Exclusive: U.S. FAA must restore 'public confidence' in plane certification – inspector general

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing facilities at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing facilities at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must work to restore “public confidence” in aircraft certification efforts after two deadly Boeing (NYSE:) 737 MAX crashes, the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general said on Wednesday in a report seen by Reuters.

The long-standing practice of delegating certification tasks to aircraft manufacturers has come under criticism from lawmakers and others after the two crashes in October 2018 in Indonesia and March 2019 in Ethiopia, which killed 346 people.

The report, dated Oct. 23 but not yet publicly released, said the FAA faces a “significant oversight challenge” to ensure that companies conducting those tasks “maintain high standards and comply with FAA safety regulations.”

The report said that by March 2020, the FAA plans to introduce “a new process that represents a significant change in its approach to overseeing” aircraft designation efforts.

The FAA did not immediately comment.

The 58-page report also laid out other management challenges the FAA and Transportation Department face, including cybersecurity, airspace modernization, integrating drones into the air space, air carrier safety oversight and preparing for emerging vehicle automation technologies.

The report added that “the new process will include identifying critical system elements and developing new evaluation criteria. While revamping FAA’s oversight process will be an important step, continued management attention will be key to ensure the agency identifies and monitors the highest-risk and safety-critical areas of aircraft certification,” the report said.

Congress is mulling changes to how the FAA delegates some certification tasks to manufacturers for new airplanes. In the 737 MAX certification it initially delegated 40% of the work to Boeing and later shifted more work to Boeing, including of a key safety system tied to both deadly crashes known as MCAS.

A report from the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), a panel of international regulators commissioned by the FAA and released earlier this month, faulted the review of MCAS and Boeing for assumptions it made in designing the airplane.

The JATR recommendations said the FAA’s longstanding practice of delegating “a high level” of certification tasks to manufacturers, such as Boeing, needs significant reform to ensure adequate safety oversight. It also questioned the limited FAA staffing of oversight and qualifications of some FAA employees overseeing Boeing and said there were signs some Boeing employees conducting FAA tasks reported feeling “undue pressure.”

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