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- Boeing was able to oversee much of the certification of its own software linked to two fatal 737 Max crashes, the acting head of the Federal Aviation Authority told Congress.
- He said that FAA had initially overseen the software’s certification, but more authority was given to Boeing "when we had the comfort level" that the manufacturer could oversee the system.
- The FAA delegates large parts of the plane certification process to aircraft manufacturers as part of a longstanding policy that is now under increased scrutiny.
- The FAA defended the policy as one that produces safe aircraft, and said that undertaking the whole certification process itself would require 10,000 more employees and $1.8 billion more in funding.
- But lawmakers criticized the policy and called for change, with one senator saying it is a system "fatally riddled with flaws" and another accusing the FAA of doing "safety on the cheap."
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) said that it allowed Boeing to partially oversee the certification of software on its 737 Max planes, which is the focus of investigations into two deadly crashes by the planes that killed almost 350 people.
The FAA delegates large parts of the plane certification process to aircraft manufacturers as part of a policy mandated by Congress that has come under increasing fire after the fatal crashes.
Daniel Elwell, the acting administrator of the FAA, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Aviation on Wednesday that the FAA had initially overseen the software’s certification, but that more authority was given to Boeing when it had "the comfort level" that the manufacturer could oversee the system.
While Elwell said that the process "needs to evolve," he also defended it as something that produces safe aircraft and as being "part of the fabric of what we’ve used to become as safe as we are today." Elwell’s comments were reported by The New York Times.
He said that the FAA would need 10,000 more employees and an additional $1.8 billion in budget if it were to be solely responsible for aircraft safety certifications.
Transport Secretary Elaine Chao has requested an audit into the FAA’s certification of the 737 Max, which the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, a watchdog within the department, formally announced on Wednesday would take place.
But Chao also defended the practice of allowing manufacturers to help certify their own planes as "necessary" and said that the FAA sets safety standards that manufactures have to meet.
The close ties between aircraft manufacturers and the FAA have come under increased scrutiny since the October 2018 Lion Air crash and the Ethiopian Airlines crash earlier this month, where an automated control system that pointed the planes’ noses down is believed to be the focus of investigations.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
The policy of manufacturers helping with their own products’ certification was first ordered by Congress in 2003 as part of efforts to speed up the certification process and reduce costs.
The FAA delegated authority to Boeing in 2009, and now allows more than 80 aviation companies to certify their own products’ safety, according to The Washington Post.
Several lawmakers criticised the process on Wednesday, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, saying that he would introduce legislation to reform the system, which he called "fatally riddled with flaws."
"The fact is that the FAA decided to do safety on the cheap, which is neither safe nor cheap," he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, said that the "close relationship between industry and regulators" threatened to erode the public’s trust in the industry.
And Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, said the close relationship between the FAA and aircraft manufacturers needs to be questioned. He said that changes were necessary "to ensure that the safely of the flying public remains the paramount interest, not the quarterly profits of this company."
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Calvin Scovel, inspector general at the Department of Transportation, said that changes will be made to the current system, and said the FAA will introduce a new process by July 2019.
Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vice president of airplane development, repeated the company’s confidence in the safety of the 737 Max on Wednesday.
"We are working with customers and regulators around the world to restore faith in our industry and also to reaffirm our commitment to safety and to earning the trust of the flying public," he said, The Associated Press reported.
- Read more coverage of the 737 Max crashes::
- The FAA is reportedly planning to rewrite the rules for airline safety after scrutiny for letting Boeing partly regulate itself
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