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Plane's safe landing recalls Boeing's golden days

Saturday's scene of a burning jet landing safely back at the airport harkens back to the day when Boeing was an engineer-driven company known as the gold standard for aviation safety.

Why it matters: That reputation took a major blow after two crashes involving the 737 MAX. Boeing has since spent billions, and the FAA has sought to overcome its own reputational hit, reengineering and re-certifying the MAX in pursuit of the same long-term safety record as its earlier airliners.


The big picture: The 737 MAX has the same general design and safety redundancy as the Boeing 777 that suffered a blown engine on Saturday — two pilots, two engines, similar basic rudder and operating systems.

  • What's different is the 777 was an entirely new airplane, designed from the clean sheet of paper, while the MAX was the latest — and, likely, final — iteration of the workhorse 737.
  • Since the plane first flew in 1967, Boeing has stretched and reengineered it until the company had to decide whether to return to the drawing board for a new airplane, or make one more tweak to an old one.
  • Concerned American Airlines and other U.S. carriers were about to buy an emerging Airbus competitor, Boeing forged ahead in 2011 with the MAX — and pushed regulators to approve it without requiring a new pilot certification or additional simulator training.
  • Critics say economics pushed engineering to its limits.

Those decisions proved catastrophic in 2018 and 2019, when 737 MAXs operated by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines plunged from the sky shortly after takeoff.

  • Pilots were surprised to learn Boeing had installed new anti-stall software on the planes — MCAS — to compensate for potential imbalances created after their oversized engines were pushed forward on the wing to gain necessary ground clearance.
  • The MCAS system effectively overrode pilot movements on the control stick, pushing the planes' nose down even as the captain or first officer tried to pull up.
  • Subsequent investigations raised questions about the FAA's decision to let Boeing effectively self-certify its planes, and avoid additional pilot training that may have prevented the two crashes.
  • The FAA began to rely on aerospace companies to perform self-certification as the agency's workforce was stretched among numerous manufacturers.

The bottom line: The old Boeingwas evident on Saturday, when the United Airlines destined for Hawaii was able to return safely to Denver despite its damage.

  • Planes with two engines are designed to fly safely with just one operating.
  • The rudders that run up their tails are sized so the plane can fly straight even when it's being powered on just one side.
  • And hydraulic and electrical systems are backed up and spaced to avoid losing total control if spraying debris disables any individual control.
  • The two pilots also didn't flinch, successfully following their training.

Editor's note: Glen Johnson formerly served as the AP's national transportation writer. He attended a design and safety class at Boeing in 1998 that focused on the 777.

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

The House voted 220-212onWednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

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Republicans are demanding a full 600-page reading of Biden’s COVID relief bill

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

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Here’s how a single resignation, retirement or death could flip control of the 50-50 Senate

Note: Bernie Sanders is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Data: Axios Research/ProPublica/NCSL; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Nineteen seats in the U.S. Senate could potentially flip parties if there's an unexpected vacancy, according to Axios' analysis of state vacancy rules, which most often allow the governor to appoint a replacement.

Why it matters: Depending on the senator, a single resignation, retirement or death — by accident or old age — could flip control of the 50-50 Senate, or give Democrats a two-vote cushion.

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White House works with Democrats to ensure Biden quickly fills any federal court vacancies

The White House is quietly working with Senate Democrats to ensure President Biden has a steady stream of nominees for the federal courts, according to people familiar with the matter and an administration official.

Why it matters: Biden wants the federal judiciary to better reflect the country’s demographics, and to try to shield his unfolding legislative agenda from a judiciary currently dominated by Trump appointees.

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Journalists around the world face record persecution

Around the world, journalists are being targeted at record levels by despots, eager to silence the press.

Why it matters: Experts worry that the United States' wavering stance on press freedoms over the past few years may have empowered autocrats looking to gain power and undermine democracy by going after journalists.

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FBI, Homeland Security warn of increasing threat to Capitol

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says an unidentified group of extremists discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

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Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

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Biden on states lifting COVID restrictions: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking"

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told pool reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

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