Two years ago, Mike Andrews, a lawyer in Beasley Allen’s Personal Injury and Product Liability Section, warned how deregulation of aviation oversight in the U.S. and specifically the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had led to the two fatal Boeing 737 MAX aviation disasters. Last week, the FAA announced a $6.6 million fine on Boeing over regulatory safety compliance failures. Days before the announcement, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Transportation released a report criticizing the FAA’s oversight of Boeing’s 737 MAX program and echoing sentiments from Mike’s warnings.
“It is a case of ‘too little too late’ for our clients, but they welcome the efforts to hold Boeing accountable for the greed that robbed them of their loved ones,” said Mike, who is currently investigating both crashes and represents families of Ethiopian Airlines crash victims.
Boeing fined for safety and compliance failures.
The aircraft maker will pay $5.4 million for failing to obey the conditions of an agreement it struck with the FAA in 2015 to improve its safety oversight. The failures are part of the company’s systemic problems that have been highly criticized in the wake of the manufacturer’s 737 MAX debacle.
The fine also includes $1.2 million for exerting undue pressure on workers charged with safety oversight of the 787 Dreamliner operations at its South Carolina plant. Last August, the FAA found that the vice president of 787 operations, the senior quality manager, the director of delivery, and at least one other upper-level Boeing manager put undue pressure on Boeing employees designated to represent the FAA in safety inspections as part of the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program. The ODA program allows Boeing and other select aircraft manufacturers to act as FAA inspectors and essentially self-certify their own aircraft’s safety. The FAA also noted that between November 2017 through July 2019, Boeing established an organizational structure inconsistent with ODA procedures because it placed managers in unapproved roles.
OIG Faults FAA and ODA Program
Boeing’s ODA was also at the heart of the OIG’s findings that “while Boeing and the FAA followed the established certification process for the 737 MAX… limitations in FAA’s guidance and processes that impacted certification and led to a significant misunderstanding of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), the flight control software identified as contributing to the two accidents.”
The report notes two critical problems in the FAA’s oversight. The agency’s certification process didn’t “adequately address integrating new technologies into existing aircraft models” nor did the FAA completely understand how Boeing assessed the safety of the MCAS “until after the first accident.” The OIG report explained that the FAA’s management and oversight weaknesses hindered the agency’s “ability to assess and mitigate risks” regarding Boeing’s ODA. It offers 14 recommendations to “improve FAA’s certification and ODA oversight processes” including revising the ODA program requirements. The FAA has agreed with the recommendations and provided the OIG with action plans and expected completion dates.
“The old adage of the ‘fox guarding the henhouse’ exists for a reason: it doesn’t end well for the chickens,” Mike said. “This fine underscores the fact that the FAA improperly delegated oversight and control to Boeing.”
Mike focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. As an aviation accident lawyer, Mike has represented people seriously injured in many types of aviation crashes and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.