- An international panel is set to recommend major changes to the way the FAA certifies new planes, according to a new report.
- The panel, the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), was formed to examine the FAA’s processes following the two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes.
- The JATR’s report is expected as early as next week, although it’s not clear whether the FAA will accept or publicly release the panel’s recommendations.
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An international panel formed after the two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes is planning to recommend that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) overhauls the way it inspects and certifies new airplanes, according to a CNN report.
The Joint Authorities Technical Review, or JATR, was formed following the crashes to review the certification process that allowed the 737 Max to enter commercial service despite the twice-fatal flaw in an automated system meant to compensate for the larger engines on the existing 737 airframe. The panel comprises US officials and representatives from nine other countries’ aviation safety agencies.
The JATR is in the final stages of completing its work, according to CNN’s source, and will issue its report as early as next week. It is not clear whether the FAA would accept and implement the recommendations, nor whether the JATR or FAA would publicly disclose them.
The recommendations — which were not detailed in the CNN report — would include detailed ways to "address deficiencies" in the certification process, according to the source.
The JATR has been looking into ways to prevent potential issues — like the one that caused the crashes — from slipping through the cracks. In the case of the 737 Max, the plane was not subjected to the full certification process that a new airplane would undergo, since Boeing argued that it was simply an updated version of an existing airplane.
Boeing was also allowed to "self-certify" elements of the aircraft under an FAA program called Organization Designation Authorization. The FAA says that the practice, which is common but controversial, is increasingly necessary due to the sheer amount of work involved with certifying immensely complex modern airplanes, compared to the analog aircraft from previous decades.
The JATR’s work is separate from the review the FAA will conduct of Boeing’s proposed software fixes to determine when it can be allowed to fly again. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has said that the planemaker expects to submit the fix in September.
The FAA has expressed hopes that foreign aviation regulators clear the Max at around the same time as the FAA. The JATR report could serve as an effective gauge of whether or not that will be likely, depending on its recommendations and input from foreign members. In the months since the second crash, some have wondered whether global confidence in the FAA has been diminished, and questioned whether other countries would be as willing to trust the FAA.
The FAA has faced withering criticism from both victims’ families and experts for not catching the safety hazards in the plane’s automated systems that have been blamed for the crashes. Some have argued that in the process of certifying the plane, and after both crashes, the FAA prioritized Boeing’s interests over safety and objectivity. Boeing is the largest manufacturing exporter in the US by value.
"It seems like the FAA existed to protect Boeing’s profits," Tor Stumo, whose sister Samya was killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, said in an interview with Business Insider. "We want the FAA to regulate planes properly and protect people."
"It seems pretty clear that there was a corporate takeover of the FAA by Boeing," Robert Clifford, a lawyer representing family members of more than 50 victims of the crashes, told Business Insider. "[A] cloud has gathered over the FAA and its lack of credibility."
In a statement, the FAA said that it was continuing to review its processes:
The FAA’s certification of the Boeing 737 MAX is the subject of several independent reviews and investigations that will examine all aspects of the five-year effort. While the agency’s certification processes are well-established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs, we welcome the scrutiny from these experts and look forward to their findings. We will carefully review all recommendations and will incorporate any changes that would improve our certification activities.
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