Congress Set to Boost FAA Oversight of New Planes After Boeing 737 MAX Crashes

By David Shepardson | December 22, 2020

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers are expected to vote Monday to approve landmark reforms on how the government certifies new airplanes are safe in the wake of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes, according to a summary made public Monday.

The measure, whose inclusion in a year-end legislative package was first reported earlier on Monday by Reuters, would boost Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of aircraft manufacturers, require disclosure of critical safety information and provide new whistleblower protections. The measure repeals the industry’s authority to self-certify new airplanes and creates new safety reporting channels for FAA employees.

The reforms aim to address shortfalls exposed by the two 737 MAX crashes in five months that killed 346 people and led to plane’s worldwide grounding for 20 months that was only lifted by the FAA last month.

The legislation, intended to be included in a COVID-19 relief package, requires an expert review panel evaluate Boeing’s safety culture. Boeing and the FAA have declined to comment.

Boeing did not initially disclose the existence of a key safety system tied to both fatal crashes known as MCAS to pilots. The legislation requires manufacturers to disclose to the FAA, airlines and pilots “all safety-critical information related to an aircraft.”

The FAA must review Boeing employees performing duties on behalf of the FAA to ensure they meet minimum qualifications.

The FAA must also report to Congress on the status of its implementation of various recommendations issued after the 737 MAX crashes.

The moves include increasing civil penalties, providing resources for the FAA to build highly qualified staff and requiring reviews of pilot-training standards.

It also requires system safety assessments for all significant proposed design changes and requires FAA approval of all Boeing employees conducting certification tasks for the FAA.

Last month, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously passed a bill to reform FAA airplane certification and the U.S. House unanimously passed a similar bill.

On Friday, Senate Commerce Republicans released a 102-page report that found Boeing officials “inappropriately coached” test pilots during recertification efforts for the MAX.

The committee said it appeared FAA and Boeing officials “were attempting to cover up important information that may have contributed to the 737 MAX tragedies.”

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