX to service.

The committee has been poring over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and e-mails from Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but said it was unaware of the engineer's complaint, he said.

Boeing persuaded the FAA in 2014 to relax safety standards for the new 737 MAX related to cockpit alerts that would warn pilots of problems during flight, The Seattle Times reported on Wednesday, citing documents.

The regulator struck out four clauses that would be requirements for any new jet being designed today, the report said.

This meant the plane-maker avoided a complete upgrade of the 737's ageing flight-crew-alerting system, the report added.

Boeing declined to comment on The Seattle Times report.

Boeing's submission cited an estimate that full compliance would cost more than US$10 billion, The Seattle Times said.

That amount included the direct cost to Boeing of redesigning the airplane and the expense of additional pilot training, all of which would have been borne by Boeing's airline customers, making the MAX a much less attractive airplane, the report said.

Mr DeFazio said: "These reports certainly add to my concern that production pressures may have impacted safety on the 737 MAX, which is exactly why it's so critical we get to the bottom of this."

The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. REUTERS