Momentum grows in Congress for more FAA oversight of Boeing
In Congress, pressure is growing on at least modest changes in the approval of new passenger aircraft by the federal regulatory authorities after two fatal crashes with the Boeing 737 Max.
On Tuesday, two key transportation senators proposed several changes that would strengthen the Federal Aviation Administration's direct role in aircraft certification.
Their legislation would not end a decades-long practice in which the FAA relies on the aircraft manufacturers' own employees to certify the safety of the systems in their aircraft. However, the FAA would have to select the people who will perform the security work rather than having it selected by the manufacturers.
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Proponents of the FAA's trust in aircraft manufacturers' employees point to the safety record of US airlines - no more fatal crashes since 2009 - as evidence that the directive produces safe aircraft. Critics say, however, that the FAA approved the Boeing Max without fully understanding an anti-stall system that was later involved in the crashes.
The new bill by Republican chairman of the Senate's Commerce Committee, Roger Wicker from Mississippi, and panel's top democrat, Maria Cantwell from Washington, would make other changes. The FAA would have to accept recommendations from federal security researchers on safety standards for pilot training in modern, highly automated aircraft. Ordinary pilots for U.S. and international airlines would do test flights on new aircraft instead of leaving the work to highly specialized test pilots.
The measure is stronger than a bill that Wicker introduced two weeks ago and that has been criticized by families of some of the 346 people who died in the Max Accidents. The House Democrats are working on their own proposal to revise the FAA certification for passenger aircraft.
The FAA declined to comment. FAA administrator Stephen Dickson is expected to be interviewed on Wednesday when he appears before the Senate committee to discuss FAA oversight of the aerospace industry.
The first Max crash occurred in October 2018 off the Indonesian coast. The FAA and other regulators ground all Max Jets in March 2019 after another crashed in Ethiopia. An automated anti-stall system pushed the noses of both planes down due to incorrect measured values from sensors.
Michael Stumo, whose daughter was killed in the Ethiopian crash, said the FAA refused to answer questions from families about their consent to Max.
"The FAA is still glad that it is not directly involved in the certification," he wrote in a statement to the Senate Committee. "To date, the FAA has admitted no mistakes."
Boeing has rewritten software and made other changes to the Max. The company hopes to receive approval to restart the aircraft this year pending a demonstration flight with FAA experts that is not yet planned.
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