Boeing 737 Max crashes prompt calls for stronger FAA oversight

A Boeing 737 MAX 7 aircraft lands during an evaluation flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, September 30, 2020.

Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

A government watchdog said the Federal Aviation Administration needs to improve its oversight of new aircraft in a report released Wednesday, a review prompted by two deadly crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max.

The Transportation Department’s inspector general said “weaknesses” in the FAA’s certification processes hurt the effectiveness of its oversight of the planes. Crashes of two, nearly new Max airplanes less than five months apart, in 2018 and 2019, prompted a worldwide grounding of the jets and reviews of development and certification flaws.

The FAA lifted its ban of the jetliners, Boeing’s best-selling aircraft, in November.

The inspector general’s report cited problems in understanding a flight control system — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation Program, or MCAS, which was implicated in both crashes that together killed 346 people.

The FAA “did not have a complete understanding of Boeing’s safety assessments performed on MCAS until after the first accident,” the report said.

The 59-page report made 14 recommendations to FAA’s oversight and ability to spot risks, after noting that “FAA’s current oversight structure and processes can effectively identify future high-risk safety concerns” from manufacturers tasked with performing some certification-related tasks.

The FAA said in a statement included in the report that it agreed with the recommendations and is already taking some steps to “ensure a more holistic assessment of aircraft design changes.”

Boeing said it cooperated with the review.

“As part of our ongoing efforts, we have made meaningful improvements across our company, including organizational changes, enhanced compliance policies and training initiatives, and the creation of new mechanisms to further ensure transparent safety and quality reporting,” it said in a statement.

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