A powerful US Senate committee has warned of serious flaws in Boeing’s new aircraft manufacturing jobs process. It also questioned how the regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, certified the company’s aircraft as safe to fly (FAA).
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation report was based on the testimony of seven industry whistleblowers. It was enacted in response to the deaths of 346 people in two Boeing 737 Max crashes.
Boeing said it was reviewing the report: “Boeing jobs teammates are encouraged to speak up whenever they have safety or quality concerns,” the planemaker said. It also said that many issues in the report “have been previously publicized, and Boeing has worked to address them with oversight” by the FAA.
On Monday, the FAA said it “takes all whistleblower allegations seriously and does not tolerate retaliation against those who raise safety concerns.”
The 97-page Aviation Safety Whistleblower Report highlighted allegations that the FAA’s safety certification process “suffers from undue pressure on line engineers and production staff“.
It also described conflicts of interest, such as when the same engineer was in charge of both preparing equipment for official tests and carrying them out. It claimed that during the development of both Boeing’s 737 Max and the 787 Dreamliner, engineers with specific technical expertise were ignored or sidelined.
In one case, it says, an FAA jobs engineer warned his superiors that the 787 faced a risk of “catastrophic failure due to uncontrolled fire” due to the way its batteries were installed. In 2013, the 787 was grounded due to battery fires.
The report also includes claims by whistleblowers that there are gaps in the FAA’s processes, that “have resulted in aircraft designs that do not meet the most recent airworthiness standards“.
It said this allowed the 737 Max to be approved to fly while equipped with software – later implicated in both crashes – that “did not receive proper scrutiny“. The report said that flaws in the aircraft’s systems were “creatively hidden or outright withheld” from the FAA during the certification process.
The report went on to say that the FAA had failed to provide enough safety engineers to oversee the much-criticized “Organization Designation Authorization” program, under which Boeing itself was responsible for carrying out a significant amount of safety certification work on its own products, on behalf of the regulator.
This process has been compared to Boeing “marking its own homework” by critics. The committee report also draws on testimony suggesting that the FAA has prioritized efficiencies by delegating increasing amounts of work – and that, as a result, its safety oversight has weakened.
According to the document, the regulator recently certified two aircraft – the 787 and the 737 Max – that was later grounded for safety reasons. In the case of the 737 Max, this resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and is estimated to have cost Boeing more than $20 billion (£15.2 billion).
Boeing agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Justice Department in January, including $2.5 billion in fines and compensation for the 737 Max crashes.
Source: BBC News
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