Boeing’s 737 Max crisis has cast a glaring spotlight on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), revealing serious deficiencies that could have played a role in the deadly Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes.
The FAA, long regarded as the world’s leading authority on aviation safety, now faces a crisis of confidence that started with its response to the crash of Lion Air flight 610 last October and swelled into a global controversy with the March 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.
Tragically, it often takes death and destruction of so many people to expose practices mired in greed and the push for profits.
The Boeing crashes, which together killed 346 people, already exposed a design flaw in the 737 Max’s aerodynamics that Boeing attempted to correct with software. That flaw was born out of Boeing’s race to compete with Airbus – a race that amounted to intense pressure on Boeing staff and the FAA to get the 737 Max in the sky as soon as possible.
In an interview with CBS This Morning, two highly experienced and longtime FAA inspectors gave their account of what it was like for them working on the 737 Max certification process. They say the problems within the agency are putting peoples’ lives at stake.
The whistleblowers said that managers pressured inspectors to ignore critical safety and compliance issues they encountered in the certification process. If inspectors held firm to their findings, managers told them to “back off.” When they persisted, they faced retaliation.
One of the whistleblowers told CBS that he has had airlines contact his managers to tell them to exclude him from any inspections of that airline.
Another whistleblower said he entered safety-related reports into the FAA database, only to discover the next day that those records had been erased from the system.
A 2016 Inspector General’s report seems to bolster the whistleblowers’ concerns. According to CBS News, that report found that the agency pressured another one of its inspectors to back off from reporting problems with Miami Air International, an airline that provides U.S. military charter services. The airline made news recently when one of its Boeing 737-800 aircraft overshot the runway in Jacksonville, Florida, and landed in the St. Johns River.
The Inspector General’s report also found the FAA retaliated against the whistleblower for filing reports concerning problems with Miami Air International.
The Seattle Times further reported on how the FAA has become entangled with corporate interests.
Boeing engineers who were designated to be the “FAA’s eyes and ears” in the 737 Max certification process fell under heavy pressure “from Boeing managers to limit safety analysis and testing so the company could meet its schedule and keep down costs.”
According to the Seattle Times, the FAA instituted a new approach to regulatory compliance that allows aircraft manufacturers more autonomy and self-regulation. The new model authorizes Boeing to appoint “authorized representatives” who coordinate with the FAA and answer to Boeing management.
This process removes independent oversight authorities from the certification process and puts the FAA under the same pressure to act in Boeing’s interests.
The FAA whistleblowers told the FAA that as a result of these relaxed regulatory measures, airplanes are not as safe as they could be. One of the inspectors said that “safety is getting less and less” and that unless the FAA regains its authority, “It’s gonna go back to the way it was 20 years ago when airplanes fell out of the sky.”
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Mike will represent the family of Ethiopian Airlines crash victims, and is investigating both deadly Boeing crashes on behalf of families. He also has written a book on the subject to assist other aviation lawyers, “Aviation Litigation & Accident Investigation.” The book offers an overview to the practitioner about the complexities of aviation crash investigation and litigation.
Additional Source: The Seattle Times: Boeing and the FAA must restore public trust