The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will regain its regulatory authority and oversight of Boeing and its new aircraft designs if a proposed Senate bill passes.
The proposed bill to tighten FAA oversight comes after weeks of intense Senate negotiations and lobbying efforts by the families of the 346 people killed in the Boeing 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Restoring FAA authority
If it passes, the bill would introduce measures to reverse the long regulatory trend that allows Boeing to largely oversee itself by restoring the FAA’s oversight and approval of new jet designs, including anything deemed to be low and medium risk.
According to the Seattle Times, a version of the bill circulated earlier this month by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, called for a two-year study of ways to improve the FAA’s oversight but failed to require any changes.
The amended bill that emerged from backroom negotiations last week contains new teeth that more immediately reform parts of the FAA’s review and certification process. Many of the changes to the proposed legislation were advocated by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), a champion for Boeing who had been instrumental in relaxing FAA regulations, effectively leaving most of the certification work to Boeing.
Bipartisan efforts to improve air safety
Those changes, contained in the FAA Reauthorization Act, were signed into law on Oct. 5, 2018, just weeks before the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 off the coast of Indonesia, which killed 189 people. Less than five months after the Indonesia crash, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max plummeted to earth, killing 157 people.
While the softer FAA regulations were enacted after the Boeing Max was certified to fly, the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes revealed that the FAA’s regulatory and certification processes were moving in the wrong direction.
Sen. Cantwell is now the one calling for changes that ensure the FAA’s oversight is “strong, clear and transparent.”
“The time for studies has passed,” she said, according to the Washington Post. “Now is the time for direct implementation of safety measures from the FAA and a comprehensive certification bill that takes action to keep the traveling public safe.”
Among other things, the proposed bill aims to prevent “undue pressure … or instances of perceived regulatory coziness or other failures to maintain independence between the FAA” and Boeing managers with certification authority, according to Reuters.
The bill also addresses concerns about “human factors” in the aircraft design and certification processes. It would require the FAA to review and potentially modify existing assumptions about how pilots identify and respond to automated features and cockpit situations.
The bill would also require regular audits and inject $150 million over 10 years for new FAA training and expertise capable of developing standards for new technologies and operations.
The improved draft was welcomed by many families of the victims of the 737 Max crashes. Michael Stumo, the father of 24-year-old Samya Stumo, who died in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, said the draft provides “the baseline for going forward.”
The brother of another Ethiopian Airlines crash victim emphasized the importance of getting the legislation right, saying that Senate members must fulfill their “duty of safeguarding the future safety of the flying public, not just for Americans, but for the entire world by proposing and endorsing adequate legislative interventions.”
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation and currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims. In addition to his Ethiopian Airlines crash clients, Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.