The FAA Will Change Aircraft Oversight After the Boeing 737 MAX Crashes

Mar 27, 2019

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In a hearing with a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, Federal Aviation Administration officials said they would change the regulatory body’s aircraft oversight procedures following two deadly crashes of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8.

The two crashes, one on Lion Air and one on Ethiopian Airlines, happened about five months apart and had striking similarities. Following the fatal accidents, aviation oversight organizations around the world grounded the 737 MAX until further investigations could take place; the FAA was the last to do so. The crashes, in which a software system designed to prevent stalls but possibly confusing the pilots may have played a part, sparked suspicions that the FAA was too lax in its certification of Boeing’s latest short-haul plane.

For years, the FAA has allowed plane manufacturers to self-certify parts of the oversight process for new planes, called Organization Designation Authorization. This process, in which the aircraft manufacturer’s employees perform some of the safety tests and inspections with FAA oversight, reportedly saved the government body time and money.

That practice was examined at Wednesday’s Senate hearing.

Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel III, who testified at the hearing, said the FAA will significantly change the oversight process for new aircraft by July. Speaking in vague terms, Scovel said that the changes would include new ways for the FAA to evaluate the self-certifying process.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal said that putting manufacturers in charge of their own safety audits was like putting “the fox in charge of the henhouse.” Saying he would introduce regulations to ban the practice of companies self-certifying, Blumenthal stated that “the fact is that the FAA decided to do safety on the cheap, which is neither safe nor cheap.”

Daniel Elwell, acting administrator of the FAA, said that using the plane manufacturers’ own employees to self-certify the planes has been “part of the fabric of what we have used to become as safe as we are today.” He noted that the FAA would need 10,000 more employees and $1.8 billion in additional funding to have FAA employees do all the labor of the self-certifying process.

In addition to the Senate hearing and the DOT IG’s probe, the Department of Justice is examining whether to bring criminal charges in the matter of the MAX 8 approval procedures.

Featured photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

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