The report charges that the congressionally mandated delegation system that allows aircraft manufacturers to approve their own designs as safe, under FAA supervision, is rife with inherent conflicts of interest. For instance, aircraft manufacturers supervise and pay the salaries of the people that are supposed to be the “eyes and ears of the FAA” — resulting in what committee Democrats call “regulatory capture on the part of the FAA,” leading to failures of oversight.
In four instances, the committee found that the FAA’s representatives at Boeing, working as part of the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program, “failed to represent the interests of the FAA” and allowed corporate cost-cutting priorities to color their judgment.
House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told reporters Tuesday that his legislation is “not going to scrap the whole [ODA] process“ but that he does plan on “adopting significant reforms.”
“Both FAA and Boeing came to the conclusion that the certification of the MAX, which killed 346 people in two accidents just a few months apart, was ‘compliant,’” DeFazio said. “But the problem is it was compliant but not safe, and people died. Obviously the system is inadequate.”
The committee found that Boeing was determined not to let differences between the older 737 NG aircraft and the new 737 MAX be deemed significant enough to require simulator training for pilots transitioning to the new aircraft, as that level of training would cost Boeing as much as $1 million per plane. As a result, the impact of the new flight control system, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), had to be downplayed. FAA representatives at Boeing went along with this and did not clue the agency in to the real impact of the changes, even as they privately expressed reservations.
In a May 2013 strategy meeting, Boeing officials discussed the “problem” that “every new buzzword represents a company and airline cost via changed manuals, changed training, changed maintenance manuals.“ The recommended action that arose was to “investigate deletion of MCAS nomenclature and cover under the umbrella of ‘revised speed trim.’”
The committee said it appears that both the FAA’s designee to Boeing and the team manager agreed to keep “referring to MCAS by name internally“ and “externally we would communicate it as an addition to Speed Trim.”
Boeing has disputed this account, but the committee asserts that since that 2013 meeting, “Boeing has, in fact, repeatedly characterized MCAS as an addition to speed trim.“ As a result, pilots were left largely in the dark about significant changes to the aircraft.
Those designated safety representatives were also aware that faulty sensors giving incorrect readings of the angle of the airplane could repeatedly trigger the MCAS in a way that could make the plane hard to control, but did not inform the FAA. The “mandatory” alert that’s supposed to warn pilots when the sensors are in disagreement — indicating a possible sensor malfunction — were inoperable in fully 80 percent of the MAX planes. Still, FAA designees knowingly delivered