Whistleblowers have told the Senate Commerce Committee that safety inspectors at the Federal Aviation Administration, including those involved with approvals for the Boeing Co. 737 Max, lacked proper training and certifications, according to the panel’s chairman.
“Multiple whistleblowers” provided the committee with information alleging that “numerous FAA employees, including those involved in the Aircraft Evaluation Group for the Boeing 737 MAX, had not received proper training and valid certifications,” Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said in a letter to the FAA’s Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell Tuesday.
Those claims and two 737 Max crashes since October that have killed 346 people prompted Wicker to launch an investigation into potential connections between training and certification shortcomings and the FAA’s evaluation of the airliner, he said in his letter, which was released by the committee Tuesday.
“As the FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell stated in last week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, ‘In our quest for continuous safety improvement, the FAA welcomes external review of our systems, processes, and recommendations,'” FAA spokesman Gregory Martin said in an email.
The Senate panel’s probe is the latest in a string of investigations by U.S. officials and lawmakers into how the FAA cleared the 737 Max as safe to fly. The Transportation Department’s inspector general is reviewing the FAA’s process for approving the airworthiness of new jets and aiding a Justice Department criminal probe.
A grand jury convened by U.S. prosecutors subpoenaed on March 29 a former Boeing engineer demanding he provide testimony and documents related to the 737 Max.
The subpoena, obtained by Bloomberg, was addressed to Peter Lemme, of Kirkland, Washington, and told him to provide documents, emails and other records related to the Boeing 737 Max. The document ordered him to appear April 12 at a grand jury in Washington, D.C. It was signed by Cory Jacobs of the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Lemme said in an interview that he worked on automated flight controls on Boeing’s 767 model. He blogs under the name Satcom Guru and has written posts analyzing how the anti-stall system on the 737 Max aircraft behaved in the Lion Air accident.
He didn’t work on the 737 Max and has no direct information about how it was designed by Boeing and approved by FAA, he said. He said he would provide whatever he knows to prosecutors.
“I don’t know if the information I have is of any significance,” he said. “I really don’t.”
The 737 Max, Boeing’s best-selling single-aisle jet, was grounded March 13 after the second fatal crash in less than five months. An anti-stall system that pushes down the plane’s nose automatically had activated in both cases.
The whistleblowers alleged that some of those FAA personnel may have participated in an agency panel responsible for determining pilot training requirements and other matters related to the 737 Max, Wicker wrote. The committee is concerned that the potential staff shortcomings “may have led to an improper evaluation of the” 737 Max’s anti-stall system linked to the deadly crashes of the jet, Wicker wrote.
“According to information obtained from whistleblowers and a review of documents obtained by the committee, the FAA may have been notified about these deficiencies as early as August 2018. Furthermore, the committee is led to believe that an FAA investigation into these allegations may have been completed recently,” Wicker wrote.
Wicker also asked Elwell to respond to several questions for the committee by April 16.
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