News Briefs – October 14, 2019

Pentagon criticizes Turkish incursion into Syria

The Pentagon is calling Turkey’s military incursion into Syria a threat to progress in combating the Islamic State group and a potential threat to American troops there.
In a written statement Oct. 11, the chief Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said that in an Oct. 10 phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Defense Secretary Mark Esper “made it clear” that the U.S. opposes the incursion.
The Pentagon had said before the assault was launched that it did not endorse it.
Hoffman said Esper told his counterpart that the military actions “place at risk” the progress made to defeat the extremists, and Esper urged Turkey to stop its incursion.
Esper also said the incursion “risks serious consequences” for Turkey, and he expressed his concern that it could harm U.S. personnel in Syria. AP

NASA administrator explains Twitter spat with SpaceX

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Oct. 10 that a recent Twitter statement critical of SpaceX was a signal to all the space agency’s contractors about realistic development timelines.
Bridenstine addressed the issue during a press conference with SpaceX founder Elon Musk after touring the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
Bridenstine said NASA has programs that have been in development for years.
“What we’re trying to do is get back to a day where we have realistic cost and schedules. So I was signaling — and I haven’t done it just to SpaceX but to all of our contractors — that we need more realism built into the development timelines,” he said.
SpaceX is developing a capsule under NASA’s commercial crew program to launch astronauts to the international space station so that the U.S. does not have to rely on Russian rockets and spacecraft.
But last month Musk staged a big event to show off a prototype of an unrelated rocket he calls the Starship.
Bridenstine tweeted ahead of time that the commercial crew program is years behind schedule and NASA “expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American people. It’s time to deliver.”
Musk responded during his Starship reveal that SpaceX resources are overwhelmingly focused on the Dragon crew capsule and the Falcon rocket that will launch it.
During the press conference, Musk said SpaceX was within 1 percent of the commercial crew program budget.
“The NASA request for commercial crew for several years was substantially reduced by Congress, I think in some cases by 50 percent,” Musk said. “It’s pretty hard to stay on schedule if you’ve got half as much money, but we didn’t spend more money, it just took longer.”
Boeing is also developing a capsule called Starliner under the commercial crew program. AP

Boeing, FAA both faulted in certification of the 737 Max

Boeing withheld key information about its 737 Max plane from pilots and safety officials, and regulators lacked the expertise to understand an automated flight system on the new plane that has been involved in two deadly crashes.
Those are among many findings made by a panel of international aviation regulators in a report released Oct. 10. The panel made a number of recommendations for the Federal Aviation Administration to update its process of certifying new planes.
The panel looked into the FAA’s approval of a new flight-control system called MCAS that has been implicated in crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people. The plane has been grounded since March, and Boeing is still working on updates to software and computers.
The task force only looked at the FAA’s certification of the Max’s flight control system, but that allowed it to review the certification of the new automated system involved in the crashes.
The report cited signs that Boeing put “undue pressures” on employees who worked on the certification of the plane, further damaging confidence in the FAA’s program of delegating some safety-related work to employees of the companies that it regulates.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a prepared statement that the agency would review all recommendations from the panel and take appropriate action.
“We welcome this scrutiny and are confident that our openness to these efforts will further bolster aviation safety worldwide,” Dickson said.
Boeing said it appreciates the work of the panel led by the former chairman of the U.S. Transportation Safety Board, Christopher Hart.
“Boeing is committed to working with the FAA in reviewing the recommendations and helping to continuously improve the process and approach used to validate and certify airplanes going forward,” the company said in a prepared statement.
The panel included members from U.S. agencies, and aviation regulators from Europe and eight foreign countries including Canada and China. It took five months to prepare its report, and received briefings from Boeing and the FAA. AP

Boeing names new board chairman in setback to CEO

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has lost his title as chairman of the troubled aircraft manufacturer, nearly a year after the first of two crashes of its 737 Max that together killed 346 people.
Boeing announced late Oct. 11 that company directors decided to separate the two jobs and elected one of their own, David L. Calhoun, to serve as non-executive chairman.
“The board has full confidence in Dennis as CEO and believes this division of labor will enable maximum focus on running the business with the board playing an active oversight role,” Calhoun said in a statement issued by the company.
Muilenburg said in a statement that he supported splitting the CEO and chairman jobs.
The board in April opposed a shareholder resolution to split the jobs amid criticism over Boeing’s response to the accidents. The measure was rejected by a 2-to-1 margin.
The Max was Boeing’s best-selling plane until being grounded worldwide in March after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The company has set aside billions compensate airlines affected by the grounding.
The Justice Department and Congress are investigating the company, which also faces dozens of lawsuits by families of passengers who died in the crashes.
On Oct. 11, a panel of international aviation regulators issued a report critical of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration over how the Max was approved to fly. The group said Boeing failed to adequately inform the FAA about changes to a key flight-control system implicated in the accidents.
Chicago-based Boeing is one of two companies that dominate the building of large airliners; Europe’s Airbus is the other. Boeing is also a major defense contractor. It has more than 150,000 employees. AP