FAA chief acknowledges agency, Boeing made mistakes on 737 MAX
By David Shepardson and Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - Steve Dickson, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, admitted Wednesday that Boeing and the United States Aviation Safety Agency made mistakes in developing the 737 MAX jetliner, which has been on the ground for more than a year after fatal accidents lay.
During a particularly tense exchange at a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee on Aircraft Certification, Senator Ted Cruz accused Dickson of speaking passively to "avoid responsibility" after Dickson told him "mistakes were made".
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"So unknown people have made unspecified mistakes that have had no effect," said Cruz. "What mistakes were made and who made them?"
After a pause, Dickson said, "The manufacturer made mistakes and the FAA made mistakes in their oversight. The full impact of the flight control system was not understood when design changes were made."
Congress investigators have been searching for documents and interviews with FAA officials for more than a year to shed more light on the certification of the 737 MAX and key security systems, including the MCAS flight control system, which failed in two fatal accidents.
Other senators said at the hearing that the agency "blocked" its investigation into the development of the 737 MAX and the FAA was like "a dog watching TV" when it came to overseeing Boeing's work.
"This record of delay and lack of responsiveness indicates a lack of willingness to work together," Senator Roger Wicker told Dickson at the start of the hearing. "Your FAA team intentionally tried to keep us in the dark."
Dickson told Wicker that he was "fully committed to the oversight process".
"I think it is inaccurate to portray the agency as unresponsive," said Dickson, referring to their collaboration on several investigations. "It is still being worked on."
The hearing took place a day after Wicker and Maria Cantwell, who were classified as Democrats in the committee, introduced bipartisan laws that would strengthen FAA control over the way Boeing designs aircraft.
The proposal marks the most important step towards reforms following the 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019, which killed 346 people within five months and triggered investigations into how Boeing and the FAA found that airplanes meet the safety requirements.
Boeing has received no regulatory approval to restart the 737 MAX since the aircraft landed worldwide in March 2019, and plunged the Chicago-based manufacturer into a crisis that has long been exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic.
The 2020 Aviation Safety and Certification Reform Law, introduced on Tuesday, would give the agency new powers to hire or remove Boeing employees who perform FAA certification tasks, including new protection for whistleblowers.
At the start of the hearing, Dickson told Cantwell that he did not think this would increase the safety of the process if the FAA appointed the certification staff itself, but agreed to consider the Senate proposal.
He also told the lawmaker that there are many points in the legislation that "come to the point".
"These additional resources would be very helpful," he said, referring to another law that will approve $ 150 million over ten years for new FAA training and hiring professionals to develop technical standards for new technologies and operations would.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Truro, Massachusetts and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski; editing by Tom Brown and Steve Orlofsky)
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