Trust in FAA still lacking
Over the nearly three months since the Mirror’s Sept. 22 editorial “FAA oversight needs total reevaluation,” there have been a number of significant developments in the deeply troubling saga of Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX jet, which has remained grounded since shortly after the second of two crashes that claimed a total of 346 lives.
The first crash, which involved an Indonesia Lion Air flight, occurred on Oct. 29, 2018, and the second crash claimed an Ethiopian Airlines flight last March 10.
A small sample of the developments since Sept. 22:
Indonesian investigators determined that design and oversight lapses played a central role in the October 2018 crash.
A Sept. 30 Wall Street Journal report said Boeing engineers working on a flight-control system for the 737 MAX had omitted safeguards that had been included in an earlier version of the same system.
A report surfaced in mid-October that a senior Boeing pilot had raised concerns about the plane’s flight-control system three years ago, but the company didn’t alert federal regulators until this year.
Early last month, Boeing announced hopes of being permitted to deliver 737 MAX jets to airlines by the end of December, even if pilots hadn’t yet undergone training required to fly the plane.
But perhaps the most shocking news, especially to area residents who might have flown on MAX jets prior to their grounding, was a Dec. 12 Journal report “FAA knew Boeing’s 737 MAX was risky but allowed flights.”
The Dec. 12 article began this way:
“U.S. regulators decided to allow Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX jet to keep flying after its first fatal crash … even when their own analysis indicated it could become one of the most accident-prone airliners in decades without design changes.”
Responding to MAX-related information uncovered prior to Sept. 22, the Mirror’s Sept. 22 editorial concluded that “senior leadership changes within the FAA rightly seem in order.”
Now, in response to the Dec. 12 revelation, some Americans might be more inclined to express tougher viewpoints like “FAA heads ought to roll.”
Such a prospect probably is unlikely, with FAA chief Steve Dickson earlier this month defending FAA personnel, claiming “the system is not broken.”
But, how can he be so sure, when a November 2018 FAA internal analysis — during the month after the fatal Indonesia Lion Air flight — suggested awareness of a potentially much greater MAX safety risk than either the FAA or Boeing were projecting publicly at the time.
During a U.S. House Transportation Committee hearing on Dec. 11, at which the internal analysis was released, the committee chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., criticized the FAA saying, “despite its own calculations, the FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the 737 MAX continue to fly.”
DeFazio said more than a half-million documents gathered by his committee from Boeing and the FAA, plus emails and interviews, had uncovered “a broken safety culture” within Boeing and the federal agency that needs to be addressed.
Both the aviation agency and Boeing need to identify what is needed to regain the public’s trust.
However, with the MAX still lacking permission to return to the skies after so long, and allegations still being “tossed” about, it’s no wonder trust remains elusive.