The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) chief, administrator Stephen Dickson, conducted a test flight for the Boeing 737 MAX this week and expressed that he “liked what I saw” but cautioned that “[w]e still have some work to do yet.” Dickson also has completed the newly revised pilot protocols and a flight simulator training session. After assuming his role as head of the FAA, Dickson said he will not lift the grounding of the aircraft until he is satisfied with the changes and “would put my own family on it without a second thought.”
“Administrator Dickson is correct that more needs to be done to ensure the same type of tragedy doesn’t happen again and part of the work must include restoring full safety oversight authority to the FAA,” said Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews, who has been actively involved in the investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines crash and represents families of victims killed in the flight 302 crash.
“The authority that has been stripped from the FAA and handed over to manufacturers like Boeing is at the heart of the two MAX tragedies that claimed 346 lives, including the life of our clients’ family member,” Andrews said.
The MAX has been grounded worldwide since March 2019 shortly after flight 302 crashed. It was the second of two fatal MAX flights, crashing just five months after Lion Air flight 610. Investigators determined that the new flight control system, the MCAS, malfunctioned, sparking similar chains of events in both flights that resulted in the tragedies. The FAA announced its airworthiness directive in August, defining the steps necessary for the MAX to resume commercial service.
Dickson did not elaborate on the work left to be done and did not commit to an official hard deadline for returning the MAX to commercial service. Boeing executives were hopeful the MAX would return to service later this month but it appears it will once again have to move the timeframe. Some in the industry believe the ban could lift as early as November.
The same day Dickson conducted the test flight of the MAX the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed a bipartisan bill created to address the findings of the committee’s investigation of the two MAX crashes. The committee’s findings were announced last month in a final report.
The bill, H.R. 8408, was introduced on Monday and the committee chair, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) expressed that he was “alarmed and outraged” at the findings of his committee’s investigation. The bill is called the “Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act,” and among other things:
- Reforms the FAA’s process for certifying new airplane designs;
- Requires U.S. aircraft and aerospace industry manufacturers to adopt safety management systems, which include safety reporting programs for their employees; and
- Requires the FAA to revise and improve the agency’s process for amending type certificates of older airplane designs to add new derivatives and ensure harmonization with the processes of other international states of design.
Additionally, the House committee will create an independent expert panel to specifically review Boeing’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) to improve the management of that program. The ODA is the FAA’s process that allows aircraft manufacturers like Boeing to essentially self-certify. The ODA shifts the authority to select and manage the manufacturer’s employees who are “loaned” to the agency from the manufacturer. The FAA confirmed that Boeing has abused its authority as an ODA by exerting undue pressure on workers charged with safety oversight and other ill-advised actions.
Rep. DeFazio further stated that” being alarmed and outraged is not where this story should end. With the comprehensive legislation we are unveiling today, I believe history can also show this was the moment Congress stepped up to meaningfully address the gaps in the regulatory system for certifying aircraft and adopt critical reforms that will improve public safety and ensure accountability at all levels going forward.”
Ranking committee member Rep. Sam Graves (R- Missouri) echoed the need for improving the FAA’s approval and certification processes for new aircraft and for new derivatives of existing and already approved aircraft.
Rep. Graves said, “The fact remains that the United States can only do so much to influence factors outside our borders…[b]ut for us, one fact has to remain constant coming out of this: the United States and the FAA must continue to be the gold standard in aviation innovation and, more importantly, aviation safety. Our economy, our competitiveness, and hundreds of thousands of American jobs depend on that.”
This month marks the second anniversary of the first MAX crash.
Mike handles all types of aviation litigation for the firm, involving both civilian and military aircraft.