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Boeing fined $17m after fitting uncertified sensors to 737 Max and NG airliners for 4 years

Heads up guidance system since certified but plane maker still violated US airworthiness regs

Boeing has paid the US Federal Aviation Administration $17m after fitting hundreds of 737 NG and Max airliners with heads-up guidance system sensors (HUGSS) that hadn’t been properly certified as safe for use.

“Keeping the flying public safe is our primary responsibility. That is not negotiable, and the FAA will hold Boeing and the aviation industry accountable to keep our skies safe,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in a statement.

At fault were Boeing-installed Rockwell Collins heads-up guidance systems fitted aboard 791 Boeing 737 NG and 737 Max airliners between 2015 and 2019.

“The FAA alleges that the guidance systems in these aircraft were equipped with sensors that had not been tested or approved as being compatible with those guidance systems,” said the agency when it first publicly mooted the fines last year.

The affected sensors have since been formally tested and certified as safe to use. Nonetheless, Boeing will still pay $17m for fitting the sensors in violation of US airworthiness regulations.

HUGSS were not involved in either of the infamous 737 Max crashes that saw the type grounded worldwide in 2019 and 2020. The devices allow pilots to fly in low visibility and at low level without needing to look down into the cockpit: fuller details are available on this enthusiast website. Heads-up guidance technology was originally developed for fighter jets, though the display of vital information directly in the pilot’s line of sight inevitably crossed over into commercial aviation.

In a pointed reference to the 737 Max scandal, the FAA told the world’s press it would be looking over the US airframe-maker’s shoulder to ensure it “does not install on aircraft any parts that fail to conform to their approved design”. The first of two fatal crashes that killed 346 people came about in part because of a faulty angle of attack sensor, which in turn triggered a then-unknown flaw in the aircraft’s flight control software.

The settlement comes a year after the FAA first threatened to impose a $19m fine for the airworthiness violations. It also adds to the costs racked up by Boeing as a result of the 737 Max scandal, including a $2.5bn settlement over allegations the company committed fraud by hiding software changes made to get the Max through initial safety certification. ®


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